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Working Together to Deliver Sustainable, Interoperable Smart City Technologies

On Thursday 31st March, Urban Control’s Director of Innovation and Development, Miguel Lira, took part in a webinar with IoTerop's Olivier Carmona, Transforma Insights' Matt Hatton and Valérie Grau from SFR. The conversation focused on sustainability and interoperability as the bedrocks upon which Smart Cities will be built, how to secure these networks, and also covered in detail the potential of cellular technologies to deliver on the smart city vision quickly, economically, and at scale. The following represents an overview of the key points of the discussion.

Building Smart Cities is about much more than making streetlights, buildings, and parking facilities connected. Proper planning can ensure not only a seamless IoT experience for residents, visitors, and city employees alike, but is also required to defend against cyber-attacks and prevent deploying technologies which can become obsolete, potentially resulting in huge amounts of investment being wasted. This open and wide-ranging discussion sought to debate and distil the current strategies that are making Smart Cities successful after so many false starts and short-term projects which have failed to proceed beyond trials, pilots or small-scale deployments.

The session opened with a discussion around the evolving definition(s) of what a Smart City is, particularly in an IoT sense, including.

⁃ Purpose built Smart Cities, designed from ground the up with integrated solutions, such as those being built in the China and India.

⁃ Retrofit smart cities, essentially brownfield smart cities built or installed within existing city architectures which make up the overwhelming majoring of smart city use cases today.

⁃ Smart campus deployments like Hamburg docks or large campus Industrial IoT deployments with a clear business case and governance. These benefit from clearer and cleaner legislation, governance and deployment processes.

Retrofitting smart cities on top of existing city infrastructure has inevitably brought challenges; with funding and deployment complexities, government (national and local) legislation, and differing and difficult discussions around who is ultimately responsible for installing and managing both infrastructure and applications. But demand for smart city technology is rising exponentially – today focusing on IoT applications at its core such as Smart CCTV, lighting, environmental monitoring, intelligent transportation and the like. ahead of a wider range of technologies such as smart grid, connected cars, supply chain in the future.

The last 10 years have seen an evolution of technologies that are specifically developed to address challenges associated with constrained environments such as cities. These LPWA and cellular technologies like NB-IoT & LTE-M will dominate the IoT in years to come - but for them to flourish at scale as intended there has to be a commonality of standards, universal interoperability, and greater buy-in from national and local governments around the world (such as we’ve seen in China and India) to expedite deployments.

The discussion moved on to the importance of interoperability. While there is no one size fits all solution to cover all IoT connectivity needs, critical factors that must be considered when choosing what works best in any given situation include:

⁃ Network complexity

⁃ Coverage

⁃ Power Consumption

⁃ Bandwidth, data throughput, latency, speed of communication, resilience

⁃ Cost (of purchase, deployment, update, upkeep and power)

⁃ Data privacy

⁃ Security (IoT devices need to be more secure. Not all network technologies are equally secure, and they need to be designed and implemented E2E at all points in the network)

⁃ Standardisation and interoperability (interoperability is vital and also open standards are a key factor for smart cities. Proprietary solutions are both expensive and have an unclear future. The increasing use of standardisation like lightweight M2M, TALQ etc. results in better security, scalable deployments, and sustainable futures for smart cities.)

A detailed comparison of various connections in use today was presented, including Bluetooth MESH, Wi-Sun, LTE-M, NB-IOT, LoRa and Sigfox connectivity methods, stressing the need to minimise power consumption and cost and maximise interoperability with open standards.

The panel agreed that Smart Cities should be all about interoperability with multiple technologies, multiple interactions, and multiple scenarios. For it to fulfil its potential, there needs to be interoperability - allowing updates and better security to become second nature across all devices.

There was also consensus on the drawbacks of a proprietary ecosystem - you will get a great product to begin with, but it will become harder to update and run alongside other technologies in a city. One proprietary system will have to go on top of another in order to get what cities want as time moves on.

In an open standards system - compatible management systems and devices mean cities can shop about, get good deals, and let their technologies work with incumbent devices and CMS. Add more and more systems and devices to best run your city and plan it to become attractive other businesses.

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