Do Smart Cities Need Wireless?

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I would say yes, like I always do with wireless. However, to be honest most people don’t know what a smart city is. It’s a cool buzz word that most people throw around. They include renewable energy, like solar, because solar is cool and easy on the eyes. I don’t see too many cities throwing up wind farms because they don’t look as nice in the city, but they would be something that would be renewable energy. They talk mostly about power in the beginning, but that isn’t what people really want, is it? They want connectivity. Preferably wireless connectivity.

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Connectivity, to connect what? When we think of smart cities, we don’t really picture anything, so we? We talk about the connectivity, energy, infrastructure, and all the things needed to make a smart city. However, what services will we have in the smart city?

I often hear about how people that live in smart cities are excited. However, most of the smart city features I see now are about solar power. They have solar panels everywhere. Is that what people really want when they live in a city? Maybe, just maybe they want to be able to have internet access everywhere, with their devices. It’s nice to have connectivity with the smartphone, that is a given and an expectation in today’s world. However, many of us still rely on our laptops to do actual work. Maybe they can work on a tablet but most people rely on the laptop. Get them coverage for the laptop and then, life is good!

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What is a “Smart City”?

Well, this is something that I find interesting because a smart city could be smart for so many reasons. Let’s break it down so we have a better understanding of the smart city.

Energy – it could be renewable energy, like solar. I would say wind but it seems no one wants a wind generator standing along a street in a city, but I’m not sure why. They all have solar panels on building tops and roof tops and they promote having battery backup available.

Infrastructure – this could be the way that the city controls things, like street lamps. Again, they revolve around energy but they would only turn on as needed and they would have LED lights. Billboards would be the same way, see you coming and they would not only turn on but maybe if they can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth they could get your profile and send an advertisement tailored for you, if your privacy settings would allow that.

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Utilities – We would expect all of our meters to not only have a device in it to be read remotely, but we could see our electric or gas or water usage in real-time when we log into a website just like we can look at the minutes of usage for our smartphone.

Data Collection – the city would like to collect data about people and car traffic in each area so that they can allocate resources to an area when they expect it to be busy. Big data analytics will be a big part of this. They will collect the information so that the traffic lights are synchronized properly and that the police can be in an area prior to a busy time of day.

Transportation – This will include vehicles that can talk to each other, electric cars, automated parking meters, and real-time controlled traffic lights to allow for the perfect balance of foot and auto traffic. This is a dream of the connected city to provide solutions for all of these issues. Parking is a big one that would be great if you not only knew what parking garage had openings, showed you the height restriction for those of you with trucks and SUVs, but also a price comparison of what you would pay by the hour or day. All of this would be a proactive feature sent to your car or smartphone prior to going to the garage. By the way, I already see electric charging stations in many cities for electric cars. I was in Ocean City, Md., and they provide charging stations in random areas for Tesla and other models. I think that is really cool that a vacation destination would offer charging stations for tourists! Great job Ocean City!

Smart buildings – the building will have more than just smart thermostats. They will know how many people will show up on any given day, hour, or for a particular event so that they can control the lighting and temperature for that event which should save energy by not wasting it when no one is there. It would have great wireless connectivity throughout the building for your phone and with Wi-Fi so that you stay 100% connected and safe. It will have full alarming capability so that building security not only get the alarm real-time but can access video to wee what is happening in that particular hallway at that time.

Wireless Connectivity – Here is where the city must stand apart, and I don’t’ mean just from the carriers. They should have a good Wi-Fi system all around the city with good connectivity to attract all of those mobile workers that appreciate the city life. They need to have an amazing public safety presence so that when a fireman runs into a building he or she can communicate with their team real-time to save not only other lives but their own. So that police can report on a situation and maybe even show the body cam footage in real-time to control a situation before it escalates. So many of us think that the wireless is just Wi-Fi and carrier, but public safety connectivity is critical. Many cities forget about this when allowing buildings to ignore the public safety coverage in buildings. Then when someone dies they never look at the wireless connectivity, instead they look at other issues when if the first responders had better coverage then they could have made a bigger impact on the outcome.

If you notice the above themes are mostly about energy and connectivity. While energy is big, most people don’t really seem worried about it in their daily life. Broadband connectivity, on the other hand, is very personal and affects all of them daily.

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While people promote the energy aspect of the smart city, it usually isn’t enough to drive people in, if you know what I mean. If you tell people that they will have broadband access everywhere in the city limits and they will save energy, then they will relocate there in no time. Don’t believe me? Then why do so many cities get excited when Google Fiber is coming to their city? Google Fiber is sexy and we all want the broadband, am I right? I want the best connection I can get for the least amount of money.

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What does your home and Starbucks have in common, other than maybe the coffee? Wi-Fi access to the internet. One, look at your own home. Do you have Wi-Fi there? How many of you will use Wi-Fi for the last 100 feet of access? If you have a cable modem or fiber connection, then I would guess all of you, I know I do. Wi-Fi is a great in-home solution. This is what smart cities need to make coverage available everywhere. They need Wi-Fi access is every public venue. I like free access, I am not going to lie, and Wi-Fi is great when it’s free.

Why do so many people hang out at the Starbucks? Because they have free Wi-Fi, yes, free Wi-Fi in their establishments and we love it. Even when it’s slow or loaded we love it. They set the new standards for coffee shops everywhere. Starbucks got it early on, they know that we all like free Wi-Fi Internet access. Yes, free Wi-Fi, we love it and that’s why Starbuck gets more than $5 a cup here in the US. Oh, they make a great drink but when people hang out there every day to write or do work or just stop in to update their email, it’s a combination of the great service, great drinks, and free Wi-Fi. The trifecta of a mobile worker’s paradise! The croissants are good too!

The Stadiums

Now, let’s look at stadiums, here in the USA most NFL stadiums have awesome coverage for both Wi-Fi and carrier access. Here is where you need both. Wi-Fi is nice, but I noticed it gets overloaded and slows down. That’s why they have so many access points in a stadium, to limit the number of users per unit. Here you have a large group of people, usually over 50,000 people on game day, that most of them have smartphones. They want to share the experience. They want to see the replay not only on the big screen but on their smartphone.

The NFL has done something really cool though, they realize that connectivity is not enough, they know that to add to the in-stadium experience that they need to add apps that you can only get in the stadium. Remember that the game ticket is a big money item. It’s much cheaper to watch the game at home on TV, so they added to the user experience by giving you apps that are only active on the Wi-Fi in the stadium. How cool is that? WOW! They offer replays, access to the big screen video, coupons for food and products. Now that is a game changer because they went over the top. They could have given just awesome access but they enhanced the user experience.

My point here is that most cities have connectivity is some way, but they need to enhance the user experience. Many do this with a website but they will need to get some city-specific apps. They will need to partner with in city business and provide real value to the people in the city. Whether they live there or are just visiting they need to have an awesome experience and learn more about the how great the city really is. They need to learn about the city without being super proactive.

The stadiums have more than you think behind the scenes. They are as green as they can be with recycling, They have wireless connections for vendors in the stadium for credit card processing, They understand that fans need better wireless every year, You see, they know their fan’s demographic. They get it and they continuously work to improve upon it. They also know how to keep the vendors in the stadium happy. They see the big picture, mainly because they have around 8 games a year, in the NFL, to make money, big money, enough to cover that billion dollar stadium they built. Cities need to approach their growth the same way.

Lesson to cities, reach out to the people first because if they have to rely on the locals then they only learn what that local knows, not what they may really be interested in. I travel quite a bit and I learn what the people I hang out with already know, but we may have different interests meaning I may think less of the city. For example, I like seafood, but if everyone that I know in a city likes steak, they will only take me to steak houses which may or may not have good seafood, get it?

The Office

When you go in an office, most of them have Wi-Fi access.  In today’s world many rely on the workers to use their smartphone. The days of large phone systems are slowly fading. There are still office phones, but when getting on conference calls, many people use their smartphone unless a landline is convenient or if coverage stinks. The office has changed, today we rely more on our wireless device to talk and text than the office phone.

Why did I bring this up? For one, cities need to have good mobile coverage everywhere to be taken seriously. They can’t have spotty coverage so they need to work with the carriers to ensure that smartphone coverage, preferable LTE, is great inside and out. Yes, in building coverage is just as crucial as outdoor coverage. How many cities in the North will have people sitting in a park in February? Not many. They will all be inside an office building or a restaurant or a public venue.

Wireless coverage is critical for more than the convenience, but for public safety. If something happens and we need to call 911, then we want to connect ASAP. We want to be able to tell the 911 operator what is happening immediately, without have to hold the phone 3 feet over our heads to get a signal.

Safety matters and wireless connectivity is a big part of that.


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By the way, if you’re interested in IOT and you want to learn more about the smart home and IOT devices, there is a great podcast by Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel called “The IOT Podcast”, found here, and learn even more about the IOT industry.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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