Over 17 years of experience in Communications & IT, his last 5 years have been focusing on smart technology, wireless networks & cybersecurity. Having a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, he leverages lean & continuous improvement methodologies to drive smart decision making, new efficiencies and reduced defects/waste. Anthony is vendor agnostic, which opens the doors for best solution planning & design when it comes to Smart Cities & Smart Buildings. His relationships and training with Tech Giants, SMBs and Startups gives him vast knowledge of leading and future technology.
Do an internet search for “Anthony Veri” and “smart city” and you will get a diverse set of results that span pages upon pages. That’s because Anthony has been part of the smart city evolution since the very beginning, working through network analysis, audits, planning, designing, and training for what we now term smart cities and smart enterprises. In this episode, Anthony provides a simple definition for smart city and smart enterprise, gives us a view into the opportunities and risks that come with getting “smarter” and explains why we need not worry (but should be excited about!) 5G.
KRISTINA PODNAR, HOST: If you do an online search for “Anthony Veri” and “smart city” you will get a slew of very diverse results, because Anthony has been in the business of smart city before we all started to use that term. Today, Anthony is the Director of Smart Cities & Wireless Mobility at Integrated Network Concepts, Inc. He leverages his diverse experience and certifications to define and implement continuous improvement methodologies that drive smart decision making, new efficiencies and reduced defects and waste. Anthony is vendor agnostic, which opens the doors for best solution planning and design when it comes to Smart Cities and Smart Buildings. His relationships and training with Tech Giants, SMBs and Startups gives him vast knowledge of leading and future technology.
I am very excited that Anthony joins us today with incredible insights and no-jargon speak. Let’s dive in.
Anthony, welcome to the Power of Digital Policy podcast. I appreciate you sharing your experience with us as we deep dive into the area of smart cities and what we need to think about for creating policies around the smart city concepts. So welcome.
ANTHONY VERI, GUEST: Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it Kristina.
KRISTINA: Well, I'm just really excited because it's very rare that I get to speak with somebody who has such a long-standing career in the smart city business. A lot of people think of themselves as smart city experts, but you're actually somebody who has spent a really long time in this space. Sometimes I think people call it urban tech, but tell us a little bit about how big is the space and are we still dreaming about smart cities or do we already have them? You've seen this kind of from the very start I think.
ANTHONY: Yeah. I have I've seen the progression even before the term smart cities was a term used, as a few years back. There's been technology that we've been using and deploying that is now called smart technology, that we use today and it's you hit a good point. It's when you ask what's the size of smart cities and who's actually doing it. It's the term smart city almost encompasses like the size of the Pacific ocean. There are so many verticals within the smart cities landscape. I have a bullet point on a Word document that lists over a hundred different topics that I either talk on or that I designer engineer on or it can even train and coach on some of these topics. So that gives you a little bit of insight on how massive the smart cities landscape really is and to go a little bit further within each vertical within smart cities. There's usually at least 20 different or more manufacturers playing in in that space. So when I'm talking that some city mayor's or chief innovation officers or chief technology officers when there's a smart city project and if I helped them write request for bids or request for quotes, there's usually one company or contractor that will win, but behind the scenes, there's usually 20 sometimes 40 manufacturers that are taken to actually deliver that project or that n solution being delivered to the city. So a lot of times cities themselves don't even know all the players that are actually making everything work in the background. So I have that knowledge and connected with probably well over 300 manufacturers and software companies around the world over this time and I've seen things that have worked in seeing things that have failed and so there's we'll talk about this later. But there's a lot of information that most people be it in cities or even in corporations would never have the chance to know all this information and differentiating information to be able to tell what solution is better than another because when you receive marketing from any manufacturer, it's going to say that they're the best solution or the best software out there. So how do you disseminate that information?
KRISTINA: So how does actually one go about putting together that solution because I think you hit on a really good point which is you don't know what you don't know and so thinking about the fact that this is such a broad area the fact that you know, there are oftentimes pieces of the puzzles that you have to put together and almost kind of think about a best-of-breed solution. What's the best process and are there sort of the things that you should do or shouldn't do from a policy perspective that you would advise?
ANTHONY: So when you're a lot of times I tell regardless if it's for municipalities or for enterprise, I tell people don't get caught up in the technology, still get down to the basics. What problem are you trying to solve or what pain point do you have and then we'll then that will lead the conversation of what technology should we look at and how do we build a solution to come combat that problem. So that's where the discussions open up. Also, it never hurts to gather as much information and get as much education on the technology or on the companies that you're looking for information on it. Now it is it's so easy to be able to do research on Google or go on YouTube and see how solutions work.
That gives you a little bit of insight so that when companies are talking about certain technology or protocols or software. You'll be a little bit more familiar on these topics. Another thing that you mention about policy. That's where a lot of cities, let's say, five years ago or even as short as two years ago. We're getting into contracts with companies without understanding.
One the data that's being collected, who owns the data and gets back to data privacy. So sometimes companies are I'll take you back, sometimes cities to save money allow companies are strategic the solution providers and say hey we're coming in at a lower price and will deploy this smart city solution for you and you don't even have to operate it. Will operated but they're also collecting the data and then selling it data to profit off of in the data that they're collecting is data from the city itself and citizens and visitors that are in the area of where the smart solution is deployed. So when it comes to the policy, it is paramount that the city or the enterprise understands, number one what data is being collected, two, where that data is being stored in, three, who has the ownership and then once you find out who's trying to take ownership of that data, there's always room for negotiation and saying hey, we don't want you to own the data. That's our data. So then open that opens the conversation of the ownership and who wants the ownership and what the costs are behind the ownership of the data. So if a city is traying protect your citizens information from a third party, they can take ownership of the data. But then the solution can become more costly to deploy or to own that in the city and then going beyond that. Once the city has the data, are they securely storing that data and is that data anonymous data being collected just saying how many people, how many cars are traversing in a particular area or is it picking up facial recognition data, or license plates and ID cars so that gets a little bit of a deeper dive into the type of data that's being stored. So there's a lot of questions to be asked and it should not be taken lightly and there should be a lot of deliberation that's done before actually putting out an RFP or an RFQ.
KRISTINA: So is there such a thing as smart city readiness? Do you see cities or even enterprises out there that are ready. And if so, what is the criteria for being ready before you sort of just take a plunge into a project or into a program to become a smart city or smart enterprise, you know, is there a point where people need to kind of say,okay, look I have these fundamental data and security questions resolved or I've at least started the conversation. What is the sweet spot, right, because it's a chicken and an egg. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know but again, you want to get started but you don't want to get started and have these negative consequences. So is there such a thing as readiness? And if so, what is that criteria?
ANTHONY: Yeah, you had a very valid point there about readiness and so much so over the past year, I designed a smart city readiness assessment that looks at cities or even companies entire network infrastructure. Sure, but also the other component that I added on that other people and other companies that may say that they have a readiness assessment. We also evaluate the human talent at a given city or a company because what we want to see is are the people in position that are currently monitoring or managing the IT infrastructure, one, are they credentialed and qualified, and two, are they able to potentially take on a new role as your smart technology expands within your city? Because when you're adding more technology in quote unquote smart technology, it's cheaper if you're able to manage and maintain that in house instead of paying a third party to do so, so the smart city readiness assessment, the reason why these are important is because a lot of city infrastructure, network infrastructure is outdated and by outdated it could be end of life or unsupported or some of the equipment can be 10 years old. So imagine, trying to download some of the latest software, the latest app, but you have a flip phone that's not a smartphone, that's sort of describes how some cities in
structure is but yet they're trying to teens some smart technology. So with the smart city readiness assessment, it does a comprehensive audit and assessment on everything from servers, databases, routers, switches, wireless radio communication through all departments software applications, data storage, and they looked at all the configurations and cyber security. So what this will do is it'll point out any problems that are seen within a city's infrastructure and then provide solutions. What we want to do is build a solid core foundation so that when you add smart technology anywhere within your city, your city IT infrastructure will be able to handle that and also keep it secure and safe right now. I've seen a lot deployments where the city doesn't have a solid core infrastructure then smart technology, even though it works does not traverse the network or is not safe or gets exploited or fails , so we want to avoid those kind of pitfalls. So that's where smart city readiness assessment gauges you and tells you where you're at and how ready your city or your company is to take on smart technology.
KRISTINA: If people were inclined to start off a readiness assessment, can you give us more information on how to go to about that or should they reach out to you directly? Where can they get more information on that?
ANTHONY: They can reach out to me directly. They did find my email or find me on our company website or on LinkedIn and I'd be glad to share more information. You could also look up on Google and do a search to see if there's any other companies are that are providing this. The advantage that I give is I'm vendor agnostic. So again, I'm not pushing any particular company or I don't have a particular view that I'm pushing. What I'm trying to do is just educate and point out best practices and what is important for cities to understand going forward. The other thing is, city officials as we know are elected positions so they might not be obviously they're not going to be there forever. So another thing I advise is creating a smart city vision and a new culture within a lot of cities have chief information and chief Innovation officers that can help lead this culture change. Once you start you don't just buy a smart technology, we have a smart tech city project and then you become a smart city. It's an ongoing endeavor that you will continue going forward and each year a city should plan on that budget growing every year going forward, if your city is now ready for that and doesn't have the budget for that, there's no rush. You don't have to force something. They might not be there or that isn't funded and another highlight that I would like to point out is every city is different. Listen to what your citizens tell you, not every city is going to build smart projects at the same rate or even the same smart projects at all. So find out what your pain points are in your city, prioritize them, some might be based on price. So there's a feasibility study you to do. Some may be based on grants. Sometimes you could get state or federal grant funding that can make a smart technology project viable that might have been millions of dollars. So you don't want to lose that opportunity with all that funding that's available. So that might push up a project on the priority scale over a project that might have been a couple hundred thousand.
KRISTINA: Today, I am speaking with Anthony Veri about smart cities, as well as smart enterprises. Anthony, is there such a thing as smart rural? Or is the concept of smart limited to cities?
ANTHONY: It extends to all cities, i to their point a big urban city will have more problems with traffic and air pollution and maybe physical security that they're worried about and then when you look into rural, there's other things as far as connectivity, there could be telemedicine where getting to hospitals or getting to see a doctor may be harder if it's further away. So there is there's definitely opportunities for rural. Every city has to evaluate again what's important to them and their citizens and what are their citizens asking for? Is it access to some of the public services. Over the years we've talked about digital transformation, for at least the past seven years and we're still not even through the digital transformation and by that I mean there's still many city departments that have paper forms paper filing. This information is not available online. So completing the digital transformation help cities become more available as far as their information and data and services t.o their citizens and by being available doesn't mean it's insecure. There's always a security aspect to everything. So there's ways to do it and still keep the information secure.
KRISTINA: Got it.
ANTHONY: we can talk more about rural and some other stuff, but I'm sure we have some other questions we can get to.
KRISTINA: I do I actually have a different question for you. Let's pivot a little bit. Can you tell us a bit about 5G? Why is it suddenly or at least it seems for small number of people, why is 5G suddenly so controversial?
ANTHONY: Well, I think it's done really controversial since that pandemic has happened, even to the point where I've had engineers who deal with IT and radio communication equipment even question me about 5G and the ramifications to our health and the viability of 5G. You see, all this marketing for the past couple of years on 5G, 5G means it's the fifth generation of cellular radio propagation that we use for cell phone connectivity that traverses data video and voice. So the FCC, every country has an agency that governs radio communications in their country, ours is the FCC and what they do is they look at each frequency and look radio waves are radiation energy. So radiation at the wrong power can cause damage to human beings. It's radiation is like radioactive material. So radiation energy in the form of radio waves are invisible. We can't see them, we can touch them and we can hear them but they're able to take data and send it at the speed of light around our globe from radio to radio via antennas. So all these radio waves are hitting humans every day, even without 5G. We have radio waves for our common radios, how we hear AM/FM, if you have satellite radio, there was a radio waves coming from satellites.
So 5g, people are starting to worry about 5G is when we move when we're moving from 4G LTE to 5 G, 5G uses a wide variety of radio frequencies and the higher the frequency you use the shorter distance those radio waves travel. So in 5G, they're using higher frequencies, so they're going to have to build a tower in between every 4G tower to be able to have these higher frequencies send information. Like they would in state connected as cell phones like 4G did so when you have more than twice the number of towers being built to make 5G networks work. That means there's more radiation and more data being sent. But it's at power levels that are not going to hurt. You means the power levels are guided here in the US by the FCC and we've used these frequencies even before 5G was around. So there's no studies that are showing there is any higher impact of the frequencies used for 5G radio communication, and these are new frequencies that we haven't used before so people are worried just because there's going to be more wireless radios deployed, because they're worried that in mind cause health impacts to humans, but I could tell you that the power levels are fine and it I haven't seen anything from any reliable source or any studies that show that the radio is being used in 5G cellular communication are causing any damage whatsoever to human beings. Obviously. Yes. It is radiation and it's no different than the radiation from other wireless communication that we've used throughout the years with our cell phone usage, even with your microwave in our homes today, they use 2.4 gigahertz radio waves to heat up our food. We've been eating that food and there hasn't been anything that said heating up your food with radiation energy as cause us any harm to this point any significant harm. So I have some information I could share with people if they want more information. I break down what I'm talking about here even in more detail to give people some assurance not to worry about cellular communication radios, they're not doing as much harm whatsoever.
KRISTINA: That's great Anthony. This is actually as you've been speaking, I'm listening to every word and thinking to myself this is great. In plain language explained what's going on really with 5G and should we worry or not. So we really appreciate that, but you mentioned a moment ago the pandemic and so we find ourselves in the middle of you know, Covid-19 at the moment. Do you see either short-term or long-term implications of this pandemic on smart city projects. Is there anything there that we should think about or no?
ANTHONY: Yeah, actually there's a lot and we can maybe even do a full podcast on it that there's that much, a few weeks ago. I was on a panel of 35 people talking about the pandemic and how its implementing here in the US. So what I've seen is a lot of smart city projects have been put on hold, 90 to 95% of them. They're focusing obviously on the pandemic but they're looking for smart solutions to help track people who have been tested positive and where people are traversing to see if they're doing social distancing. So I've seen new request for smart solutions and IoT solutions, but there's much broader ramifications that I've been focusing on and talking with mayors and even sheriffs and public safety. So what's happening and that not much has been being talked about as on social media platforms is, yes, so far the lockdowns and the quarantines have hurt businesses in the US.
The second wave that is coming and the third wave is there's going to be an impact to our housing market but more importantly there's an impact to our municipal governments and our state governments, what happens when a small business is closed. There's three things. There's no sales tax collected by the city, by the states. There's no income tax collected by their workers that they pay so the city, the states aren't collecting income tax and then on top of that when the employees aren't getting paid, they don't have money to pay their apartments, their lease payments over their mortgage payments in so that means property taxes aren't being paid. So then property taxes are being collected. So this is causing municipal governments budgets and that they projected that they would have based on incoming taxes collected aren't going to be there. So some cities are being proactive in freezing their budgets immediately and telling their workers. You are only allowed to spend money that is vital to keep your department functioning on a daily basis or they even have to be approved by a specific executive, other cities I've taught you where some of the department heads are spending their budget before it's frozen. They want to buy everything that they need for the year before they're cut off or before the budgets cut in half, some cities have already made layoffs. I've seen as high as one-third of city hall employees that have been furloughed or have been laid off permanently, until further notice. So these are our problems that are happening now and coming down the road that we as citizens and as cities have to pay attention to and I know that we've talked about in the past. When everything opens back up in our economy, it's everything's not going back to the way it used to be. There's going to be a new normal and we're going into, what does it look like right now. It's hard to say exactly but you're going to see more remote workers that will continue. There's a lot that we don't know as far as this pandemic as when it will end after this first wave when the second wave will come if it is coming this winter so there's still a lot of work and research that has to be done for us to plan for going into the future and it causes a lot of unrest, sometimes chaos, but we're all trying to do our best to find answers to all these hard questions.
KRISTINA: And so that makes me reflect a little bit on the county where I live, you know, before this pandemic hit, we were in a situation where two-thirds of the schools had issued individual devices to children. I know that for my son who's in middle school that meant getting a Chromebook for some of the younger children, that meant having an iPad or a Kindle device and so is interesting because what we saw was the Department of Education just really quickly go into the marketplace and buy up additional devices for that last one third of students. So now we're in a position where every student has a device but then of course the next big issue became what about wireless access, you have a device, but you have to connect to something and you know, it seemed like the first knee-jerk reaction was well, let's boost the signal from public libraries and everybody can pull up in their cars and use the free Wi-Fi from libraries, which might be great to check your email but obviously isn't conducive to having your child work for 3 to 4 hours and get their homework done. So that begs the question of, you know, kind of thinking about the pandemic and even beyond that as we start to work in this new normal. Is wireless city access for all even possible. Is that something that we should strive for, in your opinion? And what does that look like, especially when we think about rural areas?
ANTHONY: So those are very important questions and I'll hit on the rural broadband point first. The FCC has been very proactive as far as trying to help rural America be connected with broadband and not just connected with the decent broadband speeds and by broadband we're talking internet connection and we're talking speeds of at least 25 megabits per second. Obviously, you're trying to hit a hundred megabits per second availability. But at least 25 megabits download with at least 5 megabits per second upload and what they've done is they have Connect America Funding also known as CAF funding, that they distributed in Phase 2, last year and there were numerous winners are across the U.S. where they have awarded over a billion dollars in that Phase 2. I think it was about 1.6 billion and what this is done is given money to two wireless internet service providers and telcos and cable companies to build out in specific areas that were designated as needing internet. They might have been underserved or not served at all. So right now there's even though it's a 10-year plan. These companies have six years to build out all this infrastructure and provide internet service to these unserved and underserved areas in the U.S. Now after that CAF funding phase two was awarded, there's been an additional nine billion dollars that has been allocated for additional funding for broadband in unserved and underserved areas in the U.S. and then the FCC also awarded. I forget the exact amount, but I know it's over a billion dollars for 5G build-out in rural America as well. So the FCC has seen this coming that internet is a needed utility just like electricity for people today in America and for people not to have it is proving to be very costly. So even in urban areas, there's impoverished areas that might not be connected so when you mentioned initially about cities providing free public Wi-Fi or public Wi-Fi that was one of the smart city projects that a lot of cities have looked at over the past year, five years and there has been a lot of issues because city is said, yes, we wanted and then they were saw how much it cost and then they said okay, we don't want it and then companies team back and say, okay, we'll provided to your cities and you could offer it for free. We get all the data and that's how companies monetize providing free Wi-Fi access in the city sign away their rights to the data. And then that's where a lot of privacy is you started coming up. So there are options that that can be done and I've also worked on solutions where cities can still own their data and then without having to foot the entire bill for free public Wi-Fi there's opportunities to build. Let's say a city app that you get retailers and restaurants to market to people within the city when they're there to their cell phones within proximity. Let's say a 500 feet of a restaurant or a shop and these restaurants and retailers are eager to market to people right outside then paid advertising on Google
to people that may never even come within a mile of their business. So there's marketing opportunities that cities can then use that marketing to boost their own cities businesses and also offset the cost of offering the free public Wi-Fi. So that's a type of smart city solution that makes it profitable and the city owns the data and the restaurants and businesses monopolize off of being able to market to people right outside in the citizens and visitors are able to take advantage of the free connectivity. So there's a chance for a win-win on all three sides.
KRISTINA: Anthony, this is just been really amazing. You know, I'm so grateful that you shared with us. Today. You're experiencing your insights. It's very obvious to me and I'm sure to a lot of the listeners that we could probably talk for at least another three days not three hours and still not tap into all of your insight. So what I'll do instead is if you're willing to come back at another time and give us another deep dive I extend that invitation to you right now because this is so insightful on so many different levels and very important again in plane speak that we can all in jest understand and apply to our businesses our marketing and also to ourselves personally as citizens and governments. So thanks again for being with us. I'll put up a link to you or LinkedIn profile and to your company website and share some additional resources, but promise me, please you'll come back again and give us additional insights.
ANTHONY: Yes, I will for sure and it was a pleasure being on here. And what I may do is focus in on a specific area either with smart cities or smart buildings or IoT or and IoTis another whole aspect of industrial IoT, healthcare IoT and smart city IoT and then even in our homes, smart home, so there's a lot that we could talk about and we could decide that at a later time, but I'd be more than happy to come on.
KRISTINA: Thanks, we will definitely unpack those because a lot of insights are buried there and can't think of a greater person than you two to lead us through that process and that discussion. So, thanks again. Stay healthy stay well and will connect with you again soon.