Robust communication networks are the glue to holding our smart cities together
The concept of a city where all public services, facilities and communications are provided through a universal hub has been a goal for municipalities for many years. From connected cars to smart metres, to air quality management and smart lampposts, urban dwellers can already see changes in most major cities in Europe. The end goal? A digital transformation that will morph more and more municipalities into fully connected, highly integrated entities known as smart cities.
London, Barcelona and Amsterdam are leading Europe into becoming a smart continent to be reckoned with. In an almost domino effect, cities across the region are vying for better public transit, low-carbon solutions and a community engaged in the progression towards more sustainable and smarter cities. Citizens are positively responding to digitalisation initiatives and subsequent daily life improvements which is in turn increasing expectations.
The Internet of Things connects separate “things” that we never imagined combined -- such as a traffic light and artificial intelligence -- which are able to come together to create something innovative. Rapidly growing city populations mean that it is ever more difficult to keep traffic flowing and air quality clean, potentially making city living less desirable. This is where smart cities come in -- to truly re-imagine what a city can be.
One city already making waves in its plan to be the UK’s flagship smart city is Bristol, which has created an IoT initiative called “Bristol is Open”. The scheme has seen developments and projects that enable real-time responses to everyday occurrences such as congestion, waste management, energy supply and more. Already there are plans for a wireless mesh network across 1,500 lampposts throughout the city and a mile of experimental wireless connectivity across the harbourside in its aim to become a programmable city of the future.
Smart cities and the Internet of Things will have a huge impact on the way we do business and will bring countless opportunities. Yet due to the rise in connected devices -- Gartner says 8.4 billion connected “things” will be in use in 2017 alone -- what is overlooked by many when discussing smart cities and their potential is the vital requirement for a universal, unfailing broadband network. As many of us find out the hard way, public broadband can often be unreliable and erratic, while private broadband is expensive.
With millions of interconnected devices and their applications, how do we keep them all connected without risking a failure? First, secure “mission critical” networks that municipalities can rely on under mounting pressures and demands must be established. Second, governments must implement fully reliable, robust and cost-effective networks to ensure that operations that involve sensors, cameras, monitoring devices and other mobile and critical assets can be supported and optimised.
The Smart Cities Council states, “super-fast, high capacity broadband networks are considered essential to economic growth, job creation and competitiveness.” Businesses and citizens need to be able to rely upon such networks allowing real-time monitoring as well as remote operations that automatically adjust according to needs. Without a mobile, scalable, reliable wireless network that allows real-time data transfer, many parts of a city may be running on outdated data, or not be able to access data at all.
Increasingly, kinetic mesh networks are emerging as the ideal solution for interconnecting large numbers of applications and network devices. This technology employs multiple radio frequencies and any-node-to-any-node capabilities to instantaneously route data via the best available traffic path and frequency. Each node serves as a singular infrastructure, which enables all devices and the network itself to be mobile – meaning it can move around a city with no loss of connectivity.
Kinetic mesh has been battle-tested in military, mining and disaster recovery operations. For example, in 2005, a kinetic mesh network supported relief efforts in Mississippi following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, providing a reliable communications infrastructure. It is proven in environments and situations where private reliable networks are needed and smart cities need this kind of robust network to protect their citizens and serve them well.
In the case of adverse temperature and weather disasters such as floods and droughts, real-time data will be imperative for cities. Smart water systems can incorporate features to adapt to changes in demand and supply patterns. Greater accessibility to data can facilitate collaborative planning on a regional scale to effectively plan and manage storm/flood conditions.
Applications like smart water systems will always require a reliable wireless communications network, to prevent miscommunication errors during disasters. An unreliable communication system increases the time it takes to help those affected, prolonging unsafe conditions that may result in additional suffering for citizens.
A major component of its design is that this new technology follows the Internet of Things principle of straightforward integration, meaning that the technology is easily interfaced with other applications. This means that the technology can be incorporated into a much larger network of systems utilising similar modular communication networks.
Emergency services, for example, must ensure that their communications network is private, secure and robust. If a blue light communication system was hacked or interrupted and response times were extended or halted, consequences could be disastrous. The modular system design of a kinetic mesh network means there is no single point of failure throughout the networks, ensuring that police, firefighters and emergency personnel remain connected while mobile, confident that their connection will be available wherever they travel.
By allowing for security systems with local storage to be remotely accessed and monitored securely, kinetic mesh also improves public safety, providing continual coverage, with post-event image and data retrieval. Security personnel will then be better positioned to access security footage from anywhere and identify potential threats and issues early to advance security.
Humans are constantly looking for ways to advance society and are creating innovative solutions to do so. Smart cities offer the opportunity for increased and pervasive technology innovation, but we must be vigilant and ensure a suitable communications infrastructure is deployed to ensure that a more interconnected society does not mean less security.
Chris Mason joined Rajant last June with responsibility for sales in Europe, Middle East and Africa. Working with distributors, resellers and end-users, Chris will seek to achieve further penetration of Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh technology into these key geographies.
With over 30 years ICT sales experience, Chris has worked for both small companies and in some of the largest global organisations finding IT solutions to business challenges. Over 16 years of this time was spent with British Telecom plc in a variety of sales, business development and management roles, across geographies and industry sectors.
Radio solution has been an integral part of Chris’ background, given his involvement with the UK’s TETRA network for the emergency services and the UK Ministry of Defence.
Prior to working for BT, Chris was responsible for worldwide third party distribution for a leading Business Information organisation and has held various senior positions in the IT Industry, including some years working for Burroughs /Unisys.
Chris holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature followed by an MSc from University College London in Telecommunications Business and is a member of the Institute of Directors.
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Bristol Is Open’s network will enable business and academia to implement IoT projects at scale and provide a valuable test facility