Smart Connectivity: The Spark of True Intelligence

Throughout history, regional and municipal governments have used new technologies to improve the lives of their citizens. The aqueducts of Rome brought outside sources of water into the city, enhancing both public and private facilities. The London Underground, the first underground railway, made it easier and safer for people to move around the burgeoning city. Today, cities are using another new technology to transform the ever-present street lights that line most city streets, installing LEDs that dramatically reduce energy use and costs. The impact of LEDs is significant – street lighting can account for up to 50 percent of a city’s entire energy budget, and by simply replacing old street lightbulb technology with LEDs, New York estimates it will save $14 million a year in energy costs, while Chicago estimates it will save $10 million.

However, many cities are taking this street light transformation one step further, using IoT-enabled connected street lighting to improve their citizens’ quality of life, increase revenues, cut costs and support the deployment of a range of smart city applications. For example, smart street lighting enables city officials to increase and decrease street lighting illumination levels at different times of the day or night in response to weather events. Cities can use it to develop “follow-me” strategies that turn on street lighting only in response to specific pedestrian or vehicular activity, allowing them to reduce their energy costs. They can enable light flashing and sequencing to support traffic and crowd control during special events. And they can use connected street lighting to improve safety by increasing lighting in higher-crime areas and by providing first responders with the ability to increase lighting when they respond to an incident.

Smart Connectivity: The Spark of True Intelligence

Until recently, cities trying to centralize connectivity for connected street lighting used proprietary gateways that connected to smaller segments of street lights already connected via low-bandwidth communications, such as power line carrier (PLC) or a local RF mesh network. A cellular modem could also be added for backhaul communications to the central management software platform. However, this proprietary infrastructure was expensive and had limited utility.

With the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), there’s now a much better way. Point-to-point (P2P) cellular technology eliminates the need for proprietary gateways and segment controllers. A wireless cellular modem on each light pole can be configured to support low or high data throughput, depending on the application. A small antenna mounted on the pole enables direct communication to a central management software platform, creating a single network and paving the way for the use of advanced sensors and actuators that enable the deployment of other smart city applications in the future.

Benefits of P2P

P2P technology also delivers a variety of other benefits over previous, proprietary connected street lighting technologies:

  • Greater coverage, reliability, scalability, and efficiency – Cellular communications provides reliable connectivity that can scale from very low to high data throughput to support a wide range of applications. Connected street lighting infrastructure providers can scale their solutions to support everything from simple light dimming to more bandwidth-intensive applications such as video surveillance.
  • Managed network, licensed spectrum – The cellular network is managed by carriers and relies on licensed spectrum, ensuring reliable communication without the interference that hampers other technologies.
  • Ease of installation and maintenance – With cellular technology at the pole, there is no need for advanced installation expertise, complex initial surveys, or ongoing network maintenance. A technician can install the modem at the pole top with minimal commissioning, dramatically reducing field installation costs. Once turned on, the modem immediately connects with the secure, reliable cellular network that’s already in place.
  • GPS built into the modem – Built-in GPS eliminates the need for a separate, standalone GPS device, reducing costs and enabling faster commissioning of light poles.
  • Open standards – Once deployed, connected street light systems should remain operational for decades. Systems built using proprietary RF technologies can quickly become obsolete. With cellular public lighting solutions, OEMs can build solutions based on global standards that will be supported for the long-term.

Leveraging Connected Street Lighting Infrastructure for other Smart City Applications

Once light poles are connected to a central management software platform, regional and municipal governments can use this new intelligent infrastructure as the foundation for other smart city initiatives – all made more efficient and cost effective by taking advantage of these existing assets.

For example, smart city public safety applications can use video surveillance cameras, emergency call stations, and environmental monitoring stations (with sensors to detect earthquakes, air quality, noise, etc.) strategically placed on light poles. Digital signage on select street light poles can provide real-time information to drivers, pedestrians and residents related to traffic, emergencies and local events, or be used to generate advertising revenue for the city.

Connected street lighting also enables governments to use their street lights for Wi-Fi access. These access points can be used by city personnel to lower their cellular data usage,, reducing city expenses.  Wi-Fi access points can also be used to provide Internet access to local businesses and residents, providing the city with a new sources of leasing or adverting revenues. In addition, cities can use these Wi-Fi access points to help bridge the digital divide by providing poorer city residents with free or low-cost Internet access. Smart parking meters or pay stations attached or connected to light poles can eliminate the costs associated with trenching for standalone meters and pay stations.

Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations can be equipped with payment processing that is integrated with connected lighting in parking lots and near entertainment venues, increasing access for EV drivers, encouraging more use of EVs, and generating additional revenue for regional and municipal governments.

Alone, connected street lights using P2P cellular technology offer cities the opportunity to make their city’s lighting more useful, less expensive, and smarter. However, connected street lights can also accelerate deployment of Wi-Fi access points, digital signage, connected parking meters, EV charging stations and other smart city initiatives that allow cities to deliver their citizens a higher quality of life, while also improving city finances. As they move forward in seeking to digitally transform themselves, regional and municipal governments should first look at how the IoT enables a seemingly simple technology – the street light – to serve as the foundation for their smart city initiatives.


Remy MarcotorchinoThis article was written by Remy Marcotorchino, the Director of Marketing, Industrial and Infrastructure at Sierra Wireless, with worldwide responsibilities in the industrial and security markets. Prior to joining Sierra Wireless, he held positions in Fortune 500 companies including Texas Instruments, Sanmina SCI and Alcatel. He holds an MBA from SMU in Dallas, TX and a MS EE from INPG in Grenoble, France.

|Source: IIoT World

The Smart Way To Build Smart Cities

By John Macomber

Much promotion of smart cities assumes that municipalities will take a proactive, top-down, technology-first approach to urban progress. Thus far, these initiatives look for some forward-thinking city official (or immensely deep-pocketed private investor) to write a big purchase order for a lot of hardware and software, in the same way an industrial company like Procter & Gamble buys a multimillion dollar SAP install.

But most cities don’t work like corporations. They tend to be both siloed (so departments don’t work on solutions together, let alone work in conjunction with pilot project sponsors) and strapped for cash (so there is no budget for experimentation). This constraint means that city leaders often can’t take the lead in fully vetting, designing, and overseeing new technologies and business models. The result: Innovative and aggressive vendors have room to step into the breach and implement concepts and ideas on their own, with results that often favor elites (or descend into ineffectiveness) over good public policy.

I believe public-private partnerships can lead to smarter cities. But a truly smart smart city investment requires looking at three dimensions: characteristics of cities, capital requirements for various initiatives, and the decision-making process. I suggest decision makers in these initiatives follow an analytical sequence of situation, solution, and sovereignty.


First, cities are not alike and it’s naïve to approach either decision making or smart city technology (or investing) without this consideration. As McKinsey & Co. authors pointed out in a recent article on The Future(s) of Mobility, mayors, investors, and companies need to examine at least four combinations of wealth, growth, and density:

  1. Dense cities in developed economies. Tokyo is an example of a very densely built out city in a mature economy.
  2. Dense cities in emerging economies. Mexico City has a significant urban core but is still managing the characteristics of a demographically young nation.
  3. Low-density cities in developed economies. Houston is a sprawling low-density city in a developed economy.
  4. Low-density cities in emerging economies. Lagos, Bangalore, and Jakarta are low-density cities covering expansive horizontal areas with informal settlements in nations still working on substantial transit, governance, finance, and social service institutions.

In my research these configurations have very different installed hard infrastructure (roads, water, buildings) and very different installed soft infrastructure (bureaucracy, land rights, tax rolls). The kind of “smartness” that changes the life of a resident of Japan is a lot different from what constitutes a life-changing tool in Nigeria. What is the situation in which decision makers finds themselves?


Second, technology projects are quite different not only in the ambition of their programming, but also in terms of capital required, who pays for what, and who benefits. “Wi-Fi everywhere” is a lot cheaper to install than a state-of-the-art storm water management and flood resilience program. These are solutions—the how and the why. Considerations of “how expensive” and “why this is good for citizens” vary immensely and can’t just be lumped into some pool of tech dreams of the smart city industry.


Third, and most overlooked, is the question of sovereignty. In any given location, who decides what gets done? Which decisions will be made by innovators from the private sector, by visionaries in civic entrepreneurship, on apps, by public acclaim, or “other”?

Some technologies seem to percolate up on their own—most notably shared-economy ideas like Airbnb and Uber. No government planned these, but it’s hard to argue that Uber is not part of transportation infrastructure in many cities. Other technologies need central investment and control—for example, congestion pricing and traffic signal coordination seen in London or Singapore. That kind of integrated solution is hard for an upstart firm to accomplish on its own.

How to pay for it?

To succeed in any of these situations, looking at most types of solutions, and before even considering sovereignty, it’s useful to revisit what financial parties look for in a traditional concrete and steel infrastructure investment. It’s the same for smart city infrastructure.

The classic concerns of centuries still apply today: payment, predictability, and permissions. What’s the source of repayment of our loan or investment in that tool? How predictable, dependable, or at risk, is that cash flow from the application or gadget? Whose permission does the sponsor need (think environmental permits, land rights) before starting? And the inverse: whose permissions, if withdrawn, can cut off the cash flow stream (think tariffs, taxes, prohibitions)?

The future is starting

Proposed “ground up” projects fill the news: Sidewalk Labs, the smart-city subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., has announced plans to create a high-tech neighborhood in Toronto, Quayside, that promises to combine “the best in urban design with the latest in digital technology,” including buildings that react to weather. Bill Gates has invested $80 million toward the development of Belmont, a smart city in Arizona; plans call for autonomous vehicles and a sophisticated data hub. But many of these projects seem more like showrooms than replicable models; more like vanity projects than universal urban progress—digital stardust and stupid cities, suggests Bruce Sterling writing in The Atlantic. At the same time, vendors of all manner of devices and services—drone deliveries to autonomous vehicles, demand management of electricity, ubiquitous public Wi-Fi stations—are going ahead with their own programs.

To effectively work together to improve society and, crucially, attract outside money to do so, both categories of effort need to follow a thoughtful situation-solution-sovereignty roadmap. Coupled with investments based on understanding of payment, predictability, and permissions, this will illuminate the path to attracting capital—a lot of capital—to smart city infrastructure investments all over the world.

Harvard Business School Working Knowledge offers an accessible look at the latest research and ideas from the faculty of Harvard Business School.

|Source: Forbes