Cities are growing. By 2050, more than 67 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent over today’s numbers. And while cities can expect a host of benefits from this population increase — more talented professionals, more businesses, more tax revenue — they’ll also see a major strain on their infrastructure and resources.

Smart solutions for waste management, safety, public transportation and more are needed to keep up with population growth and streamline municipal operations. Technology, and specifically the deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) devices across metropolitan areas, may be the answer city officials have been searching for to keep up with this fast-approaching growth.

But the success of smart cities will depend on the successful deployment of 5G networks and the availability of a strong fiber backbone to support the significant bandwidth required to run hundreds of smart sensors and devices.

How IoT devices can heighten safety and streamline operations for major cities

IoT is a relatively simple concept with far-reaching implications for enterprises and cities alike. At a basic level, IoT refers to a network of interconnected devices and sensors collecting data and communicating with each other. With minimal human supervision, this data can be analyzed, monitored and acted upon in real time.

The term "smart cities" was coined to describe these pioneer cities that have started to leverage the power of these devices to tackle operational, safety and quality-of-life challenges — empowering them to accomplish more with less manpower. While the concept of smart cities is still in its infancy, there are already some standout examples of how IoT is transforming the way cities approach and solve decades-old challenges:

Preventing water shortages

Among other smart initiatives, Barcelona has made use of in-ground sensors to monitor park irrigation, preventing overwatering and even water shortages.

Monitoring and maintaining key infrastructure

As its buildings age, Hong Kong is looking into whether drones or sensors can be used to monitor its infrastructure continuously, and signal when maintenance needs to be done.

Increasing the safety of high-risk areas

Oklahoma City has just installed a system of more than 300 cameras throughout the city, continuously taking footage. This enables police and firefighters to monitor hundreds of locations throughout the city from anywhere in real time.

These are problems cities have long dealt with: How to preserve key resources, maintain infrastructure and promote the safety of their citizens. Smart devices automate and streamline the process of solving them, offering infinite opportunities to lower operational costs and stay competitive.

Smart cities will rely on 5G technology and a strong fiber backbone

A mere five years from now, nearly 30 billion sensors will be deployed across the globe with the goal of automating and managing essential city functions, according to the International Data Corporation. To support this astronomical growth in bandwidth needs, the smart cities of the future will depend on the deployment of 5G mobile connectivity and a strong fiber backbone.

5G is the long-awaited, next-generation model of mobile networks, promising blistering speeds, near-zero latency and as much as 1,000 times the bandwidth of current mobile connectivity. It is what will make the future of smarter, safer cities possible.

Whereas the 4G mobile networks of today rely on radio frequency waves, 5G uses much higher frequency waves known as the millimeter wave spectrum.

Millimeter-spectrum waves are capable of carrying much more information, but do not travel as far. To overcome this hurdle, telecom companies will transition from large cell towers to small cell sites — which may be deployed at streetlamps — each covering a range of about 250 meters.

While 5G small cells would drastically increase the speeds and quality of experience for mobile connectivity, they would only be responsible for carrying data those last 250 meters — data will travel most of its journey along the wireline network. In fact, 90 percent of all internet traffic will still travel along the wireline network even in a 5G mobile network. To realize the theoretical speeds of 5G mobile networks, cities must continue to invest in deploying strong fiber backbones.

While copper can be used — and worked well for 2G and 3G speeds — legacy copper-based mobile backhauls are already being stressed at 4G speeds and are simply insufficient for 5G. Fiber beats copper in almost every facet important to networking: Speed, reliability, security and scalability.

Fiber can carry 10-gigabit signals more than 12 miles before dropping off, while copper can only carry 1-gigabit signals 300 feet. Fiber’s also much more secure and has nearly 6,000 times the bandwidth capabilities.

The speeds provided by fiber backbones are only limited by the equipment transceiving data, meaning fiber infrastructure has virtually limitless scalability as technology continues to improve. That’s why cities across the world continue to invest capital in fiber. More than $144 billion will be spent through 2019 on fiber-related expenses, according to a report from the International Telecommunications Union.

Cities across the world, like London; Barcelona; and even Louisville, Kentucky, have already begun experimenting with the potential of IoT devices to improve efficiency of internal processes and enhance the quality of life for their citizens, using fiber to ensure the strongest, most reliable connection. Those that lay a strong fiber foundation today will be the cities that reap the greatest benefits from the transition to 5G and a smarter, safer future.