From Alphabet Lab’s high-tech transformation of Toronto’s waterfront, to Bristol’s award-winning citywide communications network, the number and scope of smart city projects across the world is on the rise, with analysts forecasting the market will be worth more than $2.5 trillion by 2025.
The fundamental objective of any smart community is to 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. But it all starts with connectivity – a smart city’s residents, machines, vehicles, systems and applications must be connected, and in most cases that involves fibre infrastructure. There are three key trends that will impact smart cities in 2019. Let’s take a look.
Companies have traditionally built out specific, siloed applications such as surveillance cameras, smart lighting or traffic sensors. For 2019 and beyond, however, they will start to take a longer view and think about building a basic infrastructure to support all current and future smart city applications. It only makes sense; after all, without it, the city will be digging (Digging cost can be up to 80 per cent of the deployment) 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 the fibre connectivity that would enable the addition of small cells to those poles or the implementation of facial recognition applications for the cameras. As a result, the city must now upgrade its light pole connectivity network – a process that proves both painful and costly.
To avoid having to upgrade their 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. York, Stockholm, and Berlin, for example, have all built high-speed fibre networks in and around their cities with enough bandwidth to support new IoT devices and applications well into the future. FTTH Networks are now referred to as FTTX Networks since no longer only Homes will be connected to the fibres!
Overall, data connectivity is becoming the Fourth Utility in cities – it’s a must-have to do business, and cities are recognising this. Connectivity in homes and businesses is a competitive advantage for cities, and they are rushing to implement it.
Like water, gas and electricity, cities don’t always deliver the service themselves, but instead enable construction of the basic infrastructure that does. We’re 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 fibre build-outs.
The UK Government, for example, recently announced the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review as part of its Industrial Strategy, in which it proposed the changes to infrastructure required to give the majority of the population access to 5G, connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025, and provide full fibre broadband coverage across the entire country by 2033.
And in 2017, Germany’s federal government announced a €100 billion project aimed at rolling out a fibre-based gigabit internet service across the whole country by 2025, through a public and private consortium known as Netzallianz Digitales Deutschland.
To ease the deployment of these necessary changes, it is often recommended that fibre providers form partnerships with third parties such as electric utilities companies. Indeed, such companies are in a unique position to deploy fibre infrastructure because they already own rights-of-way and have existing overhead poles or underground conduits that are able to accommodate new fibre, so they can deploy fibre more quickly and at a lower cost.
Some cities in North America, for example, are funding or partnering with local power companies to build out the “Middle Mile” of the fibre network – the part that reaches from central offices or other distribution hubs to neighbourhoods or business parks. These Middle-Mile networks are the most common municipal model due to their lower risk, the decreased cost of deployment, and the ability to lease excess conduit/fibre to private providers.
Elsewhere, cities are also building the “Last Mile” that delivers connectivity to end-users. Firms such as Stokab in Stockholm, Reggefiber and Citynet Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Singapore’s OpenNet will often work in partnership with local municipal electric companies. And carriers are also building their own Last-Mile networks. This is due in no small part to the advent of 5G, and the increasingly important role the technology is set to play in delivering this connectivity, either through the densification of mobile networks or the deployment of new fixed access solutions. Verizon, for example, launched 5G wireless access trials in several cities across the US in 2018.
5G, fibre, Power and the future
The rollout of 5G networks that is set to take place over the next couple of years will be a key driver for fibre deployments. Not only is 5G set to bring faster speeds, but it will also lead to much denser small cell deployments due to distance limitations with mmWave technology and ultra-low latency applications at the network edge. Small Cell equipment and many IoT devices also need to have access to Power (in case of IoT this can be PoE = Power over Ethernet)! Some critical applications will require back-up power! By providing the pole infrastructure, and granting the necessary permissions, city authorities can speed up the build-out of fibre-to-the-pole networks by utility companies and/or service providers.
By delivering on its potential, 5G will foster the development of innovative new applications. Indeed, tech giants such as Uber and Netflix were built largely as a result of the fibre and 4G wireless infrastructure that was there to support their services. So, while its increases in bandwidth and coverage ubiquity will inevitably drive similar innovations, 5G will rely on fibre for transport to and from the rest of a city’s network.
Cities across the globe are increasingly implementing smart city applications as a means of improving efficiency, reducing costs, generating new sources of revenue and, most importantly, improving the lives of their citizens. But by planning ahead, using creative approaches to funding, and embracing the benefits promised by 5G, cities will be able to move even further forward on the path to becoming smarter.
Jan Honig, Director, Smart Cities Business Development, EMEA, CommScope
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