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Big idea for smart city IoT: Get small

According to a report from the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. In addition, the UN expects that the gradual shift from rural to urban areas, combined with overall population growth, could add another 2.5 billion people living in urban areas by 2050. This could lead to 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants by 2030.

Understanding these key trends in urbanization will be crucial for supporting and maintaining the health and safety of the urban resident. Even now, numerous city-managed systems are deemed “too critical to fail.” Priority is given to traffic control signals, for example, due to the potential for lethal impact should traffic lights go out. Freshwater pumping stations issue a rapid-impact alert when they go down. Repeater stations used by first responders to provide dispatch and emergency digital communications maintain ambulance, fire and law enforcement services. To ensure these services scale to match population growth, cities must get smart about where they process their data workloads.

A smart city will generate massive amounts of new data, and traditional urban networks cannot support the volume coming their way. Simply put, processing more data will require more funding. According to a recent study by IDC, internet-of-things spending in the United States is expected to reach $194 billion this year.  Among the industries spending the most on IoT are transportation at $71 billion -- for freight monitoring and fleet management -- and utilities at $61 billion, primarily for smart grids for electricity, gas and water.

Intel’s general manager for new markets and business development in IoT predicts that by 2020, smart cities will  require hundreds or thousands of IoT sensors collecting data from gas, oil, parking and water meters as well as traffic lights, trains, cars, drones, facial recognition systems and other devices to drive data-enhanced services, generating about 16.5 zettabytes of data every year.

As these urban areas push towards smart services, an additional data challenge will arise: where to put the networks that will be doing all the IoT information collection and processing?  With millions of citizens tightly packed into finite city blocks, there will be no vacant space for data center construction Smart services will require networks that can scale to handle the information, but in very confined areas. What’s the solution? Think small edge and fog networks.

Upscale cities must downscale networks

Edge and fog networks can analyze data close to where it’s collected, lifting the burden of data processing from congested cities. Unlike traditional enterprise networks, fog networks decentralize the cloud’s processing capabilities, and edge computing embeds data processing capabilities directly into devices at the network's perimeter. By leveraging these smaller networks, urban developments can integrate data from multiple sensors to reduce traffic accidents, better manage fleets of garbage trucks and snow plows and optimize first responders’ services.

The IoT-enabled future will also need enough power for crosswalk presence detectors, sensors in the street lights, home utility meters, thermometers and ozone radiation and smoke detectors. The growing smart ecosystem means managers must oversee the installation, maintenance and operation of more products in more locations than ever before.

Remotely monitored and managed power distribution units can help bring the stoplight systems up in the proper order, monitor the temperature and environmental conditions within the data center equipment cabinet and tell whether the doors to the cabinet have been opened by detecting the status of dry contact closures. Having a network infrastructure that is powered by intelligent rack-mount PDUs also provides a path to reduced energy expenditures because it can turn off when they are not in use. For example, city buildings such as libraries, schools and museums can all be powered down when not in use, saving money and reducing their environmental impact.

Smart cities harness data to make day-to-day living comfortable, convenient and safer. Putting information and services in the hands of residents fosters a deeper engagement with the community. With the breadth of sensors, systems and networks that go into putting the “smarts” and safety into a city, it is imperative that architects and designers have the means to accomplish their tasks.  IDC expects smart cities to spend $250 billion on hardware led by more than $200 billion in module/sensor purchases in 2019. Another $154 billion will go to IoT software. Funding, therefore, will be paramount to realizing the promises smart cities hold -- as will cost savings achieved from maximizing sensor battery life, signal distance and partnerships with companies that already have IoT LoRaWAN-type networks in place to help reduce costs.

It’s also worth noting that regulations may require some city-specific IoT-based data to be summarized and reported up to the federal level. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency may require cities to report water usage, water quality and power consumption data, the Census Bureau may want to see population data for trending predictions and temperature data would be valuable to the National Weather Service.

Laying the right IoT groundwork that cost-effectively scales to support today’s citizens and tomorrow’s highly concentrated populations will fulfill the smart city promises and fuel the IoT economy to deliver better citizen services.

About the Author

Marc Cram is director of sales for Server Technology, a brand of Legrand.


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