Mobile service has been rapidly expanding across 95 percent of the world’s population. An obvious perk of this expansion is that more communities are benefiting from increased internet access, but the advantages of global telecommunication goes far beyond that.

Telecommunications enables communication: between families and communities and between governments and businesses. Without telecommunications, we would not have global businesses, or effective natural disaster response capabilities, or sweeping social movements. Telecommunications has enabled our governments to keep us safer, our businesses to expand, our economies to grow, and has leveled the playing field for people living in developing countries or rural communities, allowing them to access opportunities they would not otherwise have. Humankind is now almost entirely connected.

But arguably the most exciting recent development in telecommunications is the emergence of the smart city.  Smart city initiatives are underway around the world, in locales as diverse as Songdo, South Korea; Helsinki, Finland; and Seattle, United States. Communication networks are the heart of smart city infrastructure, and leverage sensors and data to more efficiently manage traffic and transportation systems, water supply networks, waste management, power plants, law enforcement, schools, libraries, and other community services. By increasing the information transfer between citizens and officials, cities can reduce costs and resource consumption, while simultaneously providing better services to residents.

The rewards can be staggering. Barcelona, for example, created approximately 47,000 jobs through its implementation of Internet of Things (IoT) systems, saved €42.5 million on water, and generated an extra €36.5 million a year through smart parking. And teleco-integrated street lights like the ones being installed in San Jose, California boost WiFi, assist police in emergencies, and are expected to save millions of dollars each year in energy usage. Cities consume 70 percent of the world’s energy, and by 2050 urban areas will house 6.5 billion people worldwide (2.5 billion more than today). As more cities become smarter, the impact on our planet and the climate change crisis could be profound.

The other exciting element about smart cities is that the technology enables city officials to communicate directly with citizens. This makes the dissemination of key information much more efficient, whether it be crisis communications, transportation changes, safety concerns, or service updates.

Communication is the hallmark of collaboration and innovation, and the telecommunications industry has enabled much of this. Society has benefited from our connectivity in countless ways, including: estranged friends reconnecting, a sick employee working remotely, or an activist seeking volunteer opportunities abroad. But now, with the advent of smart cities, our government representatives are in a position to improve our public services and quality of life like never before, and hopefully save the planet, too.