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Use case: Smart Santander – facilitating a competitive advantage for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in cities

  • Geography: Santander (Spain)
  • Partners: European Union Future Internet Research and Experimentation, City of Santander, Santander Local Economic Development Agency, 25 partners from across Europe and Australia
  • Timeframe: 2010-2014

Smart Santander was an IoT testbed operating across Europe from 2010–2014. At the time, it was the most extensive urban IoT infrastructure in the world, comprising thousands of sensors communicating with the deployed IoT architecture. IoT is, and was, a frontier technology with big rewards for the first cities and firms that could crack the technology and its uses. This case study focusses on the city of Santander in Spain, where they deployed 12,000 censors across the city for various purposes. The testbed facilitated testing of approaches to and building blocks of IoT architecture, and the interaction with device technology and their use in delivering public services.

Key success factors and lessons

  • Testing in a real-world environment allowed for better research and collaboration: The real-world environment provided a more practical approach for researchers, allowing them to learn and improve products quickly. It also facilitated collaboration between research institutes, citizens and private sector actors, creating a framework for more rapid development of the IoT technology that has moved beyond the testbed phase. The number of sensors deployed across the city increased from 12,000 during the testbed period to over 20,000 that are now used in day-to-day management of the city.
  • Involving citizens boosts credibility and adaptation levels: As citizens were brought along on the journey of embedding sensors within the city using the services during testing stages, it allowed for a status change from ‘testing’ to ‘operational’ following the testbed period. The public continued to use the technology in their daily lives. A survey carried out by McKinsey showed that the citizens of Santander were both aware of the sensors across the city, and highly satisfied with the services they contributed to.
  • Clarity of purpose is key to innovating ahead of the wave: The purpose stated by the Smart Santander project was two-fold: 1) to facilitate real-world experimentation of IoT technology to achieve a leading role for European cities in IoT technologies, and 2) to provide useful services tailored to the cities during the testbed operation. It has also achieved the aims set by the EU, one of which was to ‘achieve a leading role in Europe in the IoT technologies’. The European Commission stated that 'The project has successfully achieved all its objectives, even exceeding initial expectation.'
  • Patience and scale are necessary to gain real advantage: To achieve the competitive advantages on a supra-regional scale (as envisioned by the EU), the testbed area(s) require adequate scale, length of time to allow learning and improving, well-run partnerships with win-win outcomes and sufficient long-term funding. Funding was also spread over several aspects of the IoT, reducing the risk of investing in ‘future trends’ and facilitating learning between projects.
  • A successful testbed can lead to changes in the economic environment: Santander, originally a heavy service economy, has seen the smart city investment enabling a revitalisation of the business and entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is also due to an integration of the smart city project into the municipality’s strategic plan, the masterplan for innovation, and the Smart City Plan. Santander is now, according to McKinsey, among the top ten strongest cities in Europe regarding their smart technology base, better than Berlin, Paris and Moscow.