Less than seven years from now, smart cities will create business opportunities to the tune of $2 trillion, according to the analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, driven by artificial intelligence, personalized healthcare, robotics and distributed energy generation.
The Asia-Pacific region is anticipated to be the fastest-growing region in the smart energy space by 2025. In Asia, more than 50 percent of smart cities will be in China, and smart city projects will generate $320 billion for China’s economy by 2025.
North America has been quickly catching up, with many Tier II cities, such as Denver and Portland, committed to building their smart city portfolios. The total NA smart buildings market, comprising the total value of smart sensors, systems, hardware, controls, and software sold, is projected to reach $5.74 billion in 2020.
Europe will have the largest number of smart city project investments globally, given the engagement that the European Commission has shown in developing these initiatives. The European e-hailing market, central to cities developing smart mobility solutions, currently generates revenues of $50 billion and is estimated to reach $120 billion by 2025.
In Latin America, cities actively developing smart city initiatives include: Mexico City, Guadalajara, Bogotá, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, smart city projects will drive almost 20 percent of the overall $3.2 billion IoT revenue by 2021.
AI plays a key role in smart cities in the areas of smart parking, smart mobility, the smart grid, adaptive signal control and waste management. Major corporations, such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft, remain key tech innovators and the primary drivers of AI adoption.
“AI has been the most funded technology innovation space in the past two years, with large investments coming from independent and corporate venture capital companies,” explained Jillian Walker, visionary innovation principal consultant at Frost & Sullivan.
Along with AI, personalized healthcare, robotics, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and distributed energy generation are believed to be the technological cornerstones of smart cities of the future.
“Currently most smart city models provide solutions in silos and are not interconnected. The future is moving toward integrated solutions that connect all verticals within a single platform. IoT is already paving the way to allow for such solutions,” added Vijay Narayanan, visionary innovation senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
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It seems there is some progress being made in addressing one of the most important vectors of smart cities, and the Internet of Anything/Everything (IoX) – streets.
It is nice to have smart lighting, smart meters, smart pedestrian networks (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), smart buildings, smart venues, etc. However, to round out the package, what really needs to be done is put the smarts in streets. Or as Verizon puts it, “How can asphalt save the environment”?
In a recent marketing play, Verizon has addressed the need for street sensors as an integral piece of the IoX. Verizon is now talking about getting involved in this particular vector in the smart-city game. I happen to agree and believe it is even more important when it comes to autonomous vehicles.
In the many discussions I have, with both contemporaries and subject matter experts (SMEs), in the smart infrastructure arena, they all agree that “pavement,” as Verizon notes, is a significant element of smart cities, smart cars, and the IoX – “a wireless network under your tires.”
But it is more than that. At the moment, Verizon is focusing on traffic management. The carrier says that pavement sensors can, significantly, contribute to improved traffic flow and patterns. Their focus with this is to embed wireless sensors into the asphalt on city roads. Then link them to cameras on traffic lights, and its wireless network. They believe that such a solution can improve traffic, thereby reducing pollution.
It is a great idea, and sorely needed, but for so much more than just improving traffic (obviously, traffic is a major problem needing a solution, of course). I will expand on that shortly.
According to Verizon, it could improve traffic flow significantly, potentially reducing the number of traffic stops by up to 44 percent. In dollars that amounts to a, collective, $160 billion a year in cost savings, related to traffic congestion – not to mention the reduction in pollution.
There are many more benefits if one expands the concept. But this is the area where Verizon is focusing at the moment. They have a pilot program going in Sacramento where they have installed pavement sensors, as well as the cameras with which to interface. There is not much data as to how, when, or what is expected from this but it is like many other pilot or test programs, in emerging platforms, that are being implemented across multiple segments.
Now, back to the expanding part. While traffic monitoring and optimizing traffic flow has significant value, such sensors can be used to provide data for any number of vectors, as well. For example, infrastructure to pedestrians and bicycles, emergency vehicles, smart cars, lighting, electric signs, the list goes on.
In locations such as cities, where wireless coverage is, generally, ubiquitous, it sounds like a solid plan. However, for truly pervasive coverage, cities are only the beginning. Interstates (especially intra and intercity), lesser thoroughfares, and well-traveled roads will also require sensoring.
This is where 5G (especially short-range mmWave) and the IoX come in. Not for everything but certainly for dense areas. It is unlikely that, in such dense locations, the current cellular infrastructure will be able to handle the data load. Long, lonely stretches of interstate, probably. But all of this is still a, rather, long way off, regardless of current 5G and IoX hype.
However, these, and other cutting-edge programs are the beginning of the brave new wireless world vison coming down the pike. It will happen – it is just a matter of when.
American Tower and Citybeacon, developer of next-gen digital smart hubs, have formed a global alliance to accelerate wireless densification and enhance city services. The companies are developing a connected smart hub that enables smart city applications and provides shared wireless infrastructure for a complete, multimedia digital city experience.
The smart hub is designed for cities to communicate with citizens more effectively, ensure the safety and security of public spaces, use data to enable smarter decision making and provide reliable and robust connectivity. The open platform enables a variety of city and commercial applications, such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors for environmental monitoring, information station for visitors, local or state-wide announcements, targeted digital advertisements, emergency services and, now with the alliance, wireless infrastructure for multiple mobile network operators.
The co-developed product addresses two needs in urban markets today: mobile network densification through small cell technology and access to numerous new digital amenities and services for cities and their citizens.
One of the things industries like to do is hype new or emerging technologies to the max. I get that. Everybody want to be at the front of the pack and aim for the lion’s share of the pot at the end of the rainbow.
As well, at the beginning, just about every platform or technology is going to solve all the worlds’ ills. It was that way with 5G, the Internet of Everything (IoX), millimeter wave, and so on. That, I guess, is the way of the world, nowadays.
However, eventually the cooler heads come out and put a reality check on them. That is a good thing. Building up too many expectations is not in the best interests of the supplier/provider, nor the recipient/user.
One thing society is beginning to find out is that why, if we have the technology, are we not using it. The answer to this question is somewhat complex, and varies from industry to industry, but for the first time in the last century, or so, automatically implementing technology, because we have it, is no longer a given in all cases.
Let us examine smart cities for a moment. There are innumerable accounts of smart cites, when they will happen, what they will look like, what platforms and technologies will be used, etc…ect…ect… However, progress is slow, even though there are government incentives. For example, the European Union has developed a program called Horizon 2020. It was established to drive innovation and secure the region’s global competitiveness, especially in deploying digital technology into the city ecosystem. They allocated €80 billion to cities in the years 2014-2020.
The United States is on a similar track. Back in 2015, the Feds set aside $160 million for smart city projects. This year, they added another $80 million. On top of that, the Department of Transportation (DOT) offered $50 million to seven mid-sized U.S. cities to develop smart mobility projects.
Making a city smart is a promising solution to many of the challenges cities face in the 21st century. The growth of cities is bringing about a multitude of new problems and issues – some that were not even on the drawing board. Yet, progress is slow and non-governmental funding is scarce – why?
One reason is that actually making it smart faces a plethora of challenges – some technical, some political, some economic. Let us drill down on some of these.
The first of several challenges is commercial scalability. Making solutions such as street lights, garbage collection or parking smart is one thing. Scaling that to the plethora of city services that can benefit from smart technology is quite another. There is no real model on how to do that and cities are not able to generate sufficient revenue from smart city platforms to expand to other services (public safety, for example). In addition, with little commercial funding, cities are challenged to divert funds from already stressed budgets. The technology may be there, but the money to implement it is not.
Right up there with commercial scalability is wide-scale integration. That means the entire city. This is really the big one. When one looks at the magnitude of the diverse elements that make up a city – from academia to enterprises to city services to various levels of the government, the task seems insurmountable. The challenge here is to be able to interface and interconnect so many individual focused entities and share the intelligence and implement collaboration. So far, there are no solutions for such a diverse and broad ecosystem.
Anyone who has ever dealt with city departments knows all too well that they are protective of their intellectual property. Even long before it was called that, trying to get city departments to share data was challenging. Today, it is even more challenging due to so many new privacy regulations as well as security concerns. As well, there is the question of what to do with all the data we are now capable of collecting.
The data issue is only going to get bigger. Smart cities live and die by data. Moreover, to truly utilize all of the technology and platforms smart cities need to implement will require a radically new data management strategy.
Perhaps the most challenging scenario is culture. Culture is not only across peoples, but across organizations and locations. There is such a diverse cultural ecosystem across these entities that developing a working model that can interface these cultures is extremely difficult. And it becomes more difficult as cultures vary on a global basis.
In the end, when one pulls back the covers, the deployments that are in place today are only a collage of stand-alone solutions being portrayed under the loose definition of a smart city.
It is one thing to use technology to solve individual challenges. The key to the smart city of the future will be to link them so the solutions can collaborate, be agile and seamlessly come together to integrate the city elements.
Ernest Worthman is the Executive Editor of Applied Wireless Technology magazine. A Life Member of the IEEE, his 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT.
A number of different technologies must come together to make 5G a reality, Gordon Mansfield, AT&T, told an audience at the HetNet Expo in West Palm Beach 2017 last week.
“A lot of people think that 5G is a singular, magical event, but the fact is that 5G is a lot of different components that have to come together,” Mansfield said. “Whether it is the virtualization of the core, the densification of the RAN, a change in the transport between the cell sites and the core, as well as placement of content to reduce latency. All of those things need to happen. It is an evolution.”
Just as important, however, is the collaboration of the wireless infrastructure industry with wireless carriers, smart cities service providers and municipalities. Many smart cities initiatives will deploy equipment on the same poles and streetlights as small cells, which means multiple entities must work together on the structures’ design to optimize deployment.
“There are synergies to working together, which reduce costs and optimize performance of all parties’ equipment,” he said. “Increasingly the wireless network domain and the smart cities domain are overlapping, providing an excellent opportunity for synergies to reduce the cost model and deployment model for both. All parties’ needs must be taken into consideration to speed deployments.” Among the shared components in small cells can be power and fiber, he added.
Small Cells: Multiple Purposes
Mansfield said there is no one-size-fits-all design for small cells, and a tool box approach is needed to provide variable alternatives that can be adapted to the different needs of wireless carriers and smart cities.
Along with wireless carriers’ equipment, small cells may have the components of Wi-Fi, LED lighting, public safety video, digital banners, alert systems for emergency assistance, sensors all charging stations all competing for space.
“The street lights are becoming technology hubs. There are options when multiple things are attempting to be done,” Mansfield said. “You have to choose from the deployment options based on the needs of multiple parties.”
A small cell provider should look at the deployment options through the eyes of the municipality, the mobile carriers or smart cities providers, according to Mansfield.
“If we consider smart cities and wireless carriers all together, we can simplify the deployment and minimize the disruption of the municipal services,” Mansfield said. “If we work now, we can develop forward-looking designs that will evolve once the equipment that is going on now becomes the 5G equipment that will be added later.”
Blending Small Cells into the Urban Streetscape
Tens of thousands of 4G LTE small cells have been deployed so far, and some municipalities have been less than receptive to the rollout. Mansfield said the difficulty in siting small cells is understandable.
“We are putting a lot on these poles, and in the future, many of these nodes are going to be upgraded to support 5G technology,” Mansfield said. “That means more equipment on the pole. People get nervous when we talk about putting all this equipment on poles with more to come in the future.”
Mansfield called upon the wireless industry to accommodate aesthetic concerns of the public concerning small cells.
“We have to work closely with municipalities to promote an environment that is conducive to rapid deployment,” he said. “AT&T is driving its collaborators and vendors to develop small cell form factors that can be unobtrusively integrated into the urban streetscape with key emphasis on aesthetics, functionality and flexibility.”
mmWaves and Small Cell Design
5G technology will complicate small cell design, because transmitting in the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum requires the antenna and radio to be integrated, Mansfield said. Because the frequencies are so high, there is no tolerance for losses caused by having coaxial or feeders between the radio unit and the antenna.
“The antennas themselves are active antennas, which support the massive MIMO that is needed to maximize coverage out of the mmWaves,” Mansfield said. “We are already talking to the OEMs about miniaturizing these components so we can start to scale and facilitate the picocell deployments and the form factors that will blend into the urban environments.”
Additionally, the limited wave propagation characteristics of the mmWaves eliminate the use of material to be used to conceal the structure, which Mansfield noted as ironic considering the need to camouflage small cells.