Silver Spring Networks announced something rather intriguing today:  A network-as‐a-service offering, which will allow cities to deploy new smart-city services to citizens in a rapid, and perhaps cost efficient manner. So in essence it becomes a SaaS (software-as-as-service) type of offering, but rather than office applications we are instead talking about solutions that help with environmental, health and safety, traffic, and even transportation challenges for cities. Intriguing, indeed.

A few weeks ago I had a rather enlightening conversation with Sterling Hughes, the head of advanced technology at Silver Springs Networks, regarding the state of the “smart city” around the world. At the time the company was fresh off of announcing a rather significant piece of news related to networking 20,000 street lights in Copenhagen, beginning in 2014. What made this news so significant was the fact this was another example of Silver Springs Networks demonstrating real-world projects at a time where so many others are just talking about smart cities. Just months earlier the company announced a significant relationship with the city of Paris around lighting and traffic control, too.

During our discussion Hughes and I talked about the reasons why, for all intents and purposes, the idea of a smart city seems to be more talk than action. What I ultimately gleaned from that conversation was that cities (and partnering organizations) often face a myriad challenges associated with networking or platform development or even just the whole idea of scale—or perhaps where to begin (e.g., does traffic control ultimately provide a good starting point to other things like lighting solutions, or vice versa?)—when even entertaining the idea of a “smart city.”

At the time Hughes intimated that some of these hurdles might become less of a factor. Without revealing too much he gave me the impression that the company was indeed working on something big that could ultimately change the way smart cities are perceived around the world.

Now with its new network-as-a-service offering, what Silver Springs Networks is presenting is a very intriguing option for cities around the world that are facing pressures related to budget, yet are being pressured to deliver these connected services to their citizens. With this model, Silver Spring Networks is offering up its services to deploy, manage, and operate smart city networks on behalf of the cities.

Aside from the obvious benefits of avoiding upfront capital and deployment costs, I believe what Silver Springs is offering is a point-of-entry to cities around the globe. Similar to the way in which a SaaS deployment allows organizations to continually build off of the same network deployment for additional applications, Silver Springs is hoping to do the same for cities. The company says cities can use the same network to deploy more and more applications related to smart city over time.

The company is using phrases like “game-changing economics” and “reducing risk” in an effort to allow cities to essentially self-fund their smart-city network. But beyond that, I think the company touches on something rather important when it notes that such a platform introduces the idea of entrepreneurs or developers being able to provide additional value, using the platform, to the cities.

This is a very interesting idea and one that I think warrants paying close attention to in the long run. We have seen countless developer challenges around such things as the home, the car, and others, but we could start to really hone in on developers starting to target the city with new and innovative ideas. Getting cities to open up their APIs to hobbyists isn’t always an appealing option.

As you may recall we hosted our very own App Challenge earlier this year, in conjunction with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, where developers tapped into open-data sets in order to create some very powerful apps. What came of it were great app ideas for healthcare, auto, and more. At our Connected World Conference coming this February we put even greater emphasis on start-ups with a special Start-Up Pavilion right on our show floor.

Perhaps some of these start-ups are in the realm of developing smart parking or lighting control for cities—or even things we haven’t yet imagined. With this announcement, they might have a way to approach cities with their ideas in a way that might seem far more cost-effective than ever before.

Will a network city-as-a-service ever take hold? It’s uncertain. But announcements like this have us thinking of what the future of a connected world could indeed hold.

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