Thoughts on Smart Pole Planning for a Smart City

To put together a smart pole, you have to think of it as a complete system, not a one-off or that they will all be the same. I often talk about how the city should put together a plan that is more than just a pole, but the city’s layout from one section to another. That’s because not all poles have the same functionality nor will they house the same equipment. In other words, all poles are not the same!

I’m not talking about an individual pole design for every corner. I am talking about a few different designs, purpose-built. Most people don’t realize that some poles are made to house IOT or Wi-Fi or small cells or maybe just lighting. A model for each application, but keep the applications limited to less than 4. 

Out of those 4 models, we can identify that each model could be housing a specific application, maybe more than one application. So, out of 4 models, we could have several applications for each pole. 

There are for each pole that we have to consider. Looking at the poles, let’s look at the common features then we can break them into specific use cases for each pole.

Cite Wide Smart PolePlanning.

One thing I have been seeing is that many cities put no thought into how the poles will be rolled out across the city. I get it, it’s not their problem, the carriers will take care of it. Why should they worry?

That is limited thinking, seriously. That is like saying all you have lamps for lighting, nothing else. Why change? Why plan at all? Just let happen, whatever happens, no planning needed. 

Now, when I say plan, here is what I am talking about. Don’t think that poles are just for small cells or lamps. They have so many more functions for the smart city. It drives me crazy when I see cities looking at the poles in such a limited function. They really should take each block and build a model. Something repeatable and a model for residential versus business versus shopping districts.

What I mean is that poles have different functions and that they should be set in each location specifically for a purpose. There are so many options and not all are going to be a fit for a district. 

For example, cameras make sense in business and shopping districts, but in residential the locals may see them as an invasion of privacy. That creates concern depending on where you’re at. I get it. The city wants to record everything on the street, but they have to be smart about lawsuits. 

Then there is the radio deployment for carriers, they want to be where the money is, probably in all districts, but they have to be good looking and quiet. You know, like you’re kids, good looking and quiet, well, my kids were never quiet. Sorry, I digress.

Then there are more IOT poles, not just cameras. Like the lamps, they are now LED and expensive to install but cheaper electric bills.

Then there are more public safety functions like shotspotter sensors, environmental air sensors, temperature and weather functions, and so on. These are all going to be installed more for public safety, but all the same, they need to be planned. Better to come up with a high-level plan for each block, like what should go where.

Any of these functions might be a fit for business but not for residential. 

Just like the lights may stay on all night in a business district but turn off at 10 PM in a residential district. 

So how do you plan a smart pole layout?

You come up with each type of district, then you figure out what the priority will be. For instance, the carriers may want their radios on a corner and your cameras may have to go near the traffic lights. Then your IOT sensors could be put in the middle of the block. You may only need lighting at every other pole.

The pole placement is not hard, but if you plan ahead of time where each one could go, it saves you heartache in the long run. It also shows the carriers where they will go without having them dictate to the city where they want to go. That comes into play later, determining what pole is where you start.

The decisions you have to make when deciding this may not just be placement. Power should be run up and down the street everywhere and to each pole. But is it on all the time or is it switched power? Is it 120, 220, or 440 VAC? It matters and it may have to be updated.

Let’s not forget interactive kiosks, probably in the shopping districts. Also, electric car charging stations in business and tourist neighborhoods.

Then, for the small cells, you may need fiber. Think of the fiber that currently runs through the city. Is it overhead or is it underground? Is it existing or will it need to be upgraded? Does it run through every intersection or do the fiber rings run only in business districts? 

Fiber will play a part because if you don’t need to rip up the street, then don’t. Many cities have a “dig once” policy. That’s great but if you need to deploy 5G, it can slow everything down. The one thing I learned when deploying radios on poles is that the carriers could really care less who else is running fiber, they just know they need it and they want it now. 

The city needs to monitor and control underground runs of any kind. They need to maximize the underground runs to get as much out of each dig as possible to avoid ripping up roads, traffic congestion, and pissing off the locals. They hate when they have to reroute for a hole in the road and sidewalk. 

Oh, the poles have to look good, I think that is a given.

Then, the big question. Who’s going to pay for it? There are so many smart city initiatives and what I have seen is that most cities don’t want to pay for any of it. The look for partners or someone else to manage the poles for a flat fee. Sometimes they get buyers remorse when they let someone else manage everything because all they see is the money. Then others regret managing it themselves because of the expense and manpower needed. The city planners have to weigh out what is more important, having complete control or outsourcing to lower city expenses. Each city has its own set of priorities. 

The thing is, don’t take the smart pole planning lightly. It has to be thought through. I am not saying you will have all the answers up front, but you can at least put a plan in place so that the future of your city has guidelines. 

Make a plan so that you can layout a standard mode of operation for the city to build on. It helps all the other pieces fall into place, like the carriers, public safety, utilities, and so on. Once you build the foundation, they know exactly what to do next. This helps in permitting, processing, taxing, rent collection, and other departments to understand the overall plan and roadmap. 

Common Features each pole could have.


For one, they may all look the same to fit the city landscape. They may all have a rustic look or a modern look. They may all be a throwback to the 50s or 60s or they may all be bright shiny stainless futuristic poles. It may vary one you leave the historic section of town and get into the modern downtown to change the vibe. Looks and aesthetics matter. It will be key when rolling out. 

Looks are key for any city that cares what the residents, tourists, and workers think. They have to look at them and they want to be reminded of the beauty in the city. 

Granted, some cities are overrun with wood poles, it’s really hard to make them look better, but maybe we can make the lamp posts look good. Look good and be functional. 


While many poles are functional for different reasons, lighting is a key reason why so many cities are upgrading.

Currently, lighting can eat up the cities budget. That’s why they want to upgrade to LED lighting and cut that electric bill. However, the initial upfront investment is very expensive. Learn more about LED versus Sodium lighting here.

My point is that the lights are going to be expensive to replace. Many cities have already done it to save money. 

The investment is more than just replacing the lights. Some old lighting systems may have a higher power, require different wiring, or maybe on a switched grid and not dusk to dawn. 

These details will make a big difference when upgrading the lights in any city. They have to look at this and if the existing housing will be suitable for LED lighting. 

So many considerations. In fact, they may need to replace the poles regardless. This is even more money out of pocket for the city. Chances are they didn’t have the money to do more than the lighting. That’s why so many cities didn’t think it was critical to spend the money on lighting while others saw it as an opportunity to save money over the long run in utility bills.

Here is an opportunity for the city to partner with a third party or internally create a plan to build out the poles, upgrade the lighting, and improve the city’s backhaul all at the same time. 

If they have to improve the wiring, why not do the fiber upgrades at the same time? It makes sense to do it all at the same time. 

Lighting is a key reason why so many cities are upgrading their poles. It has opened up their eyes to the potential the poles could have. They all love the idea, right up until they see what the upfront out of pocket is going to be. 

Lighting is getting smart and going to be monitored. It is the new IOT app that every city will want. Low power and monitored. No more guessing if a light goes out or is damaged. The alarm system will tell us what is going on.

They could control the colors if they wanted to. The brightness, and so on. It would cost more, so I don’t see many cities doing this except maybe in a special part of town. But, how cool would that be? To have the lights shine orange on Halloween, Red or Green around Christmastime or even red, white, and blue on Independence Day? Think about it. 

Smart monitors are a thing.

Many cities put in interactive kiosks to help people get around and advertise. They can also display emergency messages. This is another feature that’s available today and can be mounted on a pole. 

The thing is, there is no great payback on the investment. So the city has to have a pressing need to have them in. like the department of tourism may want something to help people get around.

Maybe they just put monitors in up high so that people can see advertising and maybe real-time specials put up by local businesses. 


One feature that is popular in most cities would be video. This is something that’s going to be used for security. However, the invasion of privacy, at least here in the USA is a thing. So maybe cameras will not be put everywhere, at least not so we can see them. 

Outside of China and North Korea, the people have privacy rights. They expect to be free to do what they want within the confines of the law. In the USA it is our freedom that we cherish.

Cameras can do two things, they can help public safety catch bad guys, or they can invade someone’s privacy. So while I thought this would be the greatest add on, it seems like it is limited to city streets and very public places. 

It’s an IOT function that the city could plan for and me smart about. Most any pole can handle having a camera added to it. The problem will be backhaul. How much will it be fiber or wireless? That’s the real question that needs to be answered when planning a camera deployment. 

Privacy is concern #1, then it will be the backhaul. Who thought those two concerns would be in the same sentence when thinking about adding cameras? 

However, cameras are offering more than security and invasion of privacy. In fact, AI is helping us go beyond facial recognition for security. 

While you may think they want facial recognition for security or even advertising, it’s not the only thing AI can do. With new features, traffic can be monitored. Both cars and walking traffic. Video can tell us what parking spots are empty, what streets are blocked, where there are accidents, and how many people are gathered outside a venue. 

The idea is that cameras are becoming the interface for more than looking for a specific car or person. They are the key tool that helps AI look at what’s going on and alerting the proper teams so that they can plan accordingly. 

For instance, if something is going on downtown and the cameras are watching, they can tell us if there is an accident on a street then alert people to use alternative routes, think WAZE.

If there is a large gathering at one entrance to a venue, AI can tell us to go around to another side where the lines are very short. 

If all the parking is full at the venue but there are 3 empty garages within walking distance, then we can know that. 

Cameras are quickly becoming the interfaces for AI to make evaluations for us. We could rely on crowdsourcing which has worked well, again, WAZE does this, but the cameras can make it real-time and automatic with a simple AI interface. I say simple, but I know it’s complicated. 

Cameras are there for more than security, they can offer new services in addition to security. 

Think about how often people look at traffic cams to see how the congestion on a highway. This is a simple use that can help you determine how to go home. 

The security thing all happened when some jerk decided to put up cameras for traffic detection or running red lights. Who would not HATE getting a ticket from a camera? I’ve had it happen and all I can do is think, I hope they get sued. I know governments are always looking for sources of income, but that is one way to make sure your people hate you!


There are environmental monitors that can evaluate air quality. At one time Homeland Security was trying to figure out how to put air sensors out there to determine if there would be a chemical attack. After 911 it became a priority. 

Then, we realized it could be used for so much more. Air sensors could tell us smog or carbon dioxide levels, detect smoke, and temperature alerts. Again, if we can use these sensors for more than security, then we can offer one device to multiple departments or companies for services. 

The thing is, to put these into city poles would really help more than just defense if they can be multi-purposed. It all comes back to who will pay to install it and how will it be maintained going forward.


I know, radios for the carriers or for public safety. This goes without saying. They may need fiber everywhere but the small cells as we know it never really took off outdoors. Instead, the carriers are rolling out full-sized radio heads in each pole. They get a bigger bang for the buck by having full macro capabilities, at lease for one sector, in each pole. That maximizes the payback whereas a small cell as we know it, would not be able to handle the features, throughput, and loading that may be required at each pole. 

I was hoping that microwave or at lease mmwave could solve some of the last mile fiber needs to save running fiber everywhere. That may or may not play out. It comes down to budget versus performance. Not every pole needs many gigabits per second, they just don’t.

So radios are a key driver. The carriers want to deploy everywhere and they pushed a lot of rules through the FCC and states to make sure it happens quickly. The thing is, they still have to do all the site acquisition functions just to install the radios. They still need backhaul or midhaul or fronthaul. They still need power. They have to deploy like a small macro site regardless.



  • Think about what the needs are for your city. 
  • Think about how to lay the poles out. 
  • Think about the needs of each area. 
  • Think about the budget. 
  • Think about what you really want.

Once you start putting ideas and plans on paper, it gets much easier to set standards. Once you have the foundation, you can make revisions to match the reality of the situation. 

Good luck!


Thank you for your time to learn something new! Let’s use it today.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

I appreciate all of your support. Thank you so much!



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