The Cascading Technology Trap in Smart City Projects

By | September 20, 2017

Smart CitiesA survey of smart city activities around the world shows that much of the focus of smart city projects remains on establishing the most basic of services such as connectivity. In fact, there is a clear lag in the deployment of technologies and services in smart city applications, versus what technologies enable. We call this the cascading technology trap.

Based on the hands-on involvement of the Xona Partners team in the design and rollout of over half a dozen smart cities, the cascading technology trap emerged as a common thread: technologies are evolving at a significantly faster pace than the ability of cities to adopt.

In a new paper [1], we illustrate how the rapid pace of technology evolution is an impediment to the adoption of smart city applications and how different cities around the world have tackled this challenge. This is not to diminish the importance of the other challenges facing smart cities, such as the financing deployments, the establishment of optimal public private partnerships, the handling of organizational structures within smart cities in a way that is consistent with governance models and a number of other challenges. However, for cities determined on implementing smart city applications, the cascading technology trap proved to be the primary and most complex challenge to overcome after having resolved other challenges.

To illustrate our thesis, we focus on one technology area – that of the city’s data flow information systems, including data generation, transmission and management for simplicity, although similar challenges are present in other layers of the technology stack. Below is a focus on the connectivity. Similar rapid progress is happening on the data management side.

Connectivity Timeline

IoT Connectivity Timeline.

We summarize possible strategies on how to approach the cascading technology trap. Some of these strategies are in early stages of implementation by select smart cities. The key point is that while prescriptions exist, one needs to develop a hybrid approach that best suites the characteristics of the city in question.


1. Download the paper at: The Cascading Technology Trap: Implications in Smart City Deployments.

2. The paper is a collaborative effort between Wavefront and Xona Partners.

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