Connectivity is key for realising the smart cities of the future

May 30, 2019

Smart cities are no longer a futuristic concept. In cities such as Berlin, they are fully operational today and pushing the bounds of how the IoT links business, public infrastructure and people all together.  Many cities are introducing a wide range of connected smart city applications, including multiple installations of surveillance cameras, connected waste management control, lighting, parking, traffic control, public transport, and pollution and weather monitoring. We’re also seeing innovations like remote patient care from healthcare providers, improvements to production line efficiency from manufacturers, fleet tracking and control from logistics firms: the possibilities of the smart city are many, varied and growing.

Yet, the growth of smart cities will slow if resources are not invested in developing the fundamental backbone of these projects: effective mobile coverage systems. This includes 4G and eventually 5G coverage, as well as low-power wide area network (LPWAN) connectivity which can support hundreds of millions of smart city sensing devices at a low cost.

The connectivity problem
However, where opportunity lies, so does adversity. The smart city connectivity problem is split between three major stakeholders: operators must provide a coverage and capacity solutions to multiple sites across a city within a budget; venue owners/businesses must also provide coverage and capacity to ensure they do not lose out on revenue from customers due to poor mobile connection in their facilities; and local governments need to work with both the operators and venue owners to ensure coverage is supplied across the city to develop sustainable, competitive smart city infrastructure.

The urban environment exacerbates the challenges of deploying coverage. Firstly, building materials used to construct densely-populated smart cities often contain reflective and dense materials that can prohibit all Radio Frequency (RF) energy from propagating within many structures. Green building initiatives also have requirements that impact RF signals. They are often attenuated through increased use of Low-E glass (metals in glass) and reflective (foil backed) insulation.

Basements and parking garages are further examples, as they are usually surrounded by concrete and rebar preventing good RF signals reaching inside. Equally, while a building itself might be constructed with materials that support strong RF signals, buildings within a dense urban area can often be shielded by neighbouring buildings causing poor coverage.

The solution for smart connectivity in cities

An energy efficient, cost-effective and scalable solution which will support smart city models, IoT and M2M applications and mobile users is needed. Furthermore, networks must be able to provide robust public safety communications for emergency services to prevent harm and keep people safe in these new ‘smart’ environments.

Smart cities place incredibly weighty coverage demands on networks. As people and businesses grow increasingly connected to each other and technology through the IoT, service providers need to invest wisely in technology which not only allows for a better experience for all subscribers but also ensures a robust communications network is in place for the emergency services.

Ensuring long-term connectivity for smart cities

Driven by sensors, networks and data-analytics, connected cities are centred on real-time information. To support this, sensors are deployed across a range of environmental conditions – for example in streetlights, smart utility grids, and chemical detection systems which provide vital statistics on how the city is performing as well as areas in which they need to be more efficient. With a physical infrastructure – such as the IoT – this can enable service providers to effectively analyse and make use of the generated data. However, if they are to achieve their full potential, these units will need to be protected from the environmental elements. Whilst these systems and sensors are intelligent, it remains essential to maintain connectivity at all times in order to keep the network on and functioning. Otherwise, these new cities will face device and network failure that could be have significant consequences for its citizens.

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