Wireless communication networks advance smart city initiatives
By Bert Williams
What do you think of when you hear the term “smart city”? For many, the term brings to mind the metamorphosis underway across the nation to digitize and automate facets of our daily lives, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of municipal services, shortening residents’ daily commutes, reducing natural resource consumption and attendant pollution, attracting businesses and creating connected communities.
At its core, a smart city is a collection of machine-to-machine (M2M) and human controlled applications. These applications include:
Mobile workforce automation – improves the effectiveness, efficiency, productivity and safety of municipal employees including public safety personnel, building and health inspectors, public works employees, maintenance crews, parking and transit workers, as well as many more. Workers can easily and quickly access and share information in the field (GIS, photos, maps, blueprints, code information, etc.), obtain work orders and submit reports from the field saving a drive back to their office and improving cross-department coordination.
Intelligent transportation – reduced commute times and increased public transit ridership can be accomplished through a variety of means including traffic signal management systems dynamically reprogram traffic signal timing, transit signal priority keeps mass transit vehicles running on time, variable message signs inform commuters of alternate routes in congestion areas, and traffic sensors and cameras give control center personnel and commuters real-time situational awareness of traffic conditions and the data to make long term planning decisions.
Street light control – provide a safe and well-lit environment while managing energy and protecting the public by scheduling lights on/off, setting dimming levels to provide the optimal lighting level based on time of day, season, or weather conditions.
Municipal utility (water/gas/electric) – for cities that own a municipal utility, conservation, renewable integration, and electric vehicle charging require grid modernization applications such as distribution automation, advanced metering infrastructure, substation automation, lift station control and SCADA to effectively manage their energy and water system portfolio.
Video surveillance –prevents crime and aids prosecution, keeps workers safe in the field.
A core enabling technology smart city is reliable, high-performance communications throughout the city. Two-way communications is required to link people and devices in the field with software and personnel in operations and command centers.
For citywide communication networks, city-owned fiber and wireless are generally the technologies of choice. Mobility support is a key requirement for smart city networks and, by definition, wired networks do not support mobility. Wireless networks are also flexible, allowing networked assets to be physically moved without needing to install new wiring or fiber cables or reconfiguring the network. Wireless network are generally less expensive to roll out as they can be deployed without trenching, installing conduit, etc. Current events are tilting the cost equation more in the favor of wireless as lower cost leased line service options such as fractional T-1s are being discontinued by wireline carriers.
Increasingly, city and county governments are choosing to own and operate their wireless networks rather than purchasing service from cellular telephone network operators. The fundamental benefit of a municipality owning and operating its wireless network is control. Ownership allows the municipality to choose what areas are covered, how much bandwidth is available overall and in each location, what security and quality of services mechanisms and policies are used, what end devices can be used on the network, what tradeoffs to make between cost and network availability, and when to sunset older technologies and roll out newer ones.
Note that this article has yet to mention public internet access as a potential application. This is not to devalue public internet access; to the contrary, it can be a highly valued amenity for citizens, visitors and businesses. However, municipal wireless networks and public wireless internet access have become somewhat synonymous. The point is that wireless networks owned by cities and counties can support many applications and provide tremendous value without opening the network to the public.
Technology that creates a safer, more secure and productive environment, and that improves quality of life for residents, is something every city wants. The smart starting point is a secure, reliable and scalable broadband wireless network that provides a foundation for many safety, productivity and lifestyle-enhancing applications.
Bert Williams is the director of global marketing at ABB Tropos.