As urban furniture for wireless communications, an innovative, neutral, multiple carrier and internet of things (IoT) port called the SmartTecPort aggregates holistic needs for smart city solutions, according to Leticia Latino, the president and CEO of Neptuno and its newly launched venture, SmartTecPort Solutions. She describee port as a multi-use, multipurpose artistic structure that reduces street clutter and becomes part of day-to-day living. Speaking at the Connectivity Expo, conducted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association on May 22 in a session about the next generation of smart poles that is more than small cells, Latino said the port is for data, flowing dynamically in and out, and helping to make life easier. She said the use of this master neutral host is how SmartTecPort Solutions is transforming the small cell for use in smart cities.
“We cannot keep deploying equipment the way we used to; we have to come up with new innovative ideas,” she said.
Latino said she is a member of the SmartCity Council, a national smart city task force, the second of such task forces to which she belongs that focuses on smart city-related challenges. She said the task forces tackle smart city problems from a neutral perspective, but she thinks “not just as a tower manufacturer but as a citizen, as a mom who wants her kids to be raised in a safe environment. Obviously there are questions about tower radiation, and I have concerns as well. But obviously we also consider the business perspective as to how we are going to do this.”
She said that as a company that offers wireless infrastructure products and services, Neptuno started to ask itself what it will it offer customers that looks different and that does more with less. “There’s digital signage, there’s the lighting, there are the carriers that have to be on top of a structure,” she said. “How are cities going to look if we allow all of these standalone structures to be in our ecosystem? Addressing questions like these are a big, big driver for SmartTecPort Solutions and how we can make help make cities better.”
In Latino’s view, the answer is to build infrastructure that supports the smart city’s digital layer.
“So much data is now being demanded by our smartphones; however, our wireless networks and cell sites were not originally designed to handle this high throughput of data,” Latino said. “With the advent of 5G wireless communications, we are going to increase our ability to do things from our smartphone a 1,000-fold. But we have to prepare the networks. The fiber has to be on the ground; the densification has to be enabled. So many things need to happen.”
Collaborating with Cities
The biggest challenge is really the education of city officials, Latino said. The cities do not always understand the technology, and often their resistance comes from not understanding the effect this new technology will have on the city and the day-to-day lives of its community, she said.
The multipurpose SmartTecPort host can hold equipment for as many as three wireless carriers. Latino said it is important to maximize the footprint that the city will allow so as many carriers as possible can share the structure. SmartTecPort Solutions also is considering whether to allocate space on the port for Wi-Fi connectivity because citywide Wi-Fi service is becoming increasingly important.
The SmartTecPort host also offers citizen engagement services, which are kiosk-like and interactive in their functionality, according to Latino. She gave as an example someone in a city, such as Manhattan, New York, who wants to know if there is seating availability at a favorite restaurant. A data centric city that puts city information at the citizens’ fingertips could address this question and facilitate a reservation.
“All of these data-related services have to be built around the user,” Latino said. “That’s how we at Neptuno are trying to change our mentality and why we launched a new company, with a vision to innovatively participate in the smart city movement. Legacy towers are dumb. They really are passive infrastructure. We are moving into an era wherein wireless infrastructure has to be smart and has to be able to do more for all stakeholders. Antennas and sensors placed on the SmarTecPort host facilitate smart connectivity between the city and its community.”
Technology Wrapped in Art
SmartTecPort Solutions is promoting the concept of art in public spaces and technology wrapped in art so that wireless antenna site structures have an artistic and concealed component, Latino said. With this artistic feature, she said, the structures are aesthetically pleasant, blend well with city landscape and minimize city footprint. According to Latino, citizens do not have to see antennas all around them. She said that SmartTecPort Solutions knows that small cell lamp posts and other solutions will continue to be needed. The densification that needs to happen is so massive that, in Latino’s view, a comprehensive approach to deploying small cells will be needed. Additionally, her company’s proposal to cities includes a build-own-operate business model, whereby cities will invest zero capital to provide a neutral location for carriers and smart city companies to collocate their equipment.
Latino said that to make use of her company’s experience and know-how in tower manufacturing is key to being a leader. “For example, in Florida, hurricanes are a constant threat,” she said. “To design for a hurricane is critical.” Any good-looking solution is appealing, but it has to have proper structural engineering, sufficient resilience and innovation, she said.
Regarding conflicts Neptuno and SmartTecPort Solutions may have noticed in and among the stakeholder groups as the smart poles have been deployed, Latino spoke about how a smart city event surprised her. She said as part of her involvement in a smart city task force, she attended a smart city event in Silicon Valley and was surprised that almost no infrastructure manufacturers or tower manufacturers attended.
“It was purely city officials,” Latino said. “Very few people cross the border between shows.” She asked how many city representatives were in the audience, and one person responded. “This kind of crossing the border and going to other shows to see what the vendors are doing and what they’re talking about is crucial.” She said participants in the wireless infrastructure business should go to smart city shows to learn what problems cities are trying to solve and what are their challenges. She said that is where the big disconnect is, and that makes it super challenging to address it.
About thechallenges associated with integrating a wide range of technologies into a single pole at a single location, Latino said, solving that part of the problem was easier because the SmartTecPort host is technology agnostic and accommodates many applications, including multiple carriers, kiosk-type functions, LED screens and the sensors. She said the sensor companies are dying to have a great location.
Location Location, Location
“It’s all about location, location, location,” she said. “If you can provide that, operators are happy. You are helping them solve a situation that they have. With other smart city-related platform integrators, our vision is that we can create a SmartTecPort grid — a group of smart poles — where information gets condensed because of the sensors. Many connected sensors must be in place for autonomous cars to become a reality.”
SmarteTecPort Solutions plans deployment in a grid format because everybody is trying to have a good location to offer or to put smart equipment in the city to make something out of the large amount of unstructured data now being gathered. Latino said the data is not being put to good use because no one knows exactly what to do with it yet or how to earn revenue from it.
As it relates to what the stakeholders of Neptuno and SmartTecPort Solutions can do to help speed implementation, Latino said it is important to keep communication open. “Educate the stakeholders that are not that familiar with technology,” she said. “The task force is a great avenue where all the stakeholders highlight each other’s challenges and discuss how we can assist each other into making this a reality.”
Executive Editor and Associate Publisher
Don Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletinemail newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years. Don Bishop may be contacted at: [email protected]