Expo 2015 Milan Is ‘Unique Opportunity’ For Smart Cities In Europe

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Expo 2015 will be reliant on smart city infrastructure for management and customer engagement

Organisers of this year’s universal exposition in Milan say the event is a “unique opportunity” in Europe to test out Smart City technology.

Expo 2015, the theme of which is ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life’, is due to be held on a 1.1 square kilometre site in the northwest of the city, on what used to be a greenfield site.

Smartphones and tablets were barely a consideration at the last universal exposition in Shanghai in 2010, but have formed a major part of the planning for this year’s event.

Organisers say it will be the first ‘digital’ show in the event’s history, with technology used to entice visitors to the Expo and engage with them during their stay. Mobile apps, social media and official websites have formed this initial engagement, but the smart city will be used to simplify management and improve visitor experience.

Smart city layers

Expo 2015 2Expo 2015’s technological partners, including Cisco and Telecom Italia, have helped build a smart city infrastructure made up of five distinct but interconnected layers.

The energy layer includes features like smart meters and lighting, the second layer is the underlying communications network, the third is security, the fourth is edutainment and the fifth is services, such as ATMs and electronic payments.

The site itself is comparatively small, but with capacity for 250,000 visitors, the strain on networks is likely to be intense, making a robust network that can support both customer demand and the applications necessary for operations essential.

“Expo is not a technology event – it’s an event you have to collaborate but you must use technology,” said Andrea Costa, Expo 2015 project manager for Telecom Italia. “As a service provider, we are very interested in seeing which infrastructure investments we need to enable big events.

“[In Italy] mobile traffic is growing by 30 percent but during major events, the figure is higher. During an event, people want to communicate all the time.

“We strongly believe that the Expo event is a unique opportunity to build up the smart city framework.”

Network support

Cisco is managing the routers and switches of the on-site network, which comprises 1.2 kilometres of fibre and 2,000 access points that cover the venue with Wi-Fi. Other functions include unified communications, telepresence endpoints and 2,000 IP phones – Expo 2015 is the first full IP event in the exposition’s history.

“It’s very, very deep coverage,” said Fabio Florio, Expo project leader at Cisco. “Only Cisco and Telecom Italia will be involved in every layer.”

The Wi-Fi network supports numerous Smart City services like digital signage and video walls, but is also used by the command and control centre that responds to technical and non-technical issues.

The venue is divided into 84 sectors, each of which can be managed by an independent tablet. Additionally, on-field staff can use the ‘Expo Logbook’ to take a picture of a problem, submit it to the command centre, which then sends a response team.

But the benefits of the smart city aren’t just limited to the exposition itself. Digital islands within Milan city centre are also set to be deployed, offering smart lighting, electric car charging, free Wi-Fi and surveillance capabilities.

For Cisco, Expo 2015 provides a platform for it to spread its vision of the Internet of Everything (IoE) and builds on the vendor’s recent involvement with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. In the UK, it has launched the ‘Connected Transport Challenge’ which invites SMBs to come up with applications to solve real life technical challenges.

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