The Connected Reality of a Smart City

Dec. 17, 2018
Smart Cities are a growing to be more common, the use of the IoT has allowed cities to operate in a more efficient manner.

Every day “Space Age” conveniences from mobile video calling to robotic cleaning devices prove that smart technologies are now common utilities, with growing demand and applications. The next leap is to leverage the data smart devices collect to create Smart Cities, the hot topic among politicians and urban planners.

A Smart City is a large-scale example of applying Internet of Things (IoT) concepts into a practical, socially dynamic application. It is the intersection of data, devices, and connectivity so that the data collected by devices, transmitted by communications networks, and processed in data centers is effectively analyzed and leveraged to improve the functionality and efficiency of city services. In Smart Cities, technologies combine in smart grids and collaboratively analyze data to improve critical functions of a city such as transportation, energy use, sanitation, public safety and more.

As Smart City development is under mass exploration in cities throughout the United States, it has already been thriving across the Atlantic. From Trondheim, Norway’s “Smartest City,” to SmartSantander in Spain, to Smart Nation Singapore, cities are building up networks of sensors that monitor almost everything that impacts public life. Sensors track everything from air pollution levels, open parking spaces to even the level of trash in garbage cans. Cities then link their operational systems to these data points to deliver solutions that range from real-time automated traffic adjustments to reduce delays to automated water meter reading.

Connecting the Smart City

Building a Smart City starts with the development of a Connected City, where a robust communications network is built throughout the city’s footprint.  Without the connectivity for devices transmitting data to and from the city’s systems, a Smart City cannot exist. 

Most Connected Cities (and, by extension, Smart Cities) are not built from the ground up.  The majority of cities were designed decades, even centuries ago, when no one could envision the technology we have today.  This creates unique design and deployment challenges for the equipment and smart system requirements. To deliver the necessary solutions to first connect and then expand city system management, engineers must think critically and creatively to implement connectivity technologies within existing municipal infrastructures.  Each component presents its own challenges in Connected City development, including equipment placement; integrity and environmental sensitivities; city codes and regulations; and installation and maintenance labor costs. 

Connectivity technologies take many forms, such as: high-speed fiber optic networks, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small cells. These technologies rely on key enablers like radio frequency spectrum that carry data from points A to B.  The right solution is based on the city’s objectives and end goals of their smart services. Once completed, these solutions deliver everything from public Wi-Fi and cellular coverage, to dedicated public safety bands and IOT-based technologies. The next step is the Smart City implementation, with hyperlocal data sensors and functional algorithms that run on a Connected City network.

Transportation as a Connected City Catalyst

The most widespread, centrally managed public footprint in a city is its mass transit system. On the streets, Connected City solutions manage traffic flow, help to keep buses on schedule, support ridesharing initiatives, and will eventually manage autonomous vehicle deployment, and much more. Connected City infrastructure within rail systems enables safety and convenience applications such as automated train control, train arrival systems, congestion mapping, electronic fare payment, revenue-generating digital advertising and the delivery of public safety messages. 

Transit Wireless is one company working to build modern, wireless communications networks within older city infrastructures.  In New York City, Transit Wireless was selected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to finance, design, build, operate and maintain a cellular network and shared wireless infrastructure in all 283 underground stations of a system where the first underground line was built in 1904.

As a result of the public private partnership and Transit Wireless’ $350 million investment, the network was built at no cost to taxpayers or subway customers. The company’s wireless network operates on all primary licensed cellular bands, public unlicensed bands, and the 4.9 GHz public safety band, supporting consumer, business, and transit communications services.

The Transit Wireless Network features over 160-miles of 864-strand count fiber optic cable. The critical IP network infrastructure has lit or dark fiber for communications, operations, and data transmission, connecting to five highly secure local Data Centers. Carriers collocate their base stations with the Transit Wireless head-end equipment in order to provide cellular and data connectivity to their customers. New York City Transit also uses the network for select operational communications between their stations and MTA’s Rail Control Center.

Implementation of smart technologies in mass transit systems reduce costs and turnaround times for maintenance of transit infrastructure, resulting in greater efficiencies for ridership movement and in transit services. The wireless connectivity present in all underground stations could be leveraged for IoT applications for both the MTA and the riding public. Just as Connected Cities lead to Smart Cities, Transit Wireless has already begun building on the success of its wireless communications system in the underground subway stations, using it as the foundation to advance New York City’s broader Smart City goals.

The Transit Wireless network currently supports train arrival clocks and some public safety communications in the NYCT subways, and is available and ready for more -- and not just in New York City.  By already supporting industry-standard network interoperability, new applications can be delivered easily.  A network like ours, in other transit systems, could allow agents to remotely monitor activities within their stations while out of their booths and serving the riding public. Applications could be managed right from a station agent’s mobile device and include camera systems, motion and environmental sensors, access controls, and passenger information systems.  With the installation of other autonomous sensors, applications to monitor key components of the subway stations, including elevators, escalators, and waste receptacles are easily integrated.  The eventual extension of wireless connectivity into the tunnels and onboard the trains would allow for communications-based train control (CBTC) and further diagnostic technologies to be placed on the trains for predictive maintenance, and for the benefit of the conductors and engineers. 

Increased Demand and Opportunity for Connected Cities

Census Bureau data shows that more Americans are moving into cities, reversing a longstanding trend of exodus to the suburbs. This urban migration is intensifying consumers’ expectations for seamless connectivity in cities, and also placing greater demands on mass transit, utilities and public safety – three areas in which Smart City applications enable better systems management and delivery of services.

Cities and transit systems that built public Wi-Fi networks to provide free Internet access have come to understand they are just scratching the surface of the potential capabilities of a Connected City.  As technology continues to evolve, there is a greater desire to have it fully integrated within a city’s infrastructure to improve municipal operations, foster innovation and support economic development. Once a city establishes connectivity, it can continue work toward achieving its vision of a Smart City.

Saeid Malaki is the Director of Network and Special Projects at Transit Wireless.