December 6, 2016 —
ExteNet Systems is known for owning and operating distributed network systems that are used to enable outdoor and indoor wireless connectivity. Its networks connect workers in the Empire State Building, fans at Barclays Center and users on the streets of San Francisco. Tormod Larsen, VP and CTO, spoke to us about opportunities in smart cities for his company and the wireless infrastructure industry.
Is there a role for ExteNet in the coming smart cities?
Larsen: Absolutely. ExteNet’s role boils down to providing the underlying network that enables connectivity to all these devices, whether it is used for surfing the Web or for cameras or gunshot detection or meter reading. If you don’t have the network, those applications are moot. We want to design and build cost-effective and appropriate infrastructure to support it.
Does your role as a neutral host help you enter the smart cities space?
Larsen: We already have a pretty significant and dense footprint in major metro areas, so using the existing small cell/distributed networks to apply the smart cities applications is where the initial opportunities occur. Using our business model to provide services as a neutral host allows us to economically provide the various smart city services, in addition to the more traditional wireless services. If you look at our infrastructure as the backbone, the product is similar but the use cases and the customers are expanding and evolving.
It becomes a symbiotic relationship between the city and the carriers that is important to how these networks grow over time. Again, in the end, it comes down to having that infrastructure in place to enable city-wide smart connections.
How do you break into municipal communications market?
Larsen: ExteNet, since inception, has had a team in house that has worked closely with municipalities and utilities. We have agreements with a large number of both cities and utilities to attach to their infrastructure: typically light poles, traffic lights and utility poles.
The model is evolving today as a lot of the municipalities are transitioning to a becoming a customer in addition to being the landlord. In our discussions, the city is saying if you are already building out this network in my community what is another way we could benefit from this?
How is it going so far?
Larsen: We have already done some IoT connectivity for cities, connecting schools, providing cameras in the community or meeting other needs where they could leverage our existing purpose-built fiber plant. Going forward, we see that expanding to include connectivity that is specific to those cities and municipalities.
How big will the challenge of connecting smart cities be?
Larsen: It is not like we are starting a new business. We are expanding what we are already doing. We have a strategic siting initiative where we have been working with municipalities for a long time on these types of models.
They have a long wish list in terms of smart city technology. They have pretty lofty ideas on what they want to do in terms of smart cities. One of the challenges I see coming into play is cities beginning to understand all the possibilities and then trying to do everything at once, without doing a business model for each application. In general, if the underlying network is designed appropriately, the ability to support IoT is a natural next step.
What is the answer?
Larsen: It is a case of prioritizing which applications can be met over time. Municipalities need to narrow the scope of their RFIs. We have been working with a few cities in a holistic manner to help with the business model. It costs less to use a shared network than a dedicated network, but there is still a cost and they need to figure out a way to recoup that cost before layering more applications on top of it.