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Smart Cities Start with Smarter Utilities

By Steve Toteda

The role of communications in the smart utility segment.


Communities around the globe are clamoring for utilities that provide improved safety, better efficiency and a dedication to sustainability. Citizens want smart utilities. According to Randolph Wheatley, Sensus’ VP of Communications Solutions Marketing, “At its foundation, a smart utility has integrated capabilities that enable it to effectively gather information about the resources it provides and the network it uses.”

Ultimately, there are two primary benefits of a smart utility: optimized operation to reliably deliver services and enhanced customer engagement. These enable more intelligent resource and conservation decisions.  From these two outcomes spring myriad advantages impacting both the utility and the consumer. But smart cannot happen without utilities implementing a communications network that can enable all that potential.

Action requires communication
There are all kinds of devices, meters and sensors in the marketplace that proclaim to be smart by providing drive-by collection, outage determination or leak identification. And, although this data collection is necessary, Wheatley explains that “a device is not actually smart until it can provide that data to the utility so the utility can then make informed decisions to optimize operations.”

It is the communication network that gives utilities the ability to glean meaningful intelligence and make relevant applications for the consumer and the utility. “That is the difference between flying aplane blindly versus flying with a variety of tools such as radar and an altimeter,” says Wheatley. The communication network allows the utility to see where it has been and where it is going and to keep the customers informed.

“Utilities are one of the last marketplace goods predominantly paidafter use,” explains Wheatley. “But consumer expectations are changing, prompting a need for better usage visibility and understanding. And this change is impossible without the rightcommunications to gather the right information at the right time.”

Network options
Four key features dictate the efficacy of utility communication networks, each impacting the quality and quantity of data. They are: spectrum, reliability, security and bandwidth. Within the current marketplace, five primary network options; mesh, LoRa, cellular, NB-IoT, and FlexNet are vying for the utility vertical. Although some parallels exist, the differences are significant – and can be costly.

Spectrum: Mesh operates on an unlicensed, shared spectrum network crowded with noise from outside devices like baby monitors and microwaves.
Reliability: It takes hours to reform post-outage; the network view is incomplete, so deployment priority decisions are challenging.
Security: Consumer data can be transmitted to, or received by, non-secured points via the shared spectrum.
Bandwidth: All applications are shared across a single channel, and investments in CapEx and OpEx are required to expand.

Spectrum: Lora operates on an unlicensed spectrum network, built specifically for transmitting data from sensors, but it is not built for utility-grade large data loads.

Reliability: While it has a long range, it has very low transmission power. Battery life can drop rapidly based on higher data rates andchannel loading.

Security: Consumer data can be transmitted to or received by non-secured points via the shared spectrum.

Bandwidth: An ultra-narrowband spectrum with only one channel. Therefore, traffic increases on the network lead to rangedecreases.

Spectrum: Cellular operates on a licensed, public carrier network that is shared with others and receives a wide range of data – not solely utility data – across billions of apps.

Reliability: Dead zones in the network affect utility data. Consistent coverage is not guaranteed.

Security: Although a cellular network is licensed, it is not, specifically, licensed for utilities, which creates the potential for security breaches.

Bandwidth: Upgrades are required as technology improves. With each new leap in performance, assets are stranded and costs passedto the utility.

Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT)
Spectrum: NB-IoT operates on a shared, public carrier network designed for data coming from low-power sensors.

Reliability: Not designed for extensive battery life. Endpoint devices are only rated for 10 years.

Security: Consumer data can be transmitted to, or received by, non-secured points via the shared spectrum.

Bandwidth: Architected for low-power sensors and it is not a utility-grade network. Service level agreements (SLAs) are not available to guarantee coverage.

Spectrum: The only FCC private-licensed spectrum network dedicated to transmitting critical utility data, interference-free.

Reliability: The industry’s only private, storm-hardened network designed for 100 percent coverage, even during major storm events.  Delivers two times the redundancy compared to thecompetition.

Security: Provides secure, AES 256-bit encrypted data delivered over FCC-licensed spectrum specifically for utility data.

Bandwidth: Scalable and upgradable. A single network can be securely used for multiple utility applications. Each application has a dedicated channel to prioritize applications and critical messages.

All four features—spectrum, reliability, security, and bandwidth must be considered when looking for the right communication network. But reliability and resiliency are foundational elements for any utility. “For utilities to operate and deliver resources withreliability, the network itself needs to be reliable,” asserts Wheatley.  After all, regardless of data capabilities, the resourcesmust, ultimately, be delivered to the community, both in normal times and during storms and crises.

Of course, given the rapid pace of technological advancements, expandability is key. “Today’s available applications are just a fraction of what is coming down the road,” says Wheatley. “The network must be expandable to ever-new apps and devices.” Moreover, as customer demands change and grow, the network has to adequately expand to handle the latest applications without compromising current services.

Communications and the smart city
Urban areas are attracting residents with the promise of being a “smart city” – providing digital connectedness, automation, safety, and conveniences. A smart communication network is absolutely imperative to fulfill these promises. “A smart city cannot be smart without access to basic resources,” explains Wheatley. “So, if the community is not getting basic resources, the city simply cannot consider being smart.”

A robust smart utility network will have many of the characteristics smart city apps need, including being secure and reliable, and covering a broad geographic scope. “Smart utility services and applications must reach all constituents, not just the affluent,” says Wheatley. The network also needs to provide the information to help the utilities operate and maintain the services over time.

Building the case for smart communication
According to Wheatley, utilities typically have a core set of desiredapplications in mind when determining if an investment in a smartcommunication network makes sense. As previously noted, whatever network is investigated must be capable of expanding beyond the current business use case – even to applications not yet in existence. The most common aspects currently used to establish a business case are the following:

·     Data capture for billing efficiency and accuracy
·     Theft and loss reduction
·     Management asset optimization to identify infrastructure weaknesses in advance of a crisis
·     Customer service enhancement, response improvement, and user conservation

Looking ahead – what is trending?

The digital age is here to stay. Utilities, municipalities and citizens alike, must recognize that the Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidlyevolving, creating unheard of connectivity among, and between,machines, devices, animals, and humans. With IoT comes new breeds of utility applications that require a network to be well-suited for existing and future applications.

“Utilities are pushing for greater automation and better visibility of their networks. This requires connectivity to a broader range of smart devices covering a larger geographic area and capturing data more frequently,” says Wheatley. “So it is imperative for utilities to keep the long game in sight when choosing the right communication network. In fact, if a network cannot enable broad, and rapidly expanding, applications, it should not even be considered as a smart utility solution.”

Steve Toteda is the vice president of global marketing and technology for Sensus, a Xylem brand.  In this role, Toteda is responsible for the overall development and launch of new products and solutions for a global market. Toteda brings 25 years of leadership experience in large-scale licensed and unlicensed wireless network solutions and sensor networking for Utility and Industrial applications, including Water & Wastewater and Energy and emerging architectures for IoT.   Steve earned his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and master’s degree in Material Science from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and received his MBA from Columbia University in New York.

Sprint, Verizon Join Smart Cities Laboratories

By The Editors of AGL

In the last week, Sprint has opened the Curiosity IoT and 5G proving ground at Peachtree Corners, Georgia; and Verizon turned on its 5G Ultra Wideband network at the Mcity test facility at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Curiosity laboratory promises a “real-world smart city infrastructure” and 5G connectivity to enable companies to test cloud AI, robots and autonomous vehicle technology, among other things. The living laboratory, which includes a 1.5-mile autonomous test track located within an existing 500-acre technology park, enables companies to develop and test emerging technologies with live smart city infrastructure, next-generation connectivity amid real-world conditions.

The companies involved include Local Motors, an autonomous passenger shuttle; CloudMinds: a humanlike service robot with AI in the cloud; Softbank Robotics autonomous floor cleaner; Autonodyne Autonomous Drone, Valqari Drone and “Mailbox” Landing Pad; Georgia Power Smart Light Poles; Reef Kitchens Delivery-Only Kitchen Solution; and Kia Autonomous Vehicle

Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband Network at Mcity Test Facility

Verizon is working with Mcity to advance transportation safety and shape the future of autonomous vehicles and smart cities using 5G. Adding Verizon 5G to the Mcity Test Facility required installing 5G-connected cameras at every intersection inside the facility to help identify traffic and pedestrian patterns to prevent collisions. While connected cars have sensors that can “talk” to each other to help avoid accidents, cameras connecting to traffic light signals can help protect people walking or biking. The 5G-connected cameras were installed by Econolite. Verizon and Econolite are members of Mcity’s Leadership Circle of industry partners.

Smart Cities Trends in 2019

By Morne Erasmus

Smart communities will enrich the lives of residents and make local governments more efficient in responding to their citizens’ needs. From security to convenience to revenue generation, smart city applications will change the way cities operate and the way we live and work. It all starts with connectivity – smart city residents, vehicles, systems, and applications must be connected. In addition, in most cases that involves fiber infrastructure. There are three key trends that will impact smart cities in 2019. Let us take a look

Longer-term Planning

Companies have traditionally built out specific, siloed applications like surveillance cameras, smart lighting or traffic sensors. In 2019 they will start to take the longer view and think about building a basic infrastructure to support all smart city applications. It only makes sense; otherwise, the city is digging up the same streets every year, or so, to add infrastructure for each new application. For example, one city installed basic security cameras on light poles, but did so without installing fiber connectivity that would enable adding small cells or implementing facial recognition applications for the cameras to those poles. Now, the city must upgrade its light pole connectivity network – a painful and costly process.

To avoid having to upgrade networks in the future, city planners are now educating themselves about future possibilities, consulting with IoT vendors and network connectivity vendors, and working to develop a plan for the long term. For example, Stockholm as well as Chattanooga, Tennessee and Lincoln, Nebraska have built high-speed fiber networks around their cities with enough bandwidth to support new IoT devices and applications well into the future.

Overall, data connectivity is becoming the cities fourth utility – it is a must-have to do business, and cities are recognizing this. Connectivity in homes and businesses is a competitive advantage for cities, and they are rushing to implement it.

Creative Financing

Like water, gas and electricity, cities do not always deliver the service, but they enable construction of the basic infrastructure that delivers the service. We are starting to see more projects that combine government funding with public/private partnerships. In Europe and elsewhere around the world, many national governments are mandating and providing funding for large fiber build-outs. In North America, service providers, developers and local utilities are deploying parts of the civic connectivity infrastructure, while the city facilitates permitting and planning for construction.

Electric utilities are in a unique position to deploy fiber infrastructure because they already own rights-of-way and have existing overhead poles or underground conduits that can accommodate new fiber, so they can deploy fiber more quickly and at a lower cost. In some cases, cities in North America are funding or partnering with local power companies to build out the “middle mile” of the fiber network – the part from central offices or other distribution hubs to neighborhoods or business parks. Middle-mile networks are the most common municipal model due to less risk, decreased cost of deployment and the ability to lease excess conduit/fiber to private providers. Cities and municipal organizations building middle-mile networks include Centennial, Colorado and Howard County, Maryland to name just a few.

In many other cases, cities are also building the “last mile” that connects customers, often in partnership with local municipal electric companies. Ammon, Idaho; Hudson Oaks, Texas; and Fairlawn, Ohio; all are deploying last mile connectivity on their own, while Chattanooga, Tennessee; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Longmont, Colorado are partnering with local electric utilities to reach end customers. We see similar trends internationally in Stockholm (Stokab), Netherlands (Reggefiber, Citynet Amsterdam), and Singapore (OpenNet) just to name a few.  Carriers are also building their own last-mile networks, and 5G access will play an increasing role in delivering this connectivity, either through the densification of mobile networks or deployment of new fixed access solutions. Verizon has already launched 5G wireless access trials in several cities in 2018.

Network Convergence

In the past, service providers built separate wireless and wireline networks. Wireless infrastructure is becoming more centralized. Therefore, it makes more sense to converge all the wireless backhaul traffic onto the same fiber used by wireline services. The process of fiber network convergence is primarily driven by the development of enabling technologies, user demand, and service providers’ capabilities. Large, incumbent service providers have both wireline and wireless operations. Therefore, converging onto a single network and maximizing asset utilization makes excellent business sense and will be a push for 2019.

Real-life examples have occurred where a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network was built and several months later, the same construction crew dug up the same street to lay fiber for a cell site, which is wasteful and disruptive. Network convergence would mean one build-out that could be used for multiple service delivery platforms including FTTH.

That said, most cities will incorporate different providers’ networks in their overall infrastructure. How should they tie all these networks together? The first step is to put all this fiber, from different vendors, in the same trench and in the same conduit. Some networks need to be private (public safety, for example), but cities can, at least, ensure that all networks use the same conduit and, perhaps, even the same fiber bundle. After all, when the U.S. Interstate Highway system was built, there were not separate roads for trucks, cars and motorcycles –a shared infrastructure was built. It makes sense to do the same with fiber networks.

Applications drive the need for more bandwidth: parking, smart meters, public safety (surveillance cameras), traffic management, 5G small cell densification, waste management, and coordination of departments for emergency services are just a few examples. It is easy to see that a single converged network would be the most cost-effective way to support these applications. When a city builds out a fiber network to its light poles, for example, those poles can support smart lighting, surveillance cameras, and small cells for 5G network densification.

In fact, the emergence of 5G networks, over the next couple of years, is a major driver for fiber deployments.  5G will not only bring faster speeds, but also much denser small cell deployments due to distance limitations with millimeter wave technology and ultra-low latency applications at the edge.  By providing the pole infrastructure and facilitating permitting, a city can speed the build-out of fiber-to-the-pole networks by utility companies or service providers.

By meeting these expectations, 5G will foster new applications. Large companies like Netflix and Uber were built because fiber and 4G mobile wireless infrastructure were there to support their services. With its increases in bandwidth and coverage ubiquity, 5G will drive similar innovations, but it will rely on fiber for transport to and from the rest of the city’s network.

Cities are implementing smart city applications because they improve efficiency, reduce costs, generate new sources of revenue, and most importantly, improve the lives of their citizens. By planning ahead, using creative funding approaches, and converging networks around citywide fiber rollouts, cities will move forward on the path to becoming smarter in 2019.

Morné Erasmus is the director of Smart Cities at CommScope.  He is responsible for leading the company’s global smart city program and is a regular presenter at industry conferences. Since joining CommScope in 2012, Morné has held senior roles in Technical Sales and Segment Strategy.  He has more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry, spanning five continents. Morné holds a degree in electrical engineering from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town and is currently based in Dallas, Texas.

Will Smart Cities Come of Age in 2019?

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Executive Editor and IEEE Senior Member

There is quite a bit of discussion around smart cities, today. Much of it, as is the case with 5G, is hype. However, smart cities are going to light up in the next couple of years. Here is why.

Like most government entities, progress is much slower than the private sector. Some of that is because government is a different beast when it comes to agility; and being able to turn a big ship takes time. Other reasons have to do with mentality, financial and regulations. Any of us that have dealt with governments know all about that.

However, when it comes to smart cities, governments have an incentive – money! Smart cities are going to optimize efficiency, thereby saving money. How and when that will happen is still a bit vague, but city managers are seeing the light. Functions like shared data, smart technology, and real time metrics will bring about a fundamental shift in how cities are run. Moreover, they are realizing that smart technology will help them keep track of people – for good or bad is up for grabs.

For example, cash flow can be improved. Cities can offer incentives for having citizens connect and automate certain functions, such as paying various utility bills on a custom schedule for each user.

One of the most vaulted benefits that smart city platforms will offer is around safety. Full integration among citizens, first responders, and support services is many years away, however. In the end, such integration will help to ensure fewer mistakes, more accurate analysis of events, precise resource allocation (emergency responders, hospitals), and a much higher safety level for all.

One of the visions that smart cities will realize is that it will be an umbrella full of use cases. That includes elements such as smart buildings, smart cars, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity (V2V, V2I), smart grids, smart retail services, and more – what is often referred to as the “connected life.”

There are two emerging platforms that will determine how fast and advanced smart cities get, and they are closely tied to cities. The platforms are 5G and the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX). 5G because, predominantly, the amount of data that will be flowing everywhere. Present wireless network technologies will not be able to keep up. As well, other metrics, such as ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) will be required to enable autonomous vehicles, for example.

The IoX will be a significant component because “smart” is umbilically tied to information acquisition and analysis. The number of sensors that will be needed to deploy a ubiquitous layer of data points will be monumental. The only platform capable of doing that is the IoX.

This is not to say that 5G and the IoX will determine the success or failure of smart cities. There are many smart systems that can (and some are) be implemented today (smart meters, smart traffic lights, smart utilities) that comes under the smart city heading. For them to reach full potential, both 5G and the IoX will have to play a major role.

A huge component that will be critical in smart city evolution is edge networks. Distributed and edge computing will be a requirement, not an option. Why? Two main reasons – latency and traffic volume, especially in the largest cities.
Additionally, do not forget about AI, and its subsets, machine learning and machine intelligence. These technologies will become extremely important at the edge for local data analysis and traffic management. They will also be important at the core, for dynamic spectrum management, frequency agility and real-time spectrum manipulation.

While 2019 will not see a proliferation of smart cities, there will be movement. All parties involved with smart city technology will move toward a higher level of innovative thinking and collaboration between different agencies, service providers, procurement/contracts offices and community stakeholders.

To wit, The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the IoT Community, recently, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate on a set of initiatives regarding smart buildings, manufacturing, connected vehicles, intelligent transportation, healthcare, and more. They will share commercial, technical, and standardization insights and explore opportunities for collaboration on technologies, exchange information and expertise. These will lead to solutions that, in turn, will accelerate the development of the IoX. This is the kind of movement that is needed for smart “X” to gain traction. Hopefully, this is the beginning of such a trend.

The groundwork is being laid but there are many challenges and related technologies that will determine how quickly smart cities approach real “smarts.”

This article ran in the Issue 1, Spring 2019 issue of Applied Wireless Technology.

Smart Cities Gaining Traction in 2019

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Executive Editor and IEEE Senior Member

The challenges to making a city smart are many. I have been following the topic, with great interest, and have had many discussions around it. I have said that smart cities suffer from the same malady, as does 5G – overhyping. Like 5G, there has been much hype but real progress has been slower than the industry would like one to believe.

There are a number of reasons for this, things like opposition from NIMBYs, or in this case NMFYs, cost, access rights, dealing with municipalities, players interaction, perception (what constitutes a “smart” city) and, quite frankly, the technology itself.

Early attempts at smart cities involved adding intelligence to narrow vectors. Setting up Wi-Fi apps around the city center, for example. Or, smart parking meters (although that just made it easier for right-of-way enforcement to issue tickets). Some progress has also been made in smart lighting and smart signals. However, by and large, cities have not yet evolved, IMHO, to the level of real smarts.

The ante is about to be upped. Technology that can be implemented, to add intelligence, which can be utilized in city infrastructures is starting to emerge and is practical. I believe that 2019 will see the beginnings of smart cities coming of age.

One of the most interesting discussions I had was with the Verizon Smart City Initiative’s vice president, Lani Ingram, at the recent Smart City Conference in Denver. She had a very interesting perspective on how smart cities will evolve, and one that I think is spot-on.

Her take on it is that there are four stages to the evolution of smart cities. The first, of course, is the concept. Following that is the implementation of smart city strategies. Once that has evolved, the next stage is actually deploying various smart city technologies, systems and hardware. The last stage, and this is always the coup de grace, is full integration among all players, technologies and deployments.

Ingram’s position is not unique to smart cities. I have long maintained that, in order for any platform to be fully functional and optimal, it requires integration with the infrastructure – that means two-way communications. One-way sensors are just not capable of providing all the data that is necessary, even with advanced AI (I will likely get some disagreement with that, however).

For smart cities, the case for one-way sensors may be a bit more relaxed (for static apps, at least). For the more complex requirements (autonomous vehicles, for example), passive sensors are not going to cut it. Smart, two-way sensors that can communicate with each other and the core, via a mesh network will be much more effective in any platform. My discussions at the conference, with more than one high-level individual, confirm that integration is necessary for the final stage of full intelligence.

According to Ingram, we are now at stage two. Again, I tend to agree, especially from what I saw at the conference. There is a slew of smart city applications and devices, and some test beds. Much of the discussion is around partnerships between cities, utility companies, and device vendors.

One interesting scenario is in the city of Las Vegas. The city has collaborated with both Dell and NTT data systems to incubate a smart city scenario in part of the city. At present, it only involves cameras and audio detectors. However, what makes this an interesting testbed is what is being done with the acquired data. It is too lengthy to go into here, but how the data is being analyzed and what decisions are being made by AI is quite exciting. From what I saw, their concept is very good at resource planning and distribution, i.e. past analysis predicts future occurrences. What got my attention is who is getting into the game. I was quite surprised to talk to Dell and hear what they are into. They certainly are not your father’s computer hardware vendor.

As far as hardware goes, it has come a long way in a year. Smart light poles are capable of becoming an intelligent, multi-access point integrating a number of wireless platforms. One of the more interesting, and advanced, was a “black box” from Ubicquia. It is the first stand-alone wireless system that can be attached to any light pole out there to add wireless capabilities.

Other intelligent devices included trashcans and dumpsters with the ability to send a variety of data to a host, including such things as sensing noxious gases and explosive components. These are here and ready to go, today.

Parking is getting smart as well. Not only meters, but also parking lot kiosks and stall sensors that can relay information back to the host and can be integrated with end user’s smartphones. Another cool application was blockchain-secured, smart voting booths.

I can go on for another thousand words about all the cool things I saw and what is being developed in the smart city ecosystem. A lot of what was concept last year is tangible now. It is just looking for a home.

The biggest issue, as always, and there was a great deal of discussion around this, is getting cities, utilities, private enterprise and regulators all on the same page. That will be the biggest speedbump to overcome. However, I was encouraged by what I saw and heard. This year is producing some traction. Next year may be the year we see real progress ramping up in real smart city ecosystems.