‘Some investments are just easier to justify’ – making cities smart, the Cradlepoint way
Boise-based Cradlepoint has never sought out cities to sell to; the smart cities market has come to it. The fact is, some investments are easier to justify than others, it says.
“Our perspective is these very specific and very innovative use cases, which help cities to better serve citizens, are smart,” explains Ken Hosac, the company’s vice president of IoT strategy and business development. “We’re going after smaller projects, which make cities smarter incrementally. We’re not selling big dashboards for the city. We’re focused on solving specific problems.”
Cradlepoint offers 4G LTE routers, which create a bespoke network for “small-footprint distributed enterprises”. It has made its name riding in the back of police cars. Its routers support FirstNet operations in the US, with AT&T, and the Emergency Services Network in the UK, with EE.
Its local area networks power officers’ laptops the tablets, but also IoT gadgets, like body-worn cameras, dash cameras, and fingerprint identification kits. “If a shotgun is pulled out of the rack, a sensor in the police car sends an alert to the operations centre,” says Hosac.
Half the police forces in the UK are now using Cradlepoint, he says.
But it works with all manner of field operations, whether static or mobile, from post offices and motoring departments, through to fire trucks and bus services. Its routers are on every bus in New York City.
“That 4,500 buses in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.” The “bus of the future”, he says, has digital signage inside and out, advertising to passengers and passers-by; it has a connected fare box, live route maps, and free Wi-Fi.
This is the sales pitch for Cradlepoint; it describes an everyday picture of smart cities. Its routers support three cameras on buses in the US; there’s one for the driver, one for the passengers, and one for the doors.
They support 21 cameras on buses in the UK, where they are set to record every angle in the case of traffic incidents and litigation. “In London, they’re reading the license plates off cars going by the bus in every direction,” says Hosac.
Its routers are compact and portable; their ‘skills’ are transferrable. Cradlepoint has just networked portable cameras at a homeless camp in Boise, its hometown, to help the city disband the settlement.
“The city wanted to do it in a very humane, fair way. And so it set up temporary cameras, and tagged the tents and belongings so they could get picked up later. It wanted to be very transparent.”
The business case speaks for itself; it does not demand the existential mathematical conflict that afflicts newer smart city use cases. Cradlepoint is dealing in connectivity, after all; its value is clear.
“It’s not like the cities are making huge multi-million dollar bets. They know they need to provide connectivity to their police cars and fire trucks.” The business case does not need bottoming out – city services benefit from connectivity, and the wireless sort saves digging up the roads.
“I’ll keep coming back to Boise, because I know the problems it’s solving,” says Hosac. There is a sewer farm 20 miles south of town, where “they spread everything out to aerate”.
The 4,225-acre plot receives ‘biosolids’ from the city’s two main water facilities. Dewatered sewage is trucked to the site in 30—ton trailers. The treated matter is stored, and then applied to fields for growing forage crops that are eventually sold to farmers.
The site also houses an office building, maintenance shop, parts warehouse, and mechanic shop. There are cameras everywhere; a decent internet connection was in order. “It would have been $20,000-$40,000 to bring a wired internet connection. 4G just makes a lot of sense down there.”
It is the same at the city airport, which features a third runway, known as the ‘assault strip’, used by armed forces for training. The local fire department wanted cameras on site to monitor for incidents from its setup in the middle of the main airport.
“Again, the construction cost of bringing fibre out there is just too high.”
It’s not juts connectivity, though. “Think of us as this IoT router that supports 4G – with all of the advanced networking and security you would expect in an enterprise router.” It offers cloud based features like intrusion detection and prevention, content filtering, and a variety of networking protocols. “We’re good at Wi-Fi, too,” adds Hosac.
“A lot of customers find us because of our support for LTE but fall in love with us because of the cloud based management – which lets a small number of people manage a large population of devices.”
Cradlepoint is not in meetings about new financing and business models. It is fielding enquiries, coming in by word-of-mouth.
“In most cases, they’re approaching us. We have field reps out there, but a lot of times they’re… It’s like in Chicago, the city decided it wanted to create a suitcase as a voting machine. We never explained it could do this; the city did the research and came to us.”
Cradlepoint has variously networked elementary schools in Los Angeles, in California – “in some cases for fail over; in some cases for school buses, in some cases, to support temporary classrooms.” There are strict content controls on the school buses, notes Hosac, to steer kids towards their homework.
In one of the poorest districts, outside Palm Springs, the city sets up a picnic tables around a parked-up smart bus after school, so students can get online and carry on with their studies.
He runs through other use cases. Building inspectors in Chandler, in Arizona, have created a mobile office solution with Cradlepoint to approve construction works.
The University of Virginia in Charlottesville has created a stroke kit, where Cradlepoint routers have been deployed to connect medical equipment in ambulances so doctors get ahead on treatments, even before patients have arrived at the hospital.
San Antonio, in Texas, has created a local area network around its traffic intersections to orchestrate traffic signals and surveillance cameras. “They’re adding Wi-Fi beacon sensors for crowd analytics,” says Hosac.
Where the value of new technologies in the smart cities market is hard to calculate, Cradlepoint is making a virtue of good old LTE connectivity.
“There are big and small projects, and I haven’t seen many of the larger ones work. Vendors might scoff that Cradlepoint is creating a smart traffic intersection – that it’s not a smart city solution; that it’s just a traffic intersection. But we’ve been really successful at solving these use cases, and saving cities money.”
This article appears in a longer report and webinar from Enterprise IoT Insights, titled How to buy / sell a smart city – procurement models to make every city smart. Read the report here, and the webinar here. Sign up to the Enterprise IoT Insights newsletter here.