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I have seen some smart city questions come my way, specifically, how can the smart city be sustainable. When I think of sustainability, I think of how to make the system pay for itself. To make it a viable and long-lasting program that doesn’t rely on tax dollars just to survive. Those systems often die off a financial death. So, what can we look at for income and a reduction of expenses?
It’s a good idea to create a plan to add income and reduce existing expenses and make it all look nice. We want to be prepared for when the opportunity comes to us. We also should be prepared to look at the existing leases and contract because it’s a good idea to know where you’re starting from.
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Expense reduction is not always obvious. Using lower power LED lights makes sense, if the lamps are easy to replace and have a payback of less than 1 year. Which has been an issue. However, we can see where we can save money in the long run by investing now. Expense reduction is not obvious to us because we normally we look to spend money up front but we know we can save them money in the long run. We need to build a good long-term case because technology people look at things so differently than the financial guys do. For example, the IT people see a new server that is energy-efficient and has a low heat footprint is going to save money on not only energy savings but with less heat the cooling isn’t so critical saving money on the air conditioning bill. Most financial people will look at the expense to buy the new equipment. They see the one-time bill, not the big picture. That is why the technology groups need to provide a bigger picture when possible. Don’t worry because most OEMs will do it for you so that they can sell their equipment. I just want you to be prepared to get the right data. To prove to the financial people that we have the answer for long-term sustainability, cost effectiveness, and that this is a long-term solution.
I know what you’re thinking, I just avoided specifics. Well, here they are. The obvious, LED lighting, which is coming down in the upfront costs. Solar systems which are also becoming more and more cost-effective, especially where there is plenty of sun. Not so effective in the northeast just yet, but I see them all over California in newer communities. What about low energy equipment? Wi-Fi has already learned this, they lowered power and became creative with the way they connect power, this has really helped the cable companies deploy Wi-Fi everywhere. Just like their interfaces. It works well and its reliable, and it’s made to be outdoors. They have Wi-Fi in street lamps, (in the lamp or in the post), so there is no obvious equipment on the post, Dallas is already doing this as is Los Angeles. That’s right, it’s real and being deployed. Just like LTE will be soon. (I am not talking about smart light bulbs in your home, they connect to Wi-Fi but they are not a hot spot.)
I know that aesthetics matter in the city. So, they could put in a new pole with new lighting that takes less energy. They could also have a pole that is ready for the growth of wireless equipment inside the pole. Maybe they could think through the poles to add small cells, Wi-Fi, and routing equipment with fiber access. Then what? You make money off the asset. This is where you really have something to gain. Replacing the pole costs money and if they have to run new power for the lamps it will be a lot of money. Older lamps ran on higher voltage, so it could be cost inhibitive now.
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Now, let’s look at ways to make money of existing city asset.
The low hanging fruit for the city is to lease the assets, like poles, lampposts, traffic lamp posts, strand, and more. Just be smart when you negotiate the lease for the poles, remember that most carriers want the pole to themselves, but don’t get into an exclusivity contract for all poles. Be smart and plan it out. Also, if you don’t’ want to manage the poles, then work out a deal with a company that already is good at leasing poles. Make sure you get a piece of the rent for each pole. While up front, the income will seem low, as the need grows, you will have more income from new players. This is tough on many poles because there are already local telecom and cable companies on there. One thing that many cities learned is that many of these poles with fiber on already have contracts in place where they limit the competition getting on new poles. Don’t limit your options. Make sure you put in there that it must look nice and be quiet.
Be quiet? What does that mean? It means that older equipment had loud fans that really bothered the residents. If it’s in a residential neighborhood, then it should be quiet. It must look nice, so people don’t complain.
Let’s look at other income, do you already have fiber or wireless backhaul. This is something that you could position to lease or offer carrier services. If you don’t want to manage it, then you could work with a fiber distribution company to manage your fiber. It’s a source of income that could be utilized.
You would provide space for kiosks that would be great for Wi-Fi access and digital signage. I see two models, one where you just lease the space and let the company build and do it all. The second model is like what NYC has done, build the kiosk, put in Wi-Fi, and provide digital signage. You could make money from the rent, of the Wi-Fi access, or advertising on the digital signage. The choice is yours.
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Obviously, you will make money with the permits, just be smart about it, if you put crazy restrictions in place where you should inspect each one, you will lose money. If you are very clear on what the installation should look and sound like, then you can expect a quality installation and inspect a sample. To do this efficiently, lay out the expectations up front, don’t leave any room there to guess. Put in what the pole should look like, how they should run the cables underground, how they should mount the antennas, how it should be quiet, how the lamp should look, who can attach wires to it if that applies, where the fiber access should be and where the fiber equipment should be mounted (inside the pole, in a box, or underground. All the details should be thought out ahead of time, not after the fact. Be careful with whom you and out permits too. Pay attention to who does good work and who cheats.
Permitting also could be for the underground access. Remember that if someone something in the ground then you have control of it. I know many companies put in boxes underground for access and they look great. Underground boxes can add income to the city, and it can keep the equipment out of site and out of mind. They can put antennas on manholes, it’s a new frontier for Wi-Fi and small cells, to put the signal on the ground and shoot up.
Don’t forget the apps! The city can provide apps to promote city business. Remember that the goal is to grow the business, so partner with then, like your local chamber of commerce, will be happy to have a way to promote business in the city. Make it easy with the apps that residents and tourists can add to their smart devices. Make it easy!
With city-owned Wi-Fi, the workers will have broadband access all over the city. Give the workers a free account and have them use it for access to databases, trouble ticket systems, time keeping, and so on. Use the network that is there.
Use your assets to give remote access to your parking meters, another source of income. If people can pay with apps and credit cards over a wireless backhaul, then your revenue is not only going up, but you don’t need to dump the change out of the meters. You can also track what parking spaces are busy all the time and which ones never are used. Less expense and easier income along with real-time analytics make the city a winner. If the parking garages are city owned, then it’s a bigger way to get income and track open spaces.
If the smart city is going to survive and grown, then put some proper planning in place. A connected city is part of the smart city. A smart city is a happy city. A smart city has the foundation to grow and attract more residents and visitors. Sustainability is key to making this happen.
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