Connect (X)

Tag Archives: Smart Cities

A City’s IQ: More than Just a Smart Sewer

By Ernest Worthman

Executive Editor
AGL Small Cell Magazine

Smart cities are beginning to catch on. But there is a lot of confusion still as to what makes a city smart. Just because there is a smart grid, or a smart sewer system, that doesn’t necessarily make the city smart. Sure they are components of the smart city but it takes a lot more than just one or two intelligent infrastructure components to qualify.

For example, one of the major players (we won’t mention their name but the initials are ATT) who seems to be pushing the smart city concept is using their marketing teams to promote smart city services by simply making adding some capabilities to infrastructure services.

AT&T and a water utility have added a sensor system to water mains. Acoustic sensors placed along the pipes trigger alarms when they sense sound changes that may indicate leaks. This data is sent to computing resources running water management applications – that’s it. Hmmm…does that really make the city smart? I think not.

But what it is, is a smart city solution – and one of many. And not all that impressive. In addition to leak detection, a brag-able solution would also test water quality, measure level, control flow, determine pipe condition (not just when leaks happen, but where they are likely to happen), and other data, then it can be called smart.

The same goes for other components of the city. Just because it has remote meter reading capability and automatic street lights that turn on at dusk and off at dawn, doesn’t make it a smart city. There is a lot more to the smart city and much of the current hype suffers from marketing spin.

So what are the metrics for smart cities? The commonly accepted definition is that a smart city improves the lives of its inhabitants by making it easier to maintain their life style, whatever it is. There are variants of that, but that is the basic idea. And to accomplish that, there are a number of elements that truly make the city smart.

One of the key metrics is a low-power, wide-area network. That is a requirement for connecting myriad devices, especially sensors, switches and activators with advanced power saving capabilities – we are talking years here, not weeks or months for power source life. And, along with that, they need to be low-cost, so they can be ubiquitously deployed.

Very important; once the hardware issues are conquered the next qualifier is edge computing. Without this, the city may have all types of interconnect, supplying mountains of big data, but without edge computing the latency will be unacceptable and the ability for the cloud or other analysis systems to assess, analyze and act upon the yottabytes of data will render the network gridlocked.

Then there is standardization. This makes it possible to deploy smart components quickly, cheaply and universally, without worrying about compatibility and all the headaches that come with proprietary technology. And even if the technology is proprietary, as long as the interface is standard – that is the majority of the challenge.

Finally, the city will need smart data analysis and response platforms. The power necessary to aggregate large volumes of data, analyze it and then act upon it is demanding. Fortunately, the hardware is available – so is much of the software. The trick is to know when to use the cloud, when to keep it at the edge and what to do with what you have.

Smart cities are certainly evolving. But let’s not confuse a few smart solutions with the real thing.

Future of Smart Cities Hangs on High-speed Fiber

By Ernest Worthman

fiber opticsMay 5, 2016 — Many of the trial and small-scale deployments of smart cities have proven so successful that these emerging systems are starting to scale these pilot projects into larger, citywide deployments that facilitate everything from more manageable traffic to increased efficiency in utility consumption.

There are a number of reasons for that, the most significant is the continuing evolution of sensors, power scaling and big data. What is making this work is the proliferation of sensor networks throughout the urban landscape that connect to big data analytic engines. This combo produces real-time insight and, from that, resultant allocation of systems resources. A good example of that is if traffic starts to bog down on a particular street, highway or the like, these ubiquitous sensors can report back to the network that controls the municipality’s traffic lights. The network then then can vary the amount of “green, yellow, red” time the lights to better control the flow of traffic.

What has changed is that these millions of sensors, are now connected by high-speed, low-latency fiber networks that have been feverishly deployed of late. And these networks provide the communications infrastructure to transport the tremendous volumes of data to cloud-based systems that will turn numbers into actions.

High-speed fiber is now an integral component of the basic infrastructure just like water, sewer or electric. Broadband Internet is the vehicle that will allow smart cities to realize their potential. Some say fiber is the final solution to enable municipalities to become a smart city.

Is it? In many cases yes, but in many other cases, especially where DAS and small cells are concerned, wireless will be just as important. Stay tuned for further dissection of this topic.