Considering Cities: Communications Infrastructure

May 2, 2013
More attention needs be paid to the implementation of future communications solutions as our public services expand to address the impact of our geographies in North America and beyond.

Current trends in urban growth demand big thinking and creative solutions. As our cities expand, these dense populations will require sophisticated infrastructure, transportation and communication systems.

According to the World Health Organization, some one hundred years ago two out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. By 1990, around 40 percent of the global population lived in a city. As of 2010 more than half of all people live in urban areas. By 2030, six out of every 10 people will live in a city and by 2050 this figure will jump to seven out of 10 people.

This trend is clearly evident across North America. Recently it was announced that Toronto had surpassed Chicago as the fourth largest city on the continent. Toronto’s urban dwelling population stands at 2,791,140 while Chicago weighs in at 2,707,120. These figures soar considerably higher when considering the number of suburbanites who truck in and out of the cities on a daily basis.

With such growth comes the need for durable communications infrastructure able to accommodate the masses. Public transportation, airports, public entities such as energy, utilities and emergency services including police and fire departments, all require independent communication networks with unshakeable reliability and resiliency — able to withstand the effects of unseen levels of network traffic, natural disasters and acts of terror.

When we ponder what the cities of the future may look like it is easy to get excited about images of driverless cars, robotics and jetpacks. However, the invisible systems necessary to power these populous areas, including during times of stress and network failure that can buckle traditional systems, deserve the same consideration. Thus, the establishment of smarter communications grids — crucial to the day-to-day functioning of North American cities — is a timely topic as new technologies are brought to the table.

In many communication systems, efficient use of the limited frequency resources is one of the greatest challenges, but there are options for North America currently available to address some of these scenarios. For example, by the end of 2009 there were more than 100 countries using Terrestrial Trunked Radio or TETRA systems in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, Caribbean and Latin America. The TETRA system was used for mission critical wireless communications for military, safety, transport and other select user groups. Yet, despite successful utilization globally, TETRA has not been widely deployed in North America. TETRA offers particularly good frequency economy with a yield roughly twice that of comparable technologies, meaning it can provide reliable service and broader coverage under a higher volume of traffic. This is exactly the type of solution necessary for future planning of North American public safety, transportation and utilities communications.

More attention needs be paid to the implementation of future communications solutions as our public services expand to address the impact of our geographies in North America and beyond. As our populous cities become increasingly digitized, our communications networks need to follow suit. While we may not have jetpacks yet, the time has come to start considering how cities will be able to support their booming populations. The future is now.

Wolfgang Leindecker is vice president M2M and public transport with Kapsch CarrierCom. He has more than a decade of experience working in IT and telecommunications.