Smart cities, it still sounds like a concept of the future. Flying cars, robots doing the work for us… how realistic are these, and moreover, how do you overcome innovative concepts riddled with legal issues? Now that Silicon Valley is officially investing in flying cars, and robots are in the driver’s seat (pun intended), smart cities are becoming a reality. Osborne Clarke’s Amsterdam office in the Netherlands is part of the development of a smart city called Strijp-S (pronounced ‘Stripe-S’). A real life city, with real people and well… real robots.
We sat down with Jaap Hulshoff, Business Development Manager at our client VolkerWessels Telecom. VolkerWessels Telecom is responsible for the entire telecommunication infrastructure of Strijp-S. Osborne Clarke’s Amsterdam office helps VolkerWessels navigate this new world’s legal landscape. We fired away about the practical and legal challenges they face, the importance of public-private partnerships, opportunities for international technology providers and the need for international cooperation for innovation in order for Strijp-S to become not just a smart city, but the smartest city of all.
Eindhoven is a city in the south of the Netherlands and almost inherently linked to Philips, a Dutch technology company currently making waves with Smart Lighting solution Philips Hue and traditionally headquartered in Eindhoven. Strijp-S was originally developed in 1916 by Philips to ensure in-house production and innovation by Philips, but due to corporate changes and its move to Amsterdam, it has now been repurposed as a breeding ground for innovation in the urban area Strijp-S. In 2005, Strijp-S transformed into the new dynamic and innovative heart of Eindhoven. The area is inspired by Philips’ innovative past. It is therefore no coincidence that innovation is exactly what Strijp-S stands for, even after 100 years.
The area that constitutes Strijp-S is close to 70 acres and has a cosmopolitan environment with 494 single-family homes, hundreds of entrepreneurs, its own train station and more than a million visitors a year. At Osborne Clarke we think it’s safe to say the future is here. But this is only the beginning. Strijp-S is already widely received as an inspiring example for other cities and the area is to receive further capital investments until at least 2030.
About Volker Wessels Telecom
VolkerWessels Telecom is a telecom company that is part of VolkerWessels, an international construction services business with headquarters in the Netherlands. The fact that VolkerWessels Telecom plays such an integral role in the development of smart cities and smart buildings is therefore a huge stretch. VolkerWessels Telecom designs, builds, manages and maintains telecommunication infrastructure that enables multiple and complex communication flows. Thanks to their integrated approach and end-to-end solutions they are able to contribute to innovation throughout the entire chain. This makes them the perfect candidate to supply Strijp-S with an innovative telecom infrastructure. VolkerWessels Telecom operates on the notion that the network is the basis. The transition to the digital society is not possible without stable, reliable and safe infrastructure. After all, the foundation, the network, is what everything runs on and what makes total connectivity possible.
Time to sit down with Jaap and learn more!
- As a telecom company, could you tell us a little bit more about VolkerWessels Telecom’s involvement with Strijp S?
We believe ‘Total Connectivity’ is the basis of every smart city. We live in an age where more and more people and machines are connected with each other and companies entrust their critical systems and data to a cloud. According to the World Health organization, more than 70% of the world population will live in cities by 2050. How do we tackle issues arising out of these developments? These problems require innovative solutions. We want to enable the growth of cities without compromising on the quality of life for its citizens. Quality of life is all about the human being behind a project, whether we’re talking about the person driving a car, a family living at home or employees in an office building. It is our dream at VolkerWessels Telecom to create the city of the future, with smart design and and a city that goes beyond facilitating a place to call home. The basis for this lies in smart technology, in the right network. That’s what the entire city of the future will be built on. At VolkerWessels Telecom we deliver that basis. We design, build and maintain a wide variety of networks to connect people and machines in smart cities. Strijp-S for us is not just a project we help build, it also helps us in return by providing us with a living-lab for technology, services and business models.
- What legal issues have you run into and how has Osborne Clarke been able to help you with these issues?
New business models in which stakeholders take on a different role than they traditionally had create new legal issues. A good example of this is the installation and exploitation of a smart cities network in Strijp-S. Because such networks have never been built there is no precedent for exploitation of the networks necessary to make a smart city possible. This is why we have asked Osborne Clarke to help us. Osborne Clarke has helped us draft lease agreements for the storage of Small Cells in street lights at Strijp-S as well as lease agreements for the fiber network of the Strijp-S. Other important legal issues arise from the collection and use of data at Strijp-S. As the entire city is connected, all sensors will collect a huge amount of data. As we are working in such an innovative space we need answers to questions that sometimes haven’t been asked before. Osborne Clarke thinks along with us in deciding who owns the data, who can use the data, whether the data is public and how the data should be protected.
- Do you believe these legal issues in smart cities and smart buildings are universal issues?
Yes, questions we have in the Netherlands will be the same on the other side of the world, whether it’s now or in ten years. Urban bottlenecks will have to be tackled if 70% of the world population will live in cities in the future. People are eager to use new technology and want to improve their quality of life through smart innovations and applications On the other hand people are conscious and cautious of becoming completely independent on the big tech conglomerates of the world. There is another worry that artificial intelligence will take over from us. Currently there is no real certainty about the legal implications of artificial intelligence, especially with regards to legal liability. For example, who will be responsible for an accident caused by an autonomous car? So, besides privacy, liability will play a huge role in the development of smart cities, also at an international level.
- What has been the biggest challenge for VolkerWessels Telecom with Strijp-S?
Up until now it’s a chicken or egg problem about what to invest in first. Do you wait until there are enough smart cities applications and services to constitute a positive business case for a smart cities network, or do you take a risk investing in a network, even though you are not 100% sure if or when there will be a positive business case? Public-private partnerships, the involvement of the city’s officials, are therefore crucial to the development of smart cities. This is because cities don’t operate from a business case perspective, but from a value case perspective. Basically, this means that an investment doesn’t necessarily have to generate revenue, but is also valuable when it realizes a cost reduction. Think of reducing costs by limiting CO2 emissions. By combining commercial and public interests it is easier to realize a positive business and value case for a smart city and thereby accelerate development and innovation.
- Is there a role, and if so, what role is there to play for US tech companies in smart cities and smart buildings in Europe?
In order to develop smart cities in Europe, we need technology and innovations from all over the world. A smart city is not an end product. It’s a process in which we try to tackle urban bottlenecks in cities and improve quality of life for its citizens. From our point of view, smart cities should have an open structure, so that every tech company could play a role in the development of Strijp-S. This is part of the reason we don’t believe in lock-ins, as it hampers innovation. It’s all about improving technology and innovation processes. It’s up to tech companies all over the world to continue to improve themselves and thereby ensure that they can serve smart cities in other places in the world.
- What is the importance of developing a 5G network for the development of smart cities and smart buildings?
At the moment it’s hard to say because the definition of 5G hasn’t been standardized. But when it comes down to bringing ‘Total Connectivity’ to smart cities, this will become very important. Think of the need for more technologies to be connected, greater bandwidth, and lower latency, for example, when we talk about communication with and among autonomous vehicles. A split second delay in signal could make a difference between a functioning traffic flow and a disastrous car accident. But the basis of a 5G network is again a network of fiberglass. In my opinion, the focus should therefore be on developing the basis, after which a 5G cell can easily be implemented.
- What aspect of smart cities do you expect to develop most quickly into a mainstream feature in cities?
From a tech and infrastructure perspective, I believe the development of Small Cells, whether it’s LTE or 5G, will become more mainstream within the next five years. the IoT will develop much sooner and faster. Our lives will change dramatically due to the implementation of millions of sensors and actors in and around our homes. Therefore IoT networks such as Sigfox will be necessary. Practical applications that we’ll start seeing in cities and building, I believe will be smart lighting concepts, and what we call smart asset management systems. For example, an underground garbage container that will tell you it needs to be emptied, rather than relying on a fixed weekly schedule. Something I think we would all be excited to see are smart mobility or smart parking applications. Imagine knowing where to park before you even get to the city, how much it will cost you and whether or not you can charge your electric car…
Now, we’re not sure about you, but that certainly would improve our quality of life and we’re happy for this to become mainstream ASAP! Flying cars might yet be a bit too far away, but Osborne Clarke’s involvement with Strijp-S in The Netherlands and our work with VolkerWessels Telecom have taught us that real smart cities are happening right now and evolving as we speak. The opportunities for US tech companies become limitless when every city in the world can be your market. Meanwhile we’ll continue to think along with our clients by keeping a close eye on legal challenges such as privacy and artificial intelligence in smart cities… We’ll deal with those flying cars in due course!