Guest column

Here's how to make Houston the smartest city in America

Houston's new Ion Smart Cities Accelerator director on making our town a smart one. Getty Images

In an age of autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, virtual reality, and 5G, more and more cities across the country are deploying smart technologies. The breadth of these technologies can result in many opportunities to share information, drive economic growth, create access, and enhance the quality of life, safety, and connectedness for a city's citizens and communities.

Recently listed as a city of the future, America's most diverse and fourth largest city, Houston, is leveraging these technologies - from driverless pizza delivery to flood detection sensors. Enhancing transportation, public safety, resiliency and sustainability, and community engagement are foundational to Houston's mission of building a smarter, more resilient future, especially in the face of natural disasters, such as hurricanes. These factors also shape the collaborative vision for Houston as a smart city that enjoys economic growth, promotes and practices inclusion, and prioritizes public safety.

So, how do we achieve this vision? As attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker, "the best way to predict the future is to create it." This quotation speaks to the power of creativity in having a vision for what our future could look like, and in building this vision. To create this future, collaboration in the context of a strong, purposeful entrepreneurial ecosystem is crucial. With this in mind, Station Houston, an acceleration hub for startup technology companies, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship, has partnered with Microsoft, Intel, TX/RX Labs, and the city of Houston in spearheading the creation of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, which announced its formation in April.

The 10-month program will foster startups and entrepreneurs in developing smart city technology geared toward tacking transportation, resiliency, mobility, and other needs. Participants will have access to city of Houston officials, free membership to Station Houston for the duration of the program, curated events and training, and a state-of-the art makerspace, and much more. The accelerator will prepare startups with an MVP for the opportunity to pilot their technology-based solutions in the city of Houston. The accelerator will be based out of Station Houston, and will move to the Ion when it opens.

As we create Houston's future, we must do so through from the foundation of leveraging technology to create access, equity, and opportunity for all; promoting sustainability and safety; upholding civic values and inclusion; and seeking to meet our citizen's greatest needs.

To achieve a vision of Houston as America's smartest city, our most valuable currency is our ability to collaborate through relationships and partnerships that unite and empower communities. Smart technology must be grounded in connecting people and empowering communities to share data, information, and knowledge. In these ways, smart technology truly enables a city to serve, and celebrate, its greatest asset: its people.

If you are interested in participating in the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, please apply here. Our website has a frequently asked questions section, a note from the director, and relevant media and news articles about the accelerator

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Christine Galib is the program director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator.

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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