Take a moment to consider the incredible ways technology has changed our lives in the last four decades – microprocessors, ATMs, the World Wide Web, email, Google maps, smartphones and iPads to name a few. Clearly we’ve been on a connectivity roll for a while. And it’s not going to stop. Today we are entering the Internet of Things (IoT) era where people talk to devices and devices talk to each other. This helps explains why connectivity is such a robust smart city enabler, and why machine-to-machine communications is all the buzz these days.
Connect devices with citywide, multi-service communications. Above we discussed gathering data through optimal instrumentation. Once those instruments are generating information, they need to be connected so they can communicate to provide data, as well as be able to receive orders.
The target, therefore, is to connect all devices to a citywide communications system. In rare cases, cities use a single communications network for all device connectivity. In most cases, cities use a variety of communications channels, including cellular, fiber, WiFi, powerline and RF mesh.
But it’s not enough to have just any communications system. It’s critical to have systems that are reliable and secure, based on open standards, high data rates and able to offer real-time communications to those devices that need it.
Most cities will have multiple communications systems, because no single network can realistically support every single application now and into the future. To save costs, cities ought to give strong consideration to the following approaches:
- Minimize the number of networks supported at city expense. To the extent that the city or its utilities need their own private networks, they should try to establish multi-purpose networks rather than a collection of single-purpose communications networks.
- Investigate the viability of existing public networks before building your own private network. For instance, existing cellular networks have the capacity to support smart grids, smart traffic management and smart water networks.
- Encourage cross-departmental planning and design to learn whether multiple departments can share a single network.
- Investigate policies and incentives that encourage the private sector to invest in building and maintaining citywide networks.
- Prioritize technologies and tools that can manage “hybrid” (mixed) networks. Tools exist that can merge different communications technologies, even old analog technologies such as radio.
Connecting instrumentation and control devices allows a city to feed data into analytical programs that greatly improve outcomes, minimize resource use and save money, as we will cover in detail later.