Smart city evolution – The need for speed (Reader Forum)
Smart cities and 5G are two of the hottest topics in tech today, and maybe the hottest topics in wireless tech (if IoT is considered a subset of one or both of these). But what is a smart city and how does 5G play into the future of these cities we blithely call “Ssmart?” Which of the “32 flavors” of 5G is best for the smart city of today, and tomorrow?
What is a smart city?
People talking about smart cities typically dive right into the various applications and benefits of a smart city. And this is important, but before we dive into what we can do in a smart city let’s define what is at its core, and that is infrastructure. A smart city is one that has connectivity to “things” both low-speed (sensors) and high-speed (video cameras). This connectivity is supported by an underlying network, sometimes wired or fiber, and sometimes wirelessly, where the wireless segments are sometimes mobile and sometimes fixed. Indeed, most of the smart city applications don’t need mobility and can be or are being served by a fixed network. The idea though, is that all the various applications can run on a single network brining about not just cost savings, but application integration to a degree never been done before.
The reason 5G is mentioned in the same breath as smart city is because the demands placed on the underlying network have evolved to the point that existing 4G technology and Wi-Fi based solutions just can’t deliver. With thousands if not millions of connected devices per city, and the forecasted increase in population (2/3rds of the world’s population is predicted to be living in a city by 2050), a new infrastructure technology for the network supporting Smart Cities is required. Much of this network being provided today will use fiber, where available. But the expanded use cases anticipated for smart cities means fiber is not the total solution. It does not reach everywhere. This is where 5G can step in, integrating seamlessly with fiber networks to provide one virtual network.
What is 5G? What are the flavors?
The term 5G is somewhat like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. However, there are a few characteristics of 5G that are applicable for all the use cases and definitions being thrown around. Key attributes of 5G are:
- High speed – connections start at hundreds of Mbps go up to Gbps
- Low Latency – in order to support many of the Smart City applications, low latency and low jitter are needed
- Frequency – given the capacity demands being projected for 5G mobility, Smart Cities and more – measured in tens of Gbps – public and private network operators are turning to what is referred to as the mmWave spectrum. Frequencies above 28GHz including the license exempt 60GHz and lightly licensed 70/80GHz are the only bands with enough spectrum to support gigabit capacities.
Beyond these basic definitions, you can add mobility, low data rates and massive amounts of devices to further segment 5G.
How does this play in a smart city?
As defined, 5G will offer Smart Cities high capacity and low latency, allowing one network to serve a diverse set of applications. Use cases being pursued include:
- Intelligent Traffic Systems – while much of the ITS chatter has centered around vehicle to vehicle (v2v) communications and vehicle to infrastructure (v2i), there is also a need for infrastructure to infrastructure (i2i) connectivity. Connecting street lights, message boards, toll booths, roadside cameras and the “i” in v2i are all elements that can be supported by a single, fixed 5G network. These uses cases require low latency and capacity.
- Public Wi-Fi – Internet access has been defined a key enabler of a robust economy. Cities across the globe are working to bring free WiFi to the masses in public spaces such as parks, transport hubs, city properties and more. With WiFi access points generating multi gigabit connections, 5G is the perfect complement to fiber in connecting these far flung APs.
- Healthcare – 5G will enhance not just connectivity from among hospitals and doctors, it will allow remote monitoring and remote diagnostics reducing the need for individuals to get in a car, drive to an office and sit there waiting.
- Video security – cities are increasingly turning to video surveillance as a method for enhancing safety and are deploying more cameras every year. These cameras are often 4K with 10 to 30 frames per second requiring tens of Mbps of capacity at a low jitter rate.
- Municipal connectivity – Having a single network that can also connect city hall, libraries, fire stations and other city services with gigabit connections can improve security and reduce monthly costs. Properly designed and deployed fixed 5G networks can easily support these needs.
The promise of 5G is to support these and many as yet to be dreamed up applications, on one network. Many will tell you wait for mobile 5G, with networks and products coming to the market in the next few years, when in reality it is easy to see that none of the above require mobility. A fixed 5G network which can be and is being deployed today can meet all of the needs defined.
Cities, smart or otherwise, cannot take part in the 5G mobile revolution as this is reserved for operators who spend billions of dollars on licenses. Cities can only be a subscriber to an operator to implement 5G mobile connectivity. But fixed 5G operates in the license free 60 GHz or V-band, and in the lightly licensed (a few dollars per year fee) in the 70/80 GHz or E-band and are open to everyone. Cities can and are taking advantage of these bands and are deploying their 5G smart city networks today.
While there is a huge amount of hype surrounding the future of 5G and smart cities, in reality this is happening today. Cities and counties are deploying advanced 5G wireless networks right now, with no monthly fees to a third party. Indeed, a typical business case review shows that in the “build my own network” vs. “rent capacity from an incumbent mobile operator” debate, after three years it is cheaper to build giving the cities complete control over their own network.
The tangible benefits of a single 5G wireless network are undisputed, and even more importantly the solutions are available now. smart cities are no longer a mere concept or the topic of a research report, smart cities are real.