The three steps for smart cities to unlock their full IoT potential

The three steps for smart cities to unlock their full IoT potential
Cities should be proactive in increasing IoT adoption so they can reap maximum benefits from smart city solutions. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 27 January 2021

The three steps for smart cities to unlock their full IoT potential

The three steps for smart cities to unlock their full IoT potential

The pursuit of sustainability roadmaps, the transformation of the urban landscape, and the improvement of the quality of life for citizens are simultaneous priorities for every major city. Emerging technologies are primed to play an influential role in facilitating success, and cities are eager to harness the power of one technology, in particular, moving forward – the Internet of Things (IoT).

There has been an exponential increase of smart city developments in the Middle East, aspiring to become global leaders in the space. In the UAE, several smart cities, including Masdar City and The Sustainable City, have already developed. And in Saudi Arabia, plans for a new smart city called “The Line”, which is a part of the USD 500 billion megacity development called NEOM was recently unveiled as part of the 2030 Vision to embrace a new economic era.

However, smart city development is not without IoT-related challenges. At present, the supplier landscape is considerably fragmented, with related products bound by various standards. IoT solutions struggle to work together – hindering data exchange and opportunities to capitalize on potential benefits.

Interoperability is a must for seamless information exchange to reap enhanced IoT advantages. After all, the number of IoT-connected devices worldwide is projected to be approximately 125 billion in 2030 from 11 billion in 2019 – emphasizing the need to unlock the full benefits of IoT solutions.

In many cases, cities are relying on vendors with end-to-end solutions that accommodate select needs but they are not compatible with other IoT systems. As a result, this generally entails smart city developers being accustomed to working with a smaller pool of suppliers and this does not allow the possibility of transitioning to better solutions from a cost-effective standpoint. As such, cities must take the initiative in solving the interoperability problem, something that can be done through two methods, having a uniform set of standards or a cross-vertical platform.

A Uniform Set of Standards

Several countries and cities are studying the possibility of using common standards to achieve greater interoperability between IoT devices. This approach can solve two major legacy issues that have hampered cities’ efforts in the past:

- IoT devices contain many components that were developed before the internet even existed and that use incompatible standards. With the rise in connected technologies, the weak interoperability of these standards has become self-evident.

- Over time, different standards developing organizations and industry consortia have produced standards to meet their own needs. This has led to a proliferation of diverse standards, some of which are more advanced than others. Initiatives to consolidate these standards have largely failed, owing to disagreements between organizations and companies.




Thibault Werle, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group

For these reasons, a common set of global industry standards is unlikely to appear unaided in the short to medium term. If city governments and regulators can create a consensus among private-sector players, however, they may be able to develop a set of standards to accelerate smart city initiatives, lower market entry barriers to alternative providers, and promote greater innovation.

In theory, if a city applied uniform standards across all of its IoT-connected devices, it could achieve full interoperability. Nevertheless, we believe that cities and regulators should focus on defining common communication standards to support technical interoperability.

The reason: Although different versions exist, communications standards are generally mature and widely used by IoT players. In contrast, the standards that apply to messaging and data formats—and are needed for syntactic interoperability—are less mature, and semantic standards remain in the early stages of development and are highly fragmented.

Some messaging and data format standards are starting to gain broad acceptance, and it shouldn’t be long before policymakers can prudently adopt the leading ones. With that scenario in mind, planners should ignore semantic standards until clear favorites emerge.

Benefits of a Cross Vertical Platform

Building a platform that works across use cases can improve interoperability. The platform effectively acts as an orchestrator, translating interactions between devices so that they can share data and work.

In a city context, a cross-vertical platform offers significant benefits over standardization. Because such a platform functions as an interface between IoT solutions, devices can continue to use their existing standards. And because the platform, rather than common standards, is responsible for interoperability, cities can achieve both syntactic and semantic interoperability and so introduce more advanced smart city applications.

Platform economics also supports their use in metropolises that have a large number of smart city solutions. Revenues consist of subscription fees from participating cities, together with a transaction fee for every use case added to the platform. The more use cases (such as smart lighting or smart parking) a city maintains, the more money the platform makes. This arrangement makes platforms more commercially viable in cities with relatively well-developed IoT ecosystems that can combine existing solutions to create additional use cases. Indeed, whether with cross-vertical platforms or with common standards, pursuing interoperability for its own sake won’t create significant value. Players must apply it to generate entirely new use cases.




Rachid El Ameri, Principal at Boston Consulting Group

Although a private-sector consortium typically builds, owns, and maintains the cross-vertical platform, city governments can initiate the platform’s development by offering the consortium financial support and providing access to their data.

Cross-vertical platforms remain a relatively new concept. Owing to the diversity of IoT solutions and standards, developing a platform is a very complex undertaking, and most projects are still in the planning or testing phase. What’s more, the interests of cities and private-sector players do not naturally align. Municipalities and platform providers can derive significant interoperability benefits or revenues from cross-vertical platforms, but participating companies have less incentive to share their data through a platform. Resolving these challenges would help platforms gain popularity.

 The Three Steps Toward a Connected Future

To unlock the full benefits of IoT solutions, cities should take the following steps:

- Select an approach. Metropolises must decide which approach is likely to work best for them. In making this determination, they should first look at their existing IoT solutions. If they have only a handful of solutions, standardization is probably the better option. If they have more than a few solutions, commercial and interoperability considerations favor opting for a cross-vertical platform. Other factors are likely to influence cities’ decisions as well, however. In highly regulated cities and regions, we expect standardization to be more popular; meanwhile, in deregulated markets that encourage competition, platforms are likely to be more prevalent.

- Ensure early buy-in. For either approach to succeed, cities must create a consensus among key stakeholders. Defining IoT standards that work for all participants requires the involvement of all important private-sector players from an early stage of the process. The same is true of platforms, as cities will have to persuade participating companies to share their data—perhaps by offering revenue-sharing agreements or other incentives.

- Promote IoT adoption. Cities should be proactive in increasing IoT adoption so they can reap maximum benefits from smart city solutions. They can do this by funding training, offering subsidies and tax credits, and providing centralized procurement support for the public-and private-sector organizations that are developing solutions. They can also build their own IoT wireless communications network to support adoption.

Fundamentally transforming the urban landscape and improving citizens’ quality of life are possibilities that can become reality with smart city solutions. Yet to be successful, interoperability is essential. Once attained, seamless data exchange will be guaranteed in every instance, leading to full IoT potential exposure.

• Thibault Werle, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) & Rachid El Ameri, Principal at Boston Consulting Group (BCG)


Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline
Updated 22 October 2021

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline
  • Law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil's computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers
  • One person familiar with the events said that a foreign partner of the US government carried out the hacking operation that penetrated REvil's computer architecture

The ransomware group REvil was itself hacked and forced offline this week by a multi-country operation, according to three private sector cyber experts working with the United States and one former official.
Former partners and associates of the Russian-led criminal gang were responsible for a May cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that led to widespread gas shortages on the US East Coast. REvil's direct victims include top meatpacker JBS. The crime group's "Happy Blog” website, which had been used to leak victim data and extort companies, is no longer available.
Officials said the Colonial attack used encryption software called DarkSide, which was developed by REvil associates.
VMWare head of cybersecurity strategy Tom Kellermann said law enforcement and intelligence personnel stopped the group from victimizing additional companies.
"The FBI, in conjunction with Cyber Command, the Secret Service and like-minded countries, have truly engaged in significant disruptive actions against these groups,” said Kellermann, an adviser to the US Secret Service on cybercrime investigations. “REvil was top of the list.”
A leadership figure known as "0_neday," who had helped restart the group's operations after an earlier shutdown, said REvil's servers had been hacked by an unnamed party.
"The server was compromised, and they were looking for me," 0_neday wrote on a cybercrime forum last weekend and first spotted by security firm Recorded Future. "Good luck, everyone; I'm off."
US government attempts to stop REvil, one of the worst of dozens of ransomware gangs that work with hackers to penetrate and paralyze companies around the world, accelerated after the group compromised US software management company Kaseya in July. 
That breach opened access to hundreds of Kaseya's customers all at once, leading to numerous emergency cyber incident response calls.

Decryption key
Following the attack on Kaseya, the FBI obtained a universal decryption key that allowed those infected via Kaseya to recover their files without paying a ransom.
But law enforcement officials initially withheld the key for weeks as it quietly pursued REvil's staff, the FBI later acknowledged. 
According to three people familiar with the matter, law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil's computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers.
After websites that the hacker group used to conduct business went offline in July, the main spokesman for the group, who calls himself "Unknown," vanished from the internet.
When gang member 0_neday and others restored those websites from a backup last month, he unknowingly restarted some internal systems that were already controlled by law enforcement.
“The REvil ransomware gang restored the infrastructure from the backups under the assumption that they had not been compromised,” said Oleg Skulkin, deputy head of the forensics lab at the Russian-led security company Group-IB. “Ironically, the gang's own favorite tactic of compromising the backups was turned against them.”
Reliable backups are one of the most important defenses against ransomware attacks, but they must be kept unconnected from the main networks or they too can be encrypted by extortionists such as REvil.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council declined to comment on the operation specifically.
"Broadly speaking, we are undertaking a whole of government ransomware effort, including disruption of ransomware infrastructure and actors, working with the private sector to modernize our defenses, and building an international coalition to hold countries who harbor ransom actors accountable," the person said.
The FBI declined to comment.
One person familiar with the events said that a foreign partner of the US government carried out the hacking operation that penetrated REvil's computer architecture. A former US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation is still active.
The success stems from a determination by US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco that ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure should be treated as a national security issue akin to terrorism, Kellermann said.
In June, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General John Carlin told Reuters the Justice Department was elevating investigations of ransomware attacks to a similar priority.
Such actions gave the Justice Department and other agencies a legal basis to get help from US intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense, Kellermann said.
"Before, you couldn't hack into these forums, and the military didn't want to have anything to do with it. Since then, the gloves have come off." 


China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity
Updated 21 October 2021

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity
  • China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s

BEIJING: Moon rocks brought back to Earth by a Chinese robotic spacecraft last year have provided new insights into ancient lunar volcanic activity, a researcher said Tuesday.
Li Xianhua said an analysis of the samples revealed new information about the moon’s chemical composition and the way heat affected its development.
Li said the samples indicate volcanic activity was still occurring on the moon as recently as 2 billion years ago, compared to previous estimates that such activity halted between 2.8 billion and 3 billion years ago.
“Volcanic activities are a very important thing on the moon. They show the vitality inside the moon, and represent the recycling of energy and matter inside the moon,” Li told reporters.
China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s.
On Saturday, China launched a new three-person crew to its space station, a new milestone in a space program that has advanced rapidly in recent years.
China became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own in 2003 and now ranks among the leading space powers.
Alongside its crewed program, it has expanded its work on robotic exploration, retrieving the lunar samples and landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the moon. It has also placed the Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.
China also plans to collect soil from an asteroid and bring back additional lunar samples. The country also hopes to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.
The military-run Chinese space program has also drawn controversy. China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday brushed-off a report that China had tested a hypersonic missile two months ago. A ministry spokesperson said it had merely tested whether a new spacecraft could be reused.


South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket

South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket
Updated 21 October 2021

South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket

South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket
  • South Korea's space program has a chequered record — its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which in part used Russian technology, both ended in failure

SEOUL: South Korea is aiming to join the ranks of advanced spacefaring nations on Thursday when it attempts to put a one-ton payload into orbit using its first fully homegrown rocket.
The country has risen to become the world’s 12th-largest economy and a technologically advanced nation, home to the planet’s biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, Samsung Electronics.
But it has lagged in the headline-making world of spaceflight, where the Soviet Union led the way with the first satellite launch in 1957, closely followed by the United States.
In Asia, China, Japan and India all have advanced space programs, and the South’s nuclear-armed neighbor North Korea was the most recent entrant to the club of countries with their own satellite launch capability.
Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogramme (660-pound) satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Western countries condemned as a disguised missile test.
Even now, only six nations — not including North Korea — have successfully launched a one-ton payload on their own rockets.
The South will become the seventh if the Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri, succeeds in putting its 1.5-ton dummy cargo into orbit from the launch site in Goheung, with an altitude of 600 to 800 kilometers being targeted.
The three-stage rocket has been a decade in development at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). It weighs 200 tons and is 47.2 meters (155 feet) long, fitted with a total of six liquid-fueled engines.

But the South Korean space program has a chequered record — its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which in part used Russian technology, both ended in failure, the second one exploding two minutes into the flight and Seoul and Moscow blaming each other.
Eventually a 2013 launch succeeded, but still relied on a Russian-developed engine for its first stage.
The satellite launch business is increasingly the preserve of private companies, notably Elon Musk’s SpaceX, whose clients include the US space agency NASA and the South Korean military.
But one expert said a successful Nuri launch offered South Korea “infinite” potential.
“Rockets are the only means available to mankind to go out into space,” Lee Sang-ryul, the director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, told local paper Chosun Biz.
“Having such technology means we have fulfilled basic requirements to join this space exploration competition.”
Thursday’s launch is one step on an increasingly ambitious space program for South Korea, which President Moon Jae-in said would seek to launch a lunar orbiter next year, after he inspected a Nuri engine test in March.
“With achievements in South Korean rocket systems, the government will pursue an active space exploration project,” he said.
“We will realize the dream of landing our probe on the Moon by 2030.”


China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
Updated 16 October 2021

China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
  • Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022
  • With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit

JIUQUAN, China: China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts — two men and one woman — to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest orbit for Chinese astronauts.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel,” blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. (1623 GMT on Friday).
The vessel successfully docked to the port of the space station on at 6:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), and the astronauts entered the space station’s core module at 10:03 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe — the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/chinese-astronauts-return-after-90-day-mission-space-station-2021-09-17 that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.
In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.
The mission commander is Zhai Zhigang, 55, from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. Born to a rural family with six children, Zhai carried out China’s first spacewalk in 2008. Shenzhou-13 was his second space mission.
“The most challenging task will be the long-term stay in orbit for six months,” Zhai told a news conference on Thursday. “It will exact higher demands (on us), both physically and psychologically.”
He was accompanied by Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, both 41.
Wang, also born to a rural family, is known among colleagues for her tenacity. The former air force pilot first traveled to space in 2013, to Tiangong-1, a prototype space lab.
She is China’s second female astronaut in space, following Liu Yang in 2012.
Shenzhou-13 is the first space mission for the third astronaut, Ye.
After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.
China, barred by US law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own.
With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.
China’s space program has come far since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States. (Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Xihao Jiang; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and William Mallard)


For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
Updated 09 October 2021

For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
  • ‘Space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences,’ says Astromania co-founder

JEDDAH: Astronomy enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia are observing International Astronomy Day and World Space Week this year by encouraging others to look up in wonder with some visual and auditory help.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year — around the times of the Spring and Autumn equinox or first quarter moon — to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year.

Arab and Muslim scholars have made significant contributions to astronomy throughout history — suggesting scientific and mathematical methods; naming stars and nebulae; and more.

While it may seem that we now spend less time looking at the skies, and more time looking down at our screens, 21st-century technology is actually enabling enthusiasts across the world to share knowledge, spread information, and raise awareness at lightning speed.  

In Saudi Arabia, Astromania — founded by Mahdi Al-Sulaiman, Fatima Hilal, and Abdullah Al-Meshari, a trio of space lovers — has made good use of this technology, starting a podcast in 2019 to complement its stargazing trips into the desert, which enable people to check out some of the brightest astronomical objects through telescopes.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

“I’ve always been interested about space, and I wanted to create an Arabic platform that helps other people to know more about it in a non-academic style, in a fun and easy-to-understand way,” Hilal told Arab News.

“People were weirded out and surprised when they heard about the subject. But now people understand the idea when they listened to the podcast for the first time. I know it is a unique subject, but it is a passion of mine,” she added.

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online —  notably on Wikipedia and a few social-media pages — Astromania is, the group claim, the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to create something out of love, so basically we are doing this podcast for free,” Hilal said. “The main reason why we created this podcast is to educate people more about the world and people’s support is very important to us.”

HIGHLIGHTS

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online Astromania is the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To celebrate World Space Week,  the UK’s National Space Center is running a ‘Women in Space’ program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history.

To celebrate World Space Week (which runs from October 4-10),  the UK’s National Space Center is running a “Women in Space” program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history. Hilal expressed her excitement at the theme.

“This will definitely help young girls to consider space science as a profession,” she said. “We already have some successful Saudi women who work in the field, like Ghada Al-Muttairi and Mashael Al-Shammari. They are setting an example for Saudi women.”

To coincide with International Astronomy Day and World Space Week, this month’s episode of the Astromania podcast features Jordanian-British filmmaker Kinda Al-Kurdi, who won the Best Documentary Short Film award for her film “As in Heaven, So on Earth” at the Moscow International Film Festival, Hilal said. “We are going to discuss the relationship between films and space.”

Hilal’s co-founder Mahdi Al-Sulaiman told Arab News that events such as World Space Week remind people “to think beyond our planet and beyond our differences. To work together as men and women of this great nation to pave the way for a better and prosperous future for the next generations.”

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

He continued, “We are not just sharing one planet, we share one fate. And space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences. I hope the celebration of International Astronomy Day will also inspire future generations to become astronauts, space scientists, or work in the space industry, to build a better tomorrow and take the next giant leaps to sustain mankind’s future.”

Joining in on the celebrations is avid Saudi astrophotographer Anas Al-Majed who has, for years, frequented the Kingdom’s many deserts, searching the night skies through his telescope for the perfect shot.

Al-Majed — who purchased his first telescope seven years ago — told Arab News he was “awestruck” by the detail it provided.

“From Saturn’s rings to Jupiter’s bands and Great Red Spot, my interest grew and I delved into deep-sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.”

His experience with astrophotography has made a lasting impression, he said. And he encourages everyone to consider taking the time to learn more about our galaxy and what lies beyond it.

“We need everyone to be part of space programs,” he said. “The space industry can help human advancement and provide equal opportunities for everyone.”