What are smart city networks: IoT networks built for scalability

Cradlepoint Australia Pty Ltd
By Nathan McGregor, senior vice president Asia Pacific, Cradlepoint
Thursday, 01 June, 2023

What are smart city networks: IoT networks built for scalability

Industrialisation, employment opportunities, social benefits, and a rise in global population have made urbanisation virtually impossible to suppress. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, over 70% of the world’s population will be urban dwellers. This dramatic shift in where people live, work, and play creates stress for city infrastructure — a primary reason why smart city IoT has become a major initiative for many local governments.

Predicted to generate $20 trillion in economic benefits by 2026, smart city technologies spearheaded by both public and private organisations create a better living experience for residents. Not only are smart cities making urban areas safer and more navigable, but they’re also improving emergency response times, enhancing energy efficiency programs, reducing pollution, cutting back on commuter times, and more.

What is smart city technology?

Smart city technology is a form of digital transformation involving the use of IoT devices such as sensors, meters, robots, cameras, and more to collect and analyse data to make city processes more efficient. Technologies for smart cities can be applied to agriculture, energy, construction, homes, public health and safety, city services, and utilities. By connecting these devices to cellular networks, cities can take advantage of wireless reach, reliability, and flexibility while avoiding the need to rely on existing wired infrastructure which can be costly to expand and maintain.

Examples of cellular IoT connectivity for smart cities include the use of sensors and cameras to improve traffic flow, which can reduce congestion and enhance safety. Similar technologies can also help cities better monitor and manage their waste and resources — such as energy and water — which can lead to cost savings and reduced environmental impact.

Studies show that Australian businesses are in support of using IoT technology to reduce environmental impact. In Cradlepoint’s State of Connectivity Report 2023, Censuswide research found that nearly 85% of Australian businesses believe that the current energy crisis has increased the need for smart buildings.

These technologies ultimately help cities attract and retain businesses, tourists, and other visitors by making the city more attractive and liveable.

The role and challenges of IoT in smart cities

The success of a smart city network depends on the seamless execution of four things: data collection, data transportation, data storage, and analysis. Connected IoT sensors are the main driver for data collection and transmission to the cloud for storage and analysis. While this can be achieved over wired connections, cellular can make connections where wires can’t. This means cities are increasingly turning to cellular IoT connectivity over 4G LTE and 5G networks to simplify deployment, enhance cybersecurity, improve network reliability and add redundancy, and finally, enable the management and remote updating of deployed equipment.

With sensing nodes and monitoring devices in nearly every corner of a city’s domain, smart city IoT is prolific. IoT deployment with such a large scope has its undisputed upsides, but deployments of that size come with challenges that must be considered.

Security and privacy

Sensors throughout smart cities continuously collect data about citizens’ activity — information that may be of particular interest to bad actors. When IoT routers are built to take advantage of advanced security services including zero trust architecture and other 5G network security enhancements, smart city networks significantly reduce the risk of data being compromised.

Management and analysis at scale

With every new parking garage, subdivision, and grocery store comes a need for dozens or even hundreds of additional IoT devices to maintain a city’s established level of data intelligence. Although the reach of connectivity may increase, the size of IT teams will likely stay the same, meaning smart city IoT and the data collected from it must be manageable at scale.

Physical IoT performance

Due to their location on streetlights, under garbage trucks, across parking lots, in busy intersections and more, smart city IoT sensors are exposed to extreme heat, cold, dust, moisture, and vibrations. These devices and IoT routers must be able to withstand the elements while maintaining power and remaining simple to set up and service.

Network performance

The success of smart city IoT depends on the capability of sensors and other devices to send and receive information to each other and the cloud. The type of smart city network — such as wired, 4G, 5G, or private cellular — plays a large role in the security, reliability, and scalability of smart city architecture.

Exploring the options for smart city IoT connectivity

Wired and wireless connectivity solutions come with their own sets of advantages and challenges, making them each uniquely qualified for various smart city IoT applications.

Wired connectivity

As urban environments continue to stretch into new territory, wired connectivity can only go so far. New developments can be far away from existing fibre, and the cost and time associated with establishing new lines is often prohibitive. Wired lines are also at risk of extended downtime due to fibre cuts that can occur when a traffic accident damages a fibre junction box, or when digging at a new construction site is miscalculated.

If a city already has dedicated, trenched fibre, it is fairly inexpensive to operate and serves as a reliable and fast method of digital communication for most smart city IoT applications including advanced traffic control cabinets (ATCC) and smart utility meters. However, as cities seek solutions that are scalable, secure, and futureproof, wired connectivity may only be an ideal solution if pre-existing contracts are in place or if IoT assets are already close to a fibre network.

5G and LTE wireless connectivity

Cellular connectivity from a public 5G or LTE network provides the ability to have an internet connection without having to dig up streets, sidewalks, and storefronts, creating a solution that is less disruptive and more cost effective than investing in new wired lines. Cellular broadband supplies three distinct benefits compared to wired connectivity:

  • Enables ad-hoc placement for smart city IoT devices including security cameras, sensors, kiosks, electric vehicle charging stations, road signs, etc.
  • Serves as a failover solution for wired connections in the event of a fibre cut.
  • Provides constant connectivity for smart city applications in public service vehicles and on public transportation fleets.

Intelligent transportation systems are ideal applications for cellular IoT connectivity. This includes technologies such as traffic signal controllers, traffic flow meters, video cameras, and in-vehicle sensors that improve safety by adapting to real-time traffic conditions and help traffic to move more efficiently throughout areas, reducing pollution from emissions by nearly 20% and cutting down travel time by up to 25%.

While the environmental benefits are clear, connectivity continues to be a challenge for many Australian public sector organisations. In the Cradlepoint State of Connectivity Report 2023, 75% of public transport and nearly 70% of Government respondents in Australia said that poor connectivity held back sustainability projects for their organisations in the last 12 months.

Whether connected to public or private networks, cellular IoT routers bring an added benefit to the table: remote management. Cloud-managed networks save IT teams time and money with the ability to deploy, troubleshoot, and analyse network connectivity from anywhere.

Image credit: iStock.com/imaginima

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