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Will Smart Cities Come of Age in 2019?

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Executive Editor and IEEE Senior Member

There is quite a bit of discussion around smart cities, today. Much of it, as is the case with 5G, is hype. However, smart cities are going to light up in the next couple of years. Here is why.

Like most government entities, progress is much slower than the private sector. Some of that is because government is a different beast when it comes to agility; and being able to turn a big ship takes time. Other reasons have to do with mentality, financial and regulations. Any of us that have dealt with governments know all about that.

However, when it comes to smart cities, governments have an incentive – money! Smart cities are going to optimize efficiency, thereby saving money. How and when that will happen is still a bit vague, but city managers are seeing the light. Functions like shared data, smart technology, and real time metrics will bring about a fundamental shift in how cities are run. Moreover, they are realizing that smart technology will help them keep track of people – for good or bad is up for grabs.

For example, cash flow can be improved. Cities can offer incentives for having citizens connect and automate certain functions, such as paying various utility bills on a custom schedule for each user.

One of the most vaulted benefits that smart city platforms will offer is around safety. Full integration among citizens, first responders, and support services is many years away, however. In the end, such integration will help to ensure fewer mistakes, more accurate analysis of events, precise resource allocation (emergency responders, hospitals), and a much higher safety level for all.

One of the visions that smart cities will realize is that it will be an umbrella full of use cases. That includes elements such as smart buildings, smart cars, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity (V2V, V2I), smart grids, smart retail services, and more – what is often referred to as the “connected life.”

There are two emerging platforms that will determine how fast and advanced smart cities get, and they are closely tied to cities. The platforms are 5G and the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX). 5G because, predominantly, the amount of data that will be flowing everywhere. Present wireless network technologies will not be able to keep up. As well, other metrics, such as ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) will be required to enable autonomous vehicles, for example.

The IoX will be a significant component because “smart” is umbilically tied to information acquisition and analysis. The number of sensors that will be needed to deploy a ubiquitous layer of data points will be monumental. The only platform capable of doing that is the IoX.

This is not to say that 5G and the IoX will determine the success or failure of smart cities. There are many smart systems that can (and some are) be implemented today (smart meters, smart traffic lights, smart utilities) that comes under the smart city heading. For them to reach full potential, both 5G and the IoX will have to play a major role.

A huge component that will be critical in smart city evolution is edge networks. Distributed and edge computing will be a requirement, not an option. Why? Two main reasons – latency and traffic volume, especially in the largest cities.
Additionally, do not forget about AI, and its subsets, machine learning and machine intelligence. These technologies will become extremely important at the edge for local data analysis and traffic management. They will also be important at the core, for dynamic spectrum management, frequency agility and real-time spectrum manipulation.

While 2019 will not see a proliferation of smart cities, there will be movement. All parties involved with smart city technology will move toward a higher level of innovative thinking and collaboration between different agencies, service providers, procurement/contracts offices and community stakeholders.

To wit, The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the IoT Community, recently, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate on a set of initiatives regarding smart buildings, manufacturing, connected vehicles, intelligent transportation, healthcare, and more. They will share commercial, technical, and standardization insights and explore opportunities for collaboration on technologies, exchange information and expertise. These will lead to solutions that, in turn, will accelerate the development of the IoX. This is the kind of movement that is needed for smart “X” to gain traction. Hopefully, this is the beginning of such a trend.

The groundwork is being laid but there are many challenges and related technologies that will determine how quickly smart cities approach real “smarts.”

This article ran in the Issue 1, Spring 2019 issue of Applied Wireless Technology.

Smart Cities Gaining Traction in 2019

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Executive Editor and IEEE Senior Member

The challenges to making a city smart are many. I have been following the topic, with great interest, and have had many discussions around it. I have said that smart cities suffer from the same malady, as does 5G – overhyping. Like 5G, there has been much hype but real progress has been slower than the industry would like one to believe.

There are a number of reasons for this, things like opposition from NIMBYs, or in this case NMFYs, cost, access rights, dealing with municipalities, players interaction, perception (what constitutes a “smart” city) and, quite frankly, the technology itself.

Early attempts at smart cities involved adding intelligence to narrow vectors. Setting up Wi-Fi apps around the city center, for example. Or, smart parking meters (although that just made it easier for right-of-way enforcement to issue tickets). Some progress has also been made in smart lighting and smart signals. However, by and large, cities have not yet evolved, IMHO, to the level of real smarts.

The ante is about to be upped. Technology that can be implemented, to add intelligence, which can be utilized in city infrastructures is starting to emerge and is practical. I believe that 2019 will see the beginnings of smart cities coming of age.

One of the most interesting discussions I had was with the Verizon Smart City Initiative’s vice president, Lani Ingram, at the recent Smart City Conference in Denver. She had a very interesting perspective on how smart cities will evolve, and one that I think is spot-on.

Her take on it is that there are four stages to the evolution of smart cities. The first, of course, is the concept. Following that is the implementation of smart city strategies. Once that has evolved, the next stage is actually deploying various smart city technologies, systems and hardware. The last stage, and this is always the coup de grace, is full integration among all players, technologies and deployments.

Ingram’s position is not unique to smart cities. I have long maintained that, in order for any platform to be fully functional and optimal, it requires integration with the infrastructure – that means two-way communications. One-way sensors are just not capable of providing all the data that is necessary, even with advanced AI (I will likely get some disagreement with that, however).

For smart cities, the case for one-way sensors may be a bit more relaxed (for static apps, at least). For the more complex requirements (autonomous vehicles, for example), passive sensors are not going to cut it. Smart, two-way sensors that can communicate with each other and the core, via a mesh network will be much more effective in any platform. My discussions at the conference, with more than one high-level individual, confirm that integration is necessary for the final stage of full intelligence.

According to Ingram, we are now at stage two. Again, I tend to agree, especially from what I saw at the conference. There is a slew of smart city applications and devices, and some test beds. Much of the discussion is around partnerships between cities, utility companies, and device vendors.

One interesting scenario is in the city of Las Vegas. The city has collaborated with both Dell and NTT data systems to incubate a smart city scenario in part of the city. At present, it only involves cameras and audio detectors. However, what makes this an interesting testbed is what is being done with the acquired data. It is too lengthy to go into here, but how the data is being analyzed and what decisions are being made by AI is quite exciting. From what I saw, their concept is very good at resource planning and distribution, i.e. past analysis predicts future occurrences. What got my attention is who is getting into the game. I was quite surprised to talk to Dell and hear what they are into. They certainly are not your father’s computer hardware vendor.

As far as hardware goes, it has come a long way in a year. Smart light poles are capable of becoming an intelligent, multi-access point integrating a number of wireless platforms. One of the more interesting, and advanced, was a “black box” from Ubicquia. It is the first stand-alone wireless system that can be attached to any light pole out there to add wireless capabilities.

Other intelligent devices included trashcans and dumpsters with the ability to send a variety of data to a host, including such things as sensing noxious gases and explosive components. These are here and ready to go, today.

Parking is getting smart as well. Not only meters, but also parking lot kiosks and stall sensors that can relay information back to the host and can be integrated with end user’s smartphones. Another cool application was blockchain-secured, smart voting booths.

I can go on for another thousand words about all the cool things I saw and what is being developed in the smart city ecosystem. A lot of what was concept last year is tangible now. It is just looking for a home.

The biggest issue, as always, and there was a great deal of discussion around this, is getting cities, utilities, private enterprise and regulators all on the same page. That will be the biggest speedbump to overcome. However, I was encouraged by what I saw and heard. This year is producing some traction. Next year may be the year we see real progress ramping up in real smart city ecosystems.

Smart Cities Will be a $7.6B Market in 2023, if Carriers Innovate Now

By ABI Research

Smart cities is one of the main verticals where Mobile Service Providers (MSPs) can use their strength and expertise to move up the value chain to target revenues beyond the connectivity-only space and generate substantial “UnTelco” revenues. ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies, forecasts that by 2023 the smart cities market will be a US$7.6 billion UnTelco opportunity for MSPs and network vendors.

All MSPs are interested in this market, which shows how crucial is the smart cities segment for the future of MSPs. “Smart cities is a huge and complex market, where a traditional vertical focus is now co-existing with a cross-vertical trend that is gaining momentum. The size of the market, with all its different sub-verticals, means that MSPs can target and assume various roles from system integrators to platform providers,” said Pablo Tomasi, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “While the opportunity is huge, competition is mounting, as proven by network vendors’ aggressive activities in the platform space. MSPs need to balance coopetition and prioritize innovative business models, for instance, based on advertising or performance-based revenues, rather than waiting and fostering the marketing trend centered on the role and potential of 5G in smart cities,” Tomasi explained.

More than in any other vertical, MSPs are using innovative tactics to become key market players; their challenge is now to scale these offerings. For example, Verizon has a smart city strategy backed by strong M&A activity (Sensity System and LQD), AT&T is amassing a wide range of partners to deliver spotlight cities solutions, BT is betting on analytics capabilities, and Deutsche Telekom is leveraging aggressive NB-IoT deployments and innovative business models.

“MSPs success in smart cities will be defined by their ability to act – owning a wide ecosystem of partners and improving customer relations while aligning various interests, assets, and innovative monetization options. MSPs’ success and activities will be shaped by their ability to innovate and not by 5G”.

These findings are from ABI Research’s UnTelco in Smart Cities: Telco Opportunities and Market Activities report. This report is part of the company’s Telco Digitization research service, which includes research, data, and Executive Foresights.

Smart Sensors Will Mean Safer Portland, Ore

Installation of one of Portland’s Current by GE CityIQ nodes (Photo: Business Wire)

The City Portland, Oregon is moving forward on its Traffic Sensor Safety Project, which is the first milestone for Smart City PDX, the city’s effort to use data and technology identify inequities and disparities in the city and then strategically apply data and technology to address those challenges.

For the Traffic Sensor Safety Project, the City is installing 200 Current by GE CityIQ sensors, powered by Intel IoT technology, AT&T, Current by GE and Portland General Electric, on three of Portland’s deadliest streets. The sensors will provide around-the-clock counts of vehicles and pedestrians as well as information about vehicle speeds. With this new data, city traffic engineers can improve street safety design and support Portland’s Vision Zero goal of making the streets safe for all users.

The sensor project, which installed new mast arms and the sensors on street light poles on the three corridors, costs $1,012,000. It was funded with general transportation revenue, system development charges and contributions by the project’s private sector collaborators.

The data gathered from the sensors will be collected in the Portland Urban Data Lake (PUDL). Part of the overall Smart City PDX initiative, PUDL will collect, store, combine, and analyze data from a variety of sources including the Traffic Safety Sensor Pilot. The goal of PUDL is to provide a foundation for data-driven decision making, helping the City of Portland to harness the power of data to improve City services.

In addition to improved data insights, the CityIQ open platform is designed to handle future growth using the exact same street lighting infrastructure, so Portland can continue adapting and developing new applications that meet the specific needs of the city and its residents.

Austin Ashe, Smart Cities General Manager for Current by GE, said his company will be working with Portland to extract bicycle data to better understand the bicycle traffic volume and cyclists’ interactions with vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The safety project is part of Smart City PDX, the City of Portland’s urban data and technology strategy.



Wireless Key to Fast-moving Smart Cities Effort: WIA White Paper

Smart cities and communities are quickly becoming a reality as municipalities look to provide enhanced public-safety services, sustainability and efficiency within transportation, energy, water, waste and other public services, according to a new white paper titled “Wireless Infrastructure as the Foundation of Smart Cities and Communities,” published by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA).

The authors of the new report conclude that broadband connectivity is crucial for cities and communities to remain financially healthy and to provide citizens with educational and other opportunities.

“Faced with increased populations, cities are challenged to create more efficient ways to deal with the impact of this growth while being sensitive to environmental, economic and quality of-life issues,” said Jim Lockwood, CEO and founder of Aero Solutions, co-chair of ITC, and chair of the Smart Communities Working Group. “Connectivity and bandwidth are fueling a new gigabyte economy that will rely on smart services. Wireless and fiber-optics are key enablers of that connectivity and will play essential roles in creating smart communities.”

The white paper concludes that aligning government policies with network capabilities is essential to enabling the successful implementation of smart technologies, breaking down departmental and forming partnerships.

“Communities should adopt a forward-thinking and cooperative approach to accommodating infrastructure elements in public rights of way and on existing utility and other structures,” the authors write. “In addition, communities must heed a variety of regulatory guidelines and consider a variety of options to fund the buildout of smart city infrastructure.”

Members of the ITC Smart Communities Working Group who contributed to the white paper include Jim Lockwood, Aero Solutions; Don Bach, Boingo Wireless; Bernard Borghei, Vertical Bridge; Bryan Darr, Mosaik; Ray Hild, Triangle Advisory Group; Rebecca Hunter, Crown Castle; Keith Kaczmarek, inPhase Wireless; Ray La Chance, ZenFi; Jim Nevelle, Kathrein; Peter Murray, Dense Networks; and Sam Rodriguez, Aero Smart Communities.

The new research paper is available on the association’s Online Resource Library, which features a collection of white papers examining new wireless technologies and the issues facing the wireless infrastructure industry. Produced by the association’s Innovation & Technology Council (ITC), the reports cover a variety of topics and aim to educate industry, government and the public.

In addition to white papers from the ITC, the Online Resource Library features other materials created by WIA and its members.

To download a copy of “Wireless Infrastructure as the Foundation of Smart Cities and Communities” and other industry research please visit the WIA Online Resource Library at www.wia.org/resource-library