Why the network is the cornerstone of smart cities
Research by Gartner predicts a 30% rise in connected “things” to 6.4 billion devices in 2016. These machine to machine (M2M) devices, networked into the Internet of Things (IoT), are starting to appear in urban, industrial and city environments - from security cameras and utility-monitoring sensors, to ticket barriers at stations and healthcare equipment in hospitals. All these applications require the support of 24/7 network availability that ‘knows’ what’s happening, so how can today's network environments handle this?
Consistency and capacity are key to security
Let’s take security as an example. We are all aware of the heightened security concerns in major cities and the need for reliable and interruptible security feeds. Installing devices, such as IP cameras and security sensors, at key assets and infrastructure across an urban area is straightforward, but the challenge is two-fold. Firstly, guaranteeing continuous, real-time communication - these data feeds need high availability networks and cannot be subject to limited capacity.
In the event of partial network failure, intelligent routing has to be able to mitigate the impact while ensuring critical assets remain operational
Secondly, how to ensure a consistent Quality of Service by effectively prioritising the right users, devices and application data for uninterrupted high-priority communications.
To address these issues, there are now ‘smart’ network switches, or in other words application aware switches, that carry and deliver data across Application Fluent Networks. These switches have the added value of being able to prioritise users, devices and applications depending on the situation – normal day-to-day or emergency.
Of course, network infrastructure needs to be capable of enduring challenging conditions such as outages, heavy demand, changing temperatures and harsh weather. But in the event of partial network failure, intelligent routing and prioritisation have to be able to mitigate the impact while ensuring critical safety and security assets remain operational.
Keeping smart cities moving
Departments responsible for the transport links in a city can leverage M2M connectivity to create smarter transportation systems - this is IoT in action.
Urban traffic management can be handled far more effectively by analysing conditions and traffic flows. But gathering data multiple times a second from thousands of roadway and transport sensors, CCTV cameras, vehicle detectors, weather stations, signs, ramp meters, traffic signals, and other devices all relies on connectivity – and connectivity relies on the network.
But collecting the data is just one connectivity issue. It is of little value unless you can connect with public displays and user devices to inform travellers of road conditions, events, and incidents and keep the transport network flowing.
Smarter power for utilities
Utility grids, public lighting and transport systems are just some of the areas that are realising cost efficiencies and safety benefits from the introduction of smart technology and automation. Smart grid sensors can improve performance of utility operations. Embedding sensors in IoT systems means organisations can start to build intelligent networks across entire cities and regions. These sensors allow the real time monitoring of utility assets - collecting data that enables utility companies to improve energy and performance through better understanding of the entire distribution grid. Remotely collecting data such as capacity, pressure flows and temperatures can help operators and engineers to remotely diagnose issues for preventative maintenance or quickly respond to emergencies.
All these individual advancements are driving an overall trend towards greater energy efficiency within cities, a target which is of increasing importance due to growing global warming concerns. With more than half of the world's population now living in urban areas, they are a natural target for emission reductions. By adopting the smart city model, energy efficiencies can be made while simultaneously lowering operational costs and improving quality of life for citizens.
This is just the beginning
On top of this, we are now seeing the emergence of commercial applications reliant on device connectivity. Car rentals are being made through smartphones that incorporate intelligent parking services to ensure a space will be available for the driver on arrival. Not only does this save time, it also lowers congestion and therefore carbon emissions. But high degrees of network agility and scalability will be needed to ensure city services deployed on a large scale have the required connectivity.
By adopting the smart city model, energy efficiencies can be made while simultaneously lowering operational costs and improving quality of life
We know about this at ALE because we are already providing this sort of networking and communications backbone for early smart cities, such as the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City in India. This project has already begun to deliver benefits, from city-wide connectivity and intelligent parking to connected buildings.
The UN estimates that by 2050, over two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities, placing further strain on public services – smart cities can provide the solution. But as each market sector and application becomes connected, each will bring unique demands to the networking infrastructure that supports them in the smart city.
In areas such as healthcare and education, scalability will be a major influencing factor. In healthcare, progress has been made in introducing digital services and widespread IP-based communications. 'Connected healthcare' now encompasses continuous patient monitoring, clinician collaboration and remote patient diagnosis.
But as businesses, individuals and the public sector continue this drive towards ubiquitous digitisation of services and 'things', city planners will have to factor network provisioning into their smart city ambitions as a matter of priority.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.
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