Cities are phenomenal hubs of innovation and culture. Some are large enough that big projects such as self-driving cars or real-time water quality can be tested in them. Others are small enough that they have strong local cultures and preferences toward change. The common denominator for both large and small cities is the drive for technological change. Today, that technological change is driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and its billions of connected devices slated to bring greater efficiencies and savings to smart cities.
The IoT requires well-placed sensors that transmit information wirelessly back to the cloud or another storage medium. That information is either used for real-time monitoring or control, or is analyzed later to optimize and automate processes.
In many cities across America, like Tampa, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, most of the IoT activities are taking place unnoticed. For example, tens of millions of smart meters have already been deployed by the utility industry, with literally billions of other IoT devices in the pipeline.* Most local governments have also invested massively in mapping assets. Many, in fact, have followed up by adding connectivity to these assets — whether it is streetlamps, drainage sewers or even trees. All of these are in the process of becoming part of their respective smart cities.
On the path to a smart city, there are a number of technical considerations that cellular and other networks cannot address. Cellular is great for the handset. Yet it is poor for most IoT devices, for reasons that include cost, battery life, and difficulty of device certification.
Another problem that challenges smart cities is technology sunsetting. When 100 times the spectral efficiency can be achieved by replacing 2G technology with 4G LTE, the carriers have no choice given the ever-accelerating consumer demand for high-speed data. As a result, there are approximately 30 million 2G endpoints in the US which are in danger of being orphaned by network sunsetting.** According to Gartner (http://www.gartner.com/), traditional cellular networks don’t deliver a proper combination of technical features and operational cost for those IoT applications that need wide-area coverage combined with relatively low bandwidth, long battery life, and lower operating costs. As a result, most (if not all) carriers will follow sunsetting their 2G technologies in the next few years.
Smart Cities Need Better Networks
Currently, many cities employ mesh-based networks. A mesh network is essentially a network where each of the nodes is interconnected to each other. Each node relays data for the network and all mesh nodes cooperate in the distribution of data on the network. The benefits of this type of network topology are that it is able to accommodate high traffic, there is redundancy among nodes on the network, and it can easily expand. However, this network is difficult to manage, can be extremely expensive, and the entire network will cease to operate if one of the nodes on the network fails.
A better solution for connectivity is a star network topology. One example is Ingenu’s Machine Network™, based on the company’s Random Phase Multiple Access, or RPMA®, technology. This type of network offers better performance, is easy to connect, and is managed centrally, and most importantly, the entire network is not affected if one of the nodes fails. The main disadvantage of star topology is if the centralized device fails, it can affect the network. However, this can be alleviated with redundancy.
Connectivity enables or limits a city according to its capabilities. If a network is not reliable, services can be interrupted, resulting in frustration and risks to public safety. A network should be able to scale with the growing needs of a city. Mesh networks are not able to scale in this manner, proving them obsolete in short order.
When choosing a network for a city, the following should be considered:
• First, does the provider of the network guarantee the length of time the network will remain operational?
• Second, do the devices on the network consume minimal power so they will last at least as long as the network?
• Finally, does the network have the capacity to grow as needs change?
City leaders that add and implement the right smart city technology will create opportunities to enable long-term innovation for the businesses, public safety organizations, and industry, in their communities.
*Over 64 million smart meters have been installed across the US as of 2015. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=108&t=3
The analyst consensus on connected IoT devices is around 20 billion by the year 2020. According to Machina Research IoT Global Forecast and Analysis August 2016, their number is 27 billion by 2025. For more information, please visit https://machinaresearch.com/news/press-release-global-internet-of-things-market-to-grow-to-27-billion-devices-generating-usd3-trillion-revenue-in-2025/.
**ConnectedWorld Magazine cites that as of 2013, the 2G spectrum was broken down by carriers as follows: AT&T: 15 million, Verizon: 8 million, T-Mobile: 3.5 million, Sprint: 3.3 million.