Our major cities are entering a period of critical danger. They're about to face a struggle to survive and unless we move quickly, there will be little that we can do. This is the theory of physicist, Geoffrey West, who notes that our cities are growing at such speed that society is unable to cope with all the negative effects that accompany such rapid growth. West believes the result will be a radical alteration to our global society. Or at least it will be, unless we can drastically pick up the pace of innovation. The question is, can we?

One of the keys to answering this is to understand what society needs to make it more effective. What do we need in our everyday lives that could essentially alleviate the stresses and strains of living in a city? The answer invariably points to technology. We need smarter devices, we need more automation, we need more efficiency. In many respects, this represents a marriage between big data and the Internet of Things. But, yep, you knew this was coming, there's a critical hurdle to overcome before any of this can become a large-scale reality - our networks.

In an earlier blog post, I discussed the coming of the terabit era and received a comment noting that those on the wrong side of the digital divide are unlikely to benefit from any such network advancements. I can't help but think about this comment in regards to West's assertions. To overcome the rapid growth of our cities, we also need to overcome the digital divide. We need to remember that this divide isn't just urban vs rural but also urban vs urban. London, for example, still has connectivity blackspots that make the development of smart cities very difficult.

For our cities to become smarter, we need networks to become smarter. As I've mentioned previously, our networks are currently in the midst of an optical reboot. This reboot will see the core of our networks rebuilt on 100Gbit/s data transport, ROADM technology and GMPLS control planes. Making for a flexible and intelligent core that can rapidly respond to enormous data challenges. What's critical about the reboot though is that the network has to be pushed to everyone and this is where there is still no clear strategy.

However, we are making progress. Only last month, IBM announced the development of a new software application that could potentially relieve Boston's huge traffic problems. The application, which is still only a prototype, pulls together data from a wide range of sources to show a real-time picture of traffic. It's hoped this information will enable Boston to understand its traffic better and introduce schemes that not only lower congestion but also reduce its carbon footprint.

When looking at the concept for IBM's Smarter Cities, it's difficult not to be excited by the potential. The video below highlights what’s possible. And there can be no question that if we can fulfil this promise, then West's vision for our global cities may be staved off, at least for a little longer. To get there will not only require the innovation that West mentions but also vision and cooperation, especially when it comes to closing the digital divide.

What do you see happening here? Do you agree with West that our cities are facing a major challenge? Do you believe that we can innovate quickly enough? Is the dream of a smart city likely to become a reality anytime soon? And can we close that digital divide? Lots of questions on this one. Let me know what you think.