Smart City Planning Audits


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If you think you have a plan for a smart city, great. If you don’t them decide what to do, just don’t waste this time by not knowing what you have.

One thing I have seen with Wi-Fi rollouts and Fiber rollouts is that in most cases the city is guessing at who owns what. I get it; there are a lot of poles, holes, and cables run throughout the city. I don’t believe that on a person can really get a handle on who owns what.

What you can do is audit what you have. Learn who owns what and who can attach to it. This is something that will take time and spread across departments, utilities, and services. These are going to vary and will be something that the city can leverage to make income, rollout services, or make changes to save money. The audit is going to be key. If you don’t think that your internal teams can do it, then hire a group to do it.

How do you do any of this if you don’t know what you already have?

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Mounting assets (lampposts, wood poles, telephone poles):

The assets I am talking about could be one of many things. The obvious would be the poles, rooftops, tower, and anything that you can mount a radio or fiber. Think about all the poles and map posts and guy wire that a radio can be mounted to!

We now live in the age of constant and never-ending connectivity. Think about what we can do if we get the wireless signals out to the people! It will be a necessity at some point. The owners of the poles and lampposts in the city can really benefit. I don’t think I am telling you anything new. This is already something that is being hunted down by most carriers in all cities. They want to mount radios to get the signal as close to the people as possible.

You, as a city, should know who owns what. If it’s you, then great, if it’s a utility, great! Just make sure you have it documented somewhere online so when someone tries to gain access they know whom to talk to and how to fill out the permits. The zoning information would be helpful too. Make it easy for them.

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Don’t’ forget what your requirements are with noise and aesthetics. These are things that a company like Crown Castle or Verizon will need to know when they deploy. If they put something up that you don’t like or is noisy, then the residents complain. Usually not to them, but to the city. They talk of problems and the eyesore and of course, the noisy fans. It matters to them because they live 20 feet from it. They pay their city taxes, and they want to have a beautiful and quiet neighborhood. That’s why it really helps if you do your part and define in great detail what you expect prior to issuing any permits.

This is the one thing that I learned from muni Wi-Fi, the poles are poorly managed in many cities. They don’t’ worry about it or care about it. They let it up to the contractors, us, to figure it out. Now they may regret not keeping up with it because it takes a lot of time and walking and research to figure it all out. I wouldn’t give it away for free. I would sell it, or I would keep it which means that it’s of no use the next time because things may have changed. See the problem; old data could be bad data. Maybe a great place to start, but maybe starting over would be easier.

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What about mounting fiber to the poles? Often, we think it’s underground, but it could be overhead. The issue may be who owns the pole. If someone else signed an agreement that can refuse a competitor mounting to the pole, then you have limited assets. If you don’t’ think this happens, then look at http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2016/10/25/comcast-sues-metro-over-google-fiber-backed-pole-otmr-ordinance/92748490/ where Comcast did all that they could to block Google Fiber. It became a court battle, https://consumerist.com/2016/09/20/comcast-att-try-again-to-stall-google-fiber-in-nashville-by-writing-law-to-slow-it-down/ where they could not get along, not at all.

So, what’s a city to do? Look at the agreements you signed with your cable and fiber businesses. Look at how the utilities structured the contracts if they did so at all. Most utilities didn’t care until recently. Those contracts traditionally have been a headache for them. I get it, they are a pain to manage, and that’s not their primary income. However, they need to play nice in this new world of 5G!

Underground assets:

OK, this is technically a mounting asset, but why not separate it out. Now the Wi-Fi companies are getting creative in getting the signal to the people. They are working to provide coverage even if it’s on a manhole cover. Who owns the manhole? You should have that documented somewhere.

What about putting in vaults to mount the radios and router equipment so that it can connect to the fiber? Yes, underground vaults are a brilliant idea that is coming of age so that all we need to put on the pole is the antenna and maybe a very small radio head. Who will own that asset? I say the city, and they have a beautiful underground radio vault where they can charge rent.

What about the routing of cable? Here is another place the city or utility can allow access to the fiber and cable runs. This is something that they can lease. If you just want to stop the roads from getting ripped up every 2 years, plan ahead with empty conduits so that future runs can be fed from manhole to manhole. Make it easy and clean to allow a new player to come in and run cables by getting access to conduits that the city and utility planners put in ahead of time to save the streets from getting ripped up. Plan ahead, my friends!

Fiber assets:

You may have unused fiber you don’t think you need that you could lease or sell to someone in need. It’s extra income. If you don’t need it or don’t see an immediate need, sell or rent it.

You may be able to share some strands that you have with another carrier, business, or a customer. I know you may not want to get into the fiber business, but you could have a company manage this for you so that all you see is the recurring income.

These are assets that you may already have that you don’t know about. Make the most of it and get some income if possible.

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Building tops and Towers:

You probably know what towers ad building tops you have, I can only imagine. However, can you lease space off of them? In the past, you tried to keep it secure, but in this communication centric world, you can start opening up this revenue stream.

Many times you have more value than you originally thought. The rooftops that are empty because at one time they were too low now are closer to the public and possibly the best height for small cells to be mounted on edge. Open up your perspectives and see what you have to offer.

Your tower may be loaded on the top, but what about the lower parts? Are they open? Are they near busy places in the city? Take advantage of them and open them up!

Billboards:

This is something that the city may not own, but they could have access to. Many billboards have power which means they could be prime real estate for small cells and Wi-Fi and IOT! Use them. Find out who owns the property and who manages them. Keep track of them and see if you can offer them to wireless providers coming into your city.

If you think they don’t matter then think of your public safety systems. As FirstNet rolls out, they are going to push to mount in cities at some point. Make this another place they can use. AT&T will need more space, they want to cover your city, and you can bet they will use the FirstNet name to mount anywhere they can. Why not?

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Parking Garages:

I often see city-owned parking garages in smaller cities. This is a great place to put antennas on. The stairwells are a great place to mount Wi-Fi and small cells. Lower levels could be used for small cells. This is another thing you should look at in your audit to see what you have to create a new source of income. Get the word out so that you expand your portfolio in a good way.

How will you know if you don’t make it available to all?

Street Furniture:

You have bus stops; train stops, parks, benches, garbage cans, and dumpsters, maybe even kiosks that would be a great fit for small cells, Wi-Fi, interactive displays, and more. Why not use them? You have the property already in place, and if you have power to them, you’re all set. The carriers may want to run fiber, but ask if they could use wireless backhaul or an alternative to fiber. See if fiber is nearby, it may not be so bad to run it there after all.

This may be a great opportunity to update your bus stops and train stops, make the most out of this. If you already had the plan to upgrade, think of what other services you could add. If they are owned by the transit company and not the city, then partner with them to improve what they have. Use LED lighting to save costs, add Wi-Fi to add value. So much more can be done. We can add small cells to get the carriers in there to improve their coverage and collect some rent along with it. As IOT coverage expands, it adds another source of income and service for the city and the transit company. It pays to have partners.

You could have large garbage cans or recycling cans or donation centers that people go to that are big and fixed. Take advantage of those structures to add small cells, Wi-Fi, or even a kiosk to share with the city. This is a form of street furniture that has value to a wireless rollout.

Wireless Backhaul:

If you have microwave or data backhaul, it could be used and leased to others. Many times old microwave shots will be taken down or not used, so why not put in something that could serve your city or the businesses nearby. It’s worth looking into. It could be Wi-Fi or a point to point link or a multipoint link. If you connect those links to the internet, you could connect buildings to a backbone. That’s something that you could offer to small businesses in that building, a broadband connection.

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Data Collection:

I know this is a strange thing to audit, but it’s a valuable asset that is often overlooked. Think of how this could be useful. You may not see value in the data that your team has collected, but it has great value. Local business and non-profits need this data! Residents need this data! You use it internally so often that you take it for granted, but it has value.

If you give it away or if you use it internally, it can really help more than your teams. If you share it, either sell it or give it away or a combination, then your city can grow exponentially. This is something that small businesses, partners, and residents will find useful when deciding what to do next.

Small businesses may want to expand to a new neighborhood, or they may want to start a new business. The data that you provide will help them expand with great knowledge. It helps them make an educated guess using what they know, their customer feedback, and your data.

Partners and non-profits could be trying to help the city do something new, innovative, or charity work. Why not help them streamline what needs to be done and where to start. This is all going to be taken from what they learned and the data you provide. They want to help you become better, a better city with a better reputation. Do it as a team, play the part of supporter.

Residents are looking for what to do and what neighborhood to live in. The data you provide can help them make that decision. They need your input so that they can improve their daily lives. So that they can brag to their friend and family about what a great city they live in. Help make them proud of your city!

Notes:

I just want your teams to think outside the box and see value in more than the physical assets. I often fall into this being a wireless guy. I see so many things that are useful but not taken advantage of. Why not use all of them.

Resources:

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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