Planning the Smart City

What is the smart city dream? Here are some ideas;

  • Driverless cars to ease congestion,
  • Smart displays around town for localized advertising and quick directions to local businesses;
  • Smart parking apps, meters, garages, to help drivers get into town and find that parking space without circling for hours;
  • Wireless coverage so that everyone has smartphone coverage, whether it’s 4G, 5G, or 6G.
  • Solid Wi-Fi coverage indoors and in busy areas to ease wireless congestion;
  • Fiber all across the city, to almost every building, to multiple poles on every block,
  • No underserved areas for wireless or fiber or internet access.
  • Security cameras in most intersections but not everywhere that will invade people’s privacy, after all, this is the USA, not China.
  • When it comes, we want the vehicles, whether driverless or with drivers, to communicate with each other and to be able to contact e911 if there is an emergency,
  • Traffic tracking to alert authorities of accidents or potential problems prior to getting phone calls.
  • Event planning that allows for last-minute changes based on traffic conditions and changes.
  • Smart and energy-efficient lighting everywhere.
  • Emergency solutions for the city.
  • Sensors to alert city officials of failures gunshots, and air quality.

All of this and there is so much more. The cities have an opportunity to do this and more. Unfortunately many don’t have any money to do it themselves. So, they will need to find partners to get this done. That means that they will have to work with the private sector to make it happen. 

This is going to take planning and a roll-out of solid infrastructure. 

What infrastructure will they need? I have a list for that!

  • Fiber most everywhere. Plenty of fiber. Most cities think that they have plenty, then they get permit requests to rip up the streets again and again. They are implementing “dig once” policies that make it hard for a quick expansion. It forces many to deploy together which makes sense unless your backhaul is overloaded. Then it sucks.
  • Attractive poles and lighting where it makes sense. The lighting has to be LED so ti is cheaper year over year. It has to be cost-effective in the long run, so that the OpEx makes sense.
  • Smart poles on every street. This is going to be a necessity. To have the poles that you can quickly and easily install radios, sensors, cameras, and other IOT equipment makes sense. You need to do this as a foundation. Make it look nice and be functional.
  • Wireless coverage in all areas. Not just Wi-Fi or 5G, but those emergency channels that most of us overlook. The police, EMS, and fire coverage needs to be everywhere. 
  • Power availability for more than just the lighting, but for small cells, Wi-Fi, IOT sensors, and so on.


So how do we get there? The cities have been implementing solid permitting and zoning that makes sense. They have been partnering with tower companies and carriers. They are working with private companies to make things happen. 

They have the utilities also getting the idea. They want to make the upgrades as well. They want smart lighting that will save them money and they want lower bills for lighting. 


Smart practices for planning smart poles.

  • Permitting should define what it will look like. Will the replacement or existing poles be aesthetically pleasing to the residents and visitors? Does it look nice? Does it blend in? That matters big time in most parts of the city.
  • Is it quiet? If it’s noisy, people complain. Maybe not in the busy sections with a lot of hustle and bustle, but where it matters most, the residential areas, parks, upscale restaurants, near hotels. 
  • Plan for growth. Not just some poles, but plan the city block and then across the city. If you have someone who will update the poles, then make sure you have a plan to do it across the city. Why would you just update one pole on every block? Does that make sense? Of course not. You need to come up with a plan to update them across the block. Most carriers have issues sharing. A small cell pole has different needs than an IOT pole. Maybe you just need lighting or Wi-Fi. Make sure that the power and backhaul are built for growth. If you can add small cells, then do it. If you need to add Wi-Fi and shotspotter, then do it. What do you need?
    • Plenty of power.
    • Plenty of backhaul.
    • Plenty of physical space or a neighboring pole that can do the same thing.
    • A way to route cables, power or coax or fiber, in the pole.
    • A way to add antennas to the pole if needed.
  • Make sure the grounding, power distribution, and surge suppression are in place once it’s upgraded. This is going to be a ground rod down the middle of where the pole is mounted but also the power distribution, the urge suppression, and the location of the power. Most major carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, will insist that they have their own power and distribution. Let them but make them pay for it and work around your schedule. In other words, they will push to have it in tomorrow, just make sure it aligns with your plans. 
  • Whose poles are you going to use anyway? I have been talking to Signify and Novapole about poles. They both have unique use cases, so make sure you know what you intend to deploy. For instance;
    • What will it look like?
    • What will be in each pole? Not every pole will have the same equipment and could be different at the base or up top.
    • What lighting and power will be available?
    • How will the backhaul get there?
    • Who will manage the poles? They don’t all have to be managed by the same group. Some may be managed by a local utility, some by the city’s transportation department, some by the cities tourism department, and some by the historical society. By the way, the city doesn’t have to manage the poles at all. It could be a third party that gives the city rent or kickbacks based on rentals. If the city wants to offload it, then they should get something in return or at least save money in the process. Cities have enough to worry about but they also like complete control, so there is a trade-off. 
    • Who is playing for the poles?


The take away here was to let you know that smart city planning has to include more than just what the carriers want or adding one new service to your city. Many cities were very short term on their thinking and planning. They should have looked at it end to end. 

Time is a good teacher. For many of you, there is still time. End to end planning is very important. Not just the 5G rollout, but what about talking to autonomous cars. To say, “Well, that’s part of 5G” is not thinking clearly. 

What about lighting across the city? Are you going to leave well enough alone and pay for halogen lights for the rest of your life?

What about adding Wi-Fi, or displays, or emergency planning, or IOT sensors for air and shooting? All of this can be done today. The real question is, “When will we start?” If you ask me, you can plan for all of this today, but maybe you should not do it alone. 

You could ask a tower company or you could lean on your utility. Maybe you just want some help. I am here is you have questions. 

More to Come!

I have more articles coming around the poles, city planning, power, backhaul, and planning. I have been talking to Alltech, Signify, and Novapole. I plan to write more about each one specifically and what I have learned in the past few years working with 5G and CBRS deployments.



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