HomeInternet of Things (IoT)Reader Forum: How mesh networks create a smart city

Reader Forum: How mesh networks create a smart city

Reliable communication networks can make city services more intelligent, including water and power supply

Time and tide wait for no man, and our world continues to present us with alarming new challenges to battle: cyber-attacks, terrorism, erratic weather patterns, water scarcity, food shortages – to name just a few. The modern world is not standing still, however, and as our technologies grow ever more advanced in a push to overcome these difficulties, municipalities around the globe are morphing into fully connected, highly integrated entities known as smart cities.

A smart city aims to improve quality of life for its citizens by harnessing technology to connect infrastructures, resources and services, and make the municipality safer and more sustainable, livable, workable and competitive. A 2016 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report states, “Information and communication technologies, the proliferation of sensors through the Internet of Things, and converging data standards are also combining to provide new possibilities for the physical management and the socioeconomic development of cities … Digital and mobile technologies are making the connections between service providers and users tighter, faster, more personal and more comprehensive.”

To facilitate these connections, an important aspect of any smart city is its communication network, which should allow real-time monitoring of utilities, buildings and infrastructure as well as remote operations that automatically adjust for environmental factors. The Smart Cities Council states, “Super-fast, high-capacity broadband networks are considered essential to economic growth, job creation and competitiveness.” 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mobile, scalable, reliable wireless network that allows real-time data transfer, many parts of a city may be running on outdated data, or no data at all.

There are multiple ways that a reliable communication network can benefit a city and make it smarter. For example, deploying a wireless network to create integrated, more efficient power and water utilities can help cities become more resilient in the face of manmade and natural disasters and provide better services to its citizens – enhancing its overall livability.

Making power and water smarter

A city that owns and maintains its own water and electric utilities can find value in installing a communication platform that allows constant access to real-time data with no downtime.

A common challenge for power utilities is ensuring there is enough power on a grid to support the energy draw. Outages are almost always unplanned, and an outage-to-restoration process can involve several steps with long lead times. Multiple field visits may be necessary to identify, locate and fix the problem: An inspection crew would go track down the problem, then return to headquarters and report findings to a service crew, which would then go out to repair the issue.

The operations center may be unable to provide much assistance: It would be working off outdated information collected and compiled from multiple sources at different points in the process, so analyses would be limited. This communication breakdown drags out repair times, creating longer outages for residents.

A utility grid connected to a wireless network that never experiences downtime – is a much smarter way to deal with outages. Vehicles are equipped with mesh or Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and handheld monitoring devices. The in-vehicle computing platform and vehicle network can be used to store field maps, detailed engineering diagrams or schematics, and best practices and procedures. Field technicians can connect through their devices, pull up the most current data, and send their own findings back to the operations center or other field technicians through the mesh while on site.

Everyone connected to the network can give and receive real-time information, enabling an end-to-end view of the detailed outage process and allowing timely analysis and decision-making. Dispatchers can take into account location- and terrain-specific information, outage type, traffic times and closest available crew, optimizing dispatch decisions.

Water and sewer departments manage and treat potable water and sewage. If a city does not have an intelligent water system – one that integrates water treatment systems with information and control systems using real-time data – response times will  be slower, information may be inaccurate, and water quality and quantity may suffer.

Real-time data via a reliable communication network will make water utilities more intelligent. Smart water technology covering key elements of plants and distribution systems will provide the capability to more efficiently manage system infrastructure and extend resources. Installing real-time meters will make it easier for utilities and their customers to track and manage usage.

The integration of real-time data to make smarter short-and long-term operating decisions will be particularly relevant for systems that deal with both drought and flood conditions. Smart water systems can incorporate features to adapt to changes in demand and supply patterns. Monitoring water supplies using analytics will allow a utility to track and anticipate challenging flow conditions.

In the case of low water flow, utilities could preemptively introduce alternate sources of supply. Greater accessibility to data can likewise facilitate collaborative planning on a regional scale between stakeholders to effectively plan and manage storm/flood conditions.

All of these applications would require other sensors and software, but the one thing they have in common is the need for a reliable wireless communication network.

Finding the right type of network

One communication network that is helping to make cities smarter is Kinetic Mesh, which 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 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.

The network enables the nodes to manage interference and reduce network capacity constraints. Wireless nodes work in concert with networking software to deliver data via the fastest available path; routes are evaluated on a packet-by-packet basis, with no need for input from the network administrator. The nodes seamlessly integrate with each other as well as cellular data/LTE networks and third-party satellite.

If one path becomes unavailable for any reason – such as power loss – the network routes around it, eliminating any downtime. It is not uncommon for a node to have several hundred peer connections, giving it the ability to use any link at any time. Kinetic Mesh is highly scalable; the more nodes in a network, the better the performance.

Kinetic Mesh has been battle-tested in military, mining and disaster recovery operations and now can bring its capabilities to cities across the globe to allow transmission of real-time data for mission-critical services such as power and water supply. Despite the immense amounts of data now at our fingertips, we’ll never be able to truly predict the future, but in a non-hierarchical communication network such as Kinetic Mesh, there is an exponentially higher chance that the vast majority of the network will still function in times of natural or manmade disaster, even if one or more links in the chain break.

Case examples: Smart city water departments

A Montana city that has deployed a Kinetic Mesh network for its water department has been able to more efficiently run its sewer line cleaning operations.

Previously, a high-level operator had to perform all sewer line cleaning because the operator was the only one trained on it; other responsibilities would have to be deferred so that sewers could be inspected and cleaned.

After installation the water department now has the capability to partially perform the inspection and cleaning remotely. An assistant goes into the field and sets up the equipment for inspection and/or cleaning and then alerts the operator at the plant. The operator then takes over remotely, and is able to inspect and/or clean the pipe without going into the field. The operator then can return to his other duties while the assistant takes down the equipment.

In this case, the mobility and always-on capabilities of Kinetic Mesh facilitate a more intelligent distribution of manpower, allowing the water department to be more effective and more efficient.

One city in the western U.S. is now considering Kinetic Mesh to manage its water storage facilities.

The water storage facilities are located in the mountains and are connected to the city via a hierarchical communication network – meaning there is only one fixed, designated path on which the network sends data up and down the mountain.

In certain months of the year, environmental conditions block the network signal, and the city is unable to access information about its water storage facilities. The city, therefore, is looking at implementing a Kinetic Mesh network to replace the existing infrastructure, as a Kinetic Mesh network would simply move the data along a different network path if one connection was blocked due to environmental conditions, ensuring the city can always access information about the facilities.

Making connections

A reliable communication network is an essential part of a fully integrated, truly connected smart city that is safe, sustainable, livable, competitive and resilient. The move toward smarter cities will help us meet current and future challenges head on and will in turn allow the development of new innovations and technologies, creating a continuous cycle of progress.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reader Forum section. In an attempt to broaden our interaction with our readers we have created this forum for those with something meaningful to say to the wireless industry. We want to keep this as open as possible, but we maintain some editorial control to keep it free of commercials or attacks. Please send along submissions for this section to our editors at: dmeyer@rcrwireless.com.

This is article was contributed by Todd Rigby, director of sales for Rajant Corporation, a private wireless network provider and mobile networking firm.  He has 20 years of experience in technology distribution– the last four at Rajant – in the mining, heavy construction, wireless telecommunications, and oil and gas industries.  Prior to his current role, Rigby served Wheeler Machinery Co., a Caterpillar mining dealer in Utah.  As general manager of the equipment management division, he led the machine control and guidance group to become one of the largest technology distribution companies serving mining and construction in North and South America. Rigby and his team were involved in two of Rajant’s largest deployments – Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon Mine, one of the largest copper mines in the world, located in Salt Lake City, Utah; and North Antelope Rochelle Mine, one of America’s largest coal mines, located in Gillette, Wyoming.

Rigby holds a BS degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.  He can be reached a trigby@rajant.com.


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