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Smart Gelsenkirchen Makes Life More Livable for Residents

Manfred vom Sondern

Manfred vom Sondern, CDO for the City of Gelsenkirchen, Germany, explains how a new, high performance fiber optic network transformed his city. | November 2018

Welcome to the Keynote series for New Horizons, the podcast channel for Huawei’s ICT Insights Magazine. Please join us as we listen to tech industry experts and thought leaders. Today we’re at the 2018 Smart City Expo In Barcelona, Spain with Manfred vom Sondern, the Chief Digital Officer for the City of Gelsenkirchen, Germany. He explains how the city has deployed a high performance fiber optic network to become “fully connected.” In fact, Gelsenkirchen is now one of five model digital cities in the North Rhine-Westphalia region. Now, let’s hear what Manfred has to say.

Thank you. It’s called Gelsenkirchen where I’m from. Our claim in Gelsenkirchen is (that) Gelsenkirchen is a connected city. The overall ‘leitbild’ is the following: Our long-term vision is to create and build a city-wide, intelligent digital ecosystem which focuses on citizens, business, research facilities, tourists, and environment, enabling government and the civic to act sustainable for the benefit of the whole city. Therefore, we designed a broad Smart City approach with many actors within Gelsenkirchen, as well as with our partners, and interconnected various steps, solutions, and projects. We deliberately choose a holistic approach, not mainly technical.

You can see Gelsenkirchen. We are located in the heart of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan area. We are one of the largest cities. Yes, maybe you laugh at 265,000 inhabitants, but we’re a large city in North Rhine-Westphalia. We’re within the largest economic zone in Europe after London and Paris.

Here are our partners, all main players. At the left, you see GKD-EL Data Center for city administration on the left hand side, Gelsen-Net, and we’re a city administration above. We all make together the connected city. The basis is high performance fiber optic. A couple of years ago, we thought we would have to start with the infrastructure. Today, all departments are connected with our own fiber optic — all industrial estates and business parks, all hospitals and schools. The infrastructure enables digital government to build the backbone for the digital development for our city.

Here’s some partners. You can see we have some local partners but international partners, too. We had to strive for this Gelsenkirchen ‘leitbild,’ the connected city. We organize our work and our projects into these fields of activities. Let me tell you, we put Gelsenkirchen on the map because we are a fellow city in the program called Digital Cities Challenge from the E.U. Commission. We are connected with over 40 cities; among them, Barcelona is a mentor, thanks for that. Digital Cities Challenge is an example of a really good offline network. Gelsenkirchen is one of the five digital model cities in North Rhine-Westphalia. There’s support from the Minister of Economic Affairs. We have our model city, or lead city for a model region, and have to make projects, e-Government projects, and projects for digital urban development. Aachen, Poderborn, Soest, and Wuppertal are the other cities.

Some projects we have already implemented. Yes, free Wi-Fi also in Gelsenkirchen. We have about 300 hotspots for our free WLAN throughout the city, the longest hotspot mile in the region. This is special for us. Maybe not for you, but for us. It’s free of charge, easy to use, very stable, and very powerful. The people love it. Yes, the people love it.

Then, let me tell you about our good data for good decisions. We have a very good spatial data infrastructure in Gelsenkirchen, with several mapping tools for everyone. It forms the basis of our ‘digital twin.’ In addition, we know a lot of statistic data about our inhabitants, which we combine then with the spatial data. We have tools, very good tools, very easy-to-use tools, with very good end-user functionality for anyone looking for simple analysis and reports, but sophisticated analytical tools of data visualization tools for the pros.

Another example (is) problem reporting, our Problem Pointer App. This is a very simple App, but it’s a good example, I think, for an important thing of participation. We offer the citizens a fast and comfortable possibility to inform the responsible departments about lacks and offenses like illegal waste, potholes, damaged or unreadable traffic signs. You start the workflow by taking a photo and sending a GPS coordinate. You start a workflow by taking a picture to the city administration, and you are informed when it’s okay. Then — this project I love the most — we have an open data platform in Gelsenkirchen, with catalogue and publishing and visualization features that allows organizations to easily share data with the public. You can retrieve all this data on the European open data platform, too. We harvest this data.

Gelsenkirchen has many government projects, and many government projects in Germany are not implemented by the state. The city administrations have to develop many of their own solutions. We are responsible for implementing and proceeding the e-Government concept. With over 10,000 municipalities in Germany, that’s a pretty divided picture.

This is a project in planning, the Bürger-ID. We have a problem in Germany. The German digital ID card suffers from the low acceptance, using it for government services by the citizen due to the additional hardware required. We want to aim together with the university in Gelsenkirchen; we want to bring the basic technology to make e-Government and Smart City applications easily and yet securely accessible to local authorities, federal states, and companies. This is a project, we think in about three years, and we make it together with our University in Gelsenkirchen.

Let me finally introduce our new topic, the Open Innovation Lab Arena Park. The famous football club FC Schalke 04, so we talk about this area. The Arena Park with its center, the Veltins Arena, you can see, will be an ideal district for testing and implementation of digital future applications and their interactions. There are 140 actors, about 200 football fields. The site is representative of almost all city structures on one sheet of paper. High schools, restaurants, parking areas, transport system, small business, leisure area, clinic, and flats. All the ground belongs to the city. This is good for testing.

In this park, we want to test and implement solutions of different topics like smart transport, lighting, parking, security, waste, and so on, and so on. All these cases you already know. But what makes it so exciting for us is we want here in one place to show and to bring in use — not only showcases, but use cases — different smart city solutions at one single place. The objective is to set up the infrastructure for this open innovation on the Lab Arena Park. It is 5G, and a connected city test site in Gelsenkirchen for various modern IT solutions and IoT applications. like lighting solutions, parking solutions, crowd management. There are about over 3 million people every year in this area, watching the football games or watching Elena Fisher singing or something like this. We have traffic control, many traffic problems to bring the traffic to the field, in the field, and bring the people into the stadium. Then we think about the numbers of autos driving.

There’s a great medical center, medicos.AufSchalke, the greatest ambulatory rehab center in Europe. This is a partner, too. Many, many use cases will be possible here. Therefore, we need a service platform. We’re still just in a proof of concept. We want to finish it, maybe, in 2018. You can see the infrastructure level, then the sensors, send the data to a smart, big data platform, plus the municipal data. This is maybe special because I just told you, good data for good decisions. We put all these data too in this smart, big data platform, and our own data portal and other data portals. We, as a city administration, have to operate this platform by ourselves because the data are made in our town, in our city. We want to develop the different cases.

But there are some challenges. We’re already in the process to develop the multi-standard service platform as a central big data IT component of Gelsenkirchen. We are already in process of implementation of the data sources and services. But we have to protect the comprehensive sensor data, interconnect them with proprietary IT solutions, then ingestion of various data types, and we have to take care about the European GDPR, anonymization of collected data.

In the Open Innovation Lab Arena Park, an open innovation laboratory will be created together with established and young companies, like start-ups. The Westphalian University of Applied Sciences in Gelsenkirchen accompanies the project with the appropriate scientific approaches from the various chairs. Areas of cooperation are water, waste, smart parking, and so on. Telefonica call data records are networked, autonomous driving. The aim is to jointly research and test these technologies and their key applications, in combination with fiber optic, public WLAN, LoRaWAN, 4G, and 5G mobile radio technologies in Gelsenkirchen for the suitability for everyday use in order to implement them step by step in the model region North Rhine-Westphalia. See you. Thanks.

Thanks for listening to this episode of New Horizons. Please be sure to click on the link below to read a full transcript of this keynote speech. If you enjoyed it, please subscribe and be sure to share with your friends on social media. For more information on Huawei’s products and solutions, please visit e.huawei.com. Be sure to tune in again soon for more great guest interviews and stories. And as always, thanks for listening.


Manfred vom Sondern is the Chief Digital Officer, Head of the Networked City Unit, and Head of the Statistics Office for the City of Gelsenkirchen, Germany. His role involves the strategic conception of the urban monitoring system, including OpenData management, and the development and support of interfaces for specialized administration. He is also a member of regional and national expert working groups for transregional cooperation in the field of statistics.

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