Big data for big impact – When digital technologies transform urban planning

By: Raphael Rollier

31, May, 2017


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Big Data is a valuable tool for 21st century infrastructure projects and the case of Swisscom’s smart city project illustrates how Big Data can help maximize investments, impact lives and improve cities.

To complement and enrich traditional methods of gauging traffic flows, which often involve an individual person counting vehicles on the roads, Swisscom engaged in co-creation with cities to see what we could do with the anonymized and aggregated data that was produced by the Swisscom networks. Swisscom’s 4G mobile network covers approximately 98% of the Swiss population. More than 3 terabytes of data are generated every day, enabling to monitor precise mobility patterns. All interactions are monitored whenever a smartphone “talks” to a mobile communications antenna, such as phone calls, SMS, app synchronizations, and others.

Less than two years ago, Swisscom launched a Smart City program with four cities, one of which was Montreux, a city that was considering to build a new tunnel to mitigate the city’s traffic congestion.

Getting a detailed understanding of the city center dynamic

In Montreux, we have been monitoring the people density in the city center during the whole year of 2016. The outcome is the following:

Montreux Pulse: You can easily recognize the 4 major highlights of 2016

Montreux is a very attractive city, having lots of cultural, political and business events. However, you need to make sure that all these activities do not generate too much congestion and that both citizens and visitors are not wasting time in traffic.

Through the project, we transformed interactions between the mobile phone and the network into traffic indicators, which were then used to decide whether or not to build new tunnel in the city. In the case of Montreux, it was foreseen that they did not need a tunnel in the city limits, a huge cost savings to the city as the investment was estimate to be 150 million CHF.

All interactions are monitored whenever a smartphone “talks” to a mobile communications antenna, such as phone calls, SMS, app synchronizations, and others.

Digital agility to develop your mobility strategy

This Smart Data approach is bringing new insights about the traffic dynamic. It enables to measure indicators that were very difficult and costly to acquire in the past. City leaders are now in a position to review their mobility strategy, because this new solution supports them to define, execute and measure the effect of their current strategy in place. Corrective actions during the execution phase can also more easily be taken due to the nature of the solution, a dynamic and continues measurement of the traffic flow.

The road to success

In our attempt to share best practices and assist future implementation of Big Data projects for smart cities, Swisscom along with our partners, IMD business school, have released two publications to support city leaders drive successful smart city initiatives. They provide a detailed methodology to define, select and implement the most promising projects, including an assessment tool, the Smart City piano. Big Data projects must be assessed through multiple dimensions before implementation, such as regulatory, social and political factors to ultimately leverage Big Data for the biggest impact.

See Raphael Rollier speak on “From Big Data to Smart Data for traffic optimization” at 12.40pm on 2nd June within the Smart Transportation and Cities track at the IoT Tech Expo Europe 2017.

Link to the studies: Essentials for City Leaders ; Six Steps to Successfully Transform Your City