Cisco Gets City Building

Author: Greg Clark

Cisco, the US technology giant, is one of a handful of multinational companies which has been at the forefront of changing the relationship between business and cities.  Greg Clark explores how and why the company is a pioneering example of a new type of urban business.

The ‘Smart City’ has become a fashionable concept amongst city commentators, policy makers, authorities and even residents in recent years.  Today, cities from Milton Keynes to Malaga are embarking on transformative journeys to becoming ‘smart’, books like Anthony Townsend’s Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers and the Quest for a New Utopia are not only being written but are widely read, and respected universities (for example University College London) are running postgraduate courses on Smart Cities.  But travel back only a decade and using the phrase ‘Smart Cities’ would have drawn blank looks.

Cisco Systems Inc, the NASDAQ 100 company, which designs, manufactures, and sells networking and telecommunications equipment, was – together with other tech giants such as Siemens and IBM – one of the first businesses to focus on the future of cities as part of its corporate strategy.  In 2005, Cisco dedicated US$25 million to five years of researching how to make cities more sustainable through its Connected Urban Development program.  As part of the initiative, Cisco joined up with the cities of San Francisco, Amsterdam and Seoul to develop pathfinder smart city projects.  Since those early projects, the company has committed itself fully to the Smart Cities agenda, developing its own brand, ‘Smart+Connected Communities’, which unites the networked products that it offers to the city governments, architecture, engineering and construction firms engaged in city building.

Of course Cisco’s interest in cities makes perfect business sense.  The Smart+Connected Communities’ brochure explains that ‘The 21st century is about urbanization based on information and the network as the underlying platform’.(i) If that statement proves true, then Cisco, as one of the world’s leading providers of networking equipment, has a lot to gain.  The UK government estimate that the global market for smart city solutions and the additional services required to deploy them will be worth US$408 billion by 2020.(ii)

Cisco has perhaps become best known in the cities’ space for its collaboration with the South Korean city of Songdo International Business District – the international US$35 billion poster-boy for Smart Cities.(iii) A new city built from reclaimed land near the Yellow Sea, Songdo aims to be a global business hub and a wholly sustainable city. Cisco is providing all network-based technologies for the city, most notably its ‘Telepresence’ product – a kind of two way TV – which will allow ‘education, health care and government services’ to be delivered directly into every home.(iv)

Cisco markets itself as the leading solutions provider for the next phase of urban development in a variety of ways.  The company has developed Globalisation Centre East, an environmentally sustainable campus in Bangalore, which showcases its latest technology solutions and provides an environment for developing solutions with emerging market customers.  It is also an omnipresent sponsor at conferences and thought leadership events on the future of cities (for example, the Arab Future Cities Summit 2014, Meeting of the Minds 2014 and Delivering Smart Cities 2013) and like its competitors, Siemens and IBM, carries out research and funds competitions in the future cities realm.  In April, the company launched a US$250 million Internet of Things Innovation Grand Challenge to ‘recognize, promote and accelerate the adoption of breakthrough technologies and products’.  Clearly, Cisco has not just dipped its toe in the water of the world of cities, but has well and truly taken the plunge.  As other blogs in this series will explore, it is being joined by an ever-growing number of companies, from both inside and outside the tech sector.


[i] Smart+Connected Communities: Changing a City, a Country, the World
[ii] The Smart City Market: Opportunities for the UK
[iii] Cities of the Future: Songdo, South Korea
[iv] Cisco’s Grand Telepresence Experiment in Songdo, South Korea


About the Author

Greg Clark has spent more than two decades putting his passion for cities to good use, by advising and mentoring global cities, firms and institutions. He has worked with over 100 cities around the world and holds senior advisory roles at international bodies including the OECD, Brookings Institution, ULI, and the Future Cities Catapult. A prolific author, Greg has published ten books to date on cities and investment practices, with three more in the pipeline for 2016-17. And as Chairman of The Business of Cities research and intelligence group, Greg leads a small high calibre team that advises and reports on global trends and changes in cities. In his academic life Greg is Hon Prof of City Leadership at UCL and co-chairman of the UCL City Leadership initiative, Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University, and Global Fellow at LSE Cities. He has received international awards for his work from cities as far afield as Barcelona, Brisbane, London, and Toronto and in 2016, Greg was honoured by HM Queen Elizabeth II with a CBE for his services to city and regional economic development. Meanwhile, outside of the day jobs, Greg is an avid tennis player, wine enthusiast, and lifelong follower of Arsenal FC.

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