I find myself having recurrent conversations with city managers and innovators. We discuss the juxtaposition of a city wanting to become smarter—and provide better outcomes for its community—and the challenges of doing so with a limited budget and an unclear path on how to progress. Cities have massive data opportunities. So, to make their cities smart, leaders need to be able to gather data in a usable form to gain insights and make decisions.
Why Smart Cities?
What is driving cities to want to become “smart”? Often, it is the pressure of increasing urbanization and growing population density. Urbanization brings a range of challenges and opportunities. On the opportunity side for cities, increasing urbanization allows for scaled use of resources, job growth, and increased economic activity. IoT can recognize and alleviate urban growth challenges. A city becomes smarter when it gathers, organizes, and manages data in a way that creates insights and leads to better decisions.
Using IoT, a smart city can gather intelligence to better understand where and when to apply resources and improve efficiency. The same IoT technologies can gather information from sensors and provide data points on the relationship between elements of the city. By gathering and analyzing data, a smart city can improve its decision-making, its sustainability, and quality of life for the people who live there.
“Using IoT, a smart city can gather intelligence to better understand where and when to apply resources and improve efficiency.”-LoRa Alliance
Another question I often hear is, “What is the right way to start?” Each city must begin by understanding its current challenges and envisioning future challenges, especially those that population growth may bring. From there, a city needs to develop a clear view or vision of desired outcomes. Finally, a city must decide what data to collect, how to collect it, which other entities might collect it, and how the data will be managed. In short, they need to know which technologies to use to collect and manage data points. The following will discuss and present some requirements to consider when selecting the right communications technology for a smart city.
Selecting IoT Technology for a City
When selecting a technology for a smart city, one must anticipate desired outcomes, estimated costs, and potential return on investment. As one CIO said, “We don’t want this to be a great shiny thing today and a burden to the city tomorrow.”
So, what makes for a good or even great IoT communications technology? For massive IoT with thousands of sensors, the best choice is Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs). My experience is that of the LPWANs available, LoRaWAN offers cities the widest array of benefits to become smart. LoRaWAN is an open standard that is flexible, scalable, efficient, and interoperable across the needs of the city. Open standards enable longevity and encourage an ecosystem to compete and engage, reducing risk for both tech manufacturers and cities alike.
To ensure correct implementation of the LoRaWAN standards, the LoRa Alliance offers a comprehensive certification program that provides cities the confidence that devices will be reliable and compliant with the standards, thus reducing potential support costs and ensuring interoperability. LoRaWAN became an officially approved standard by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in December 2021, further securing its longevity.
A connected city requires a flexible network that can accommodate numerous use cases in a wide variety of environments. LoRaWAN uniquely provides scalable and ubiquitous coverage in the varied topography of a smart city due to its unique device-to-cloud architecture and vast deployment options. LoRaWAN’s best-in-class penetrative capability facilitates coverage indoors, outdoors, and even in underground locations. This is essential to connect the distributed endpoints across a city. Let’s take a look at some other advantages of LoRaWAN for smart cities.
Flexible Investment & Networks
One pivotal strength of LoRaWAN is its ability to support thousands of devices per gateway. The advanced communications architecture, that allows for redundancy across gateways, facilitates true scale at a reasonable cost.
Additionally, one of the most important attributes of any LPWAN technology is the power consumption of the device. For a smart city strategy to be successful and sustainable there is a strong need for a low cost. One of the drivers of cost in any technology is maintenance and ongoing operation. A profound benefit of LoRaWAN is the low-power consumption of the sensor/device which yields an extended battery life. A quick, back-of-the-envelope analysis on this topic alone can drive the communications technology decision. LoRaWAN offers three to seven times better battery life resulting in material cost savings over the life of the device.
LoRaWAN deployments are flexible both technologically and commercially. From a technology perspective, LoRaWAN network infrastructure is flexible, allowing for the distribution of gateways or collection points across a city. The cost is very low due to the small physical footprint and power needs. Gateways can be mounted indoors or outdoors, installed on buildings or towers, or even inside street furniture. Thanks to a growing ecosystem of manufacturers, there are many options for all deployment requirements.
LoRaWAN network flexibility means a city can build a private network, buy into a public network, join a community network, or select a hybrid. Cities have the choice to build their LoRaWAN network using open standards and hardware available globally or elect to work with technology vendors on a fully managed solution and even elect to leverage the skills and experience of over 166 LoRaWAN operators globally. Finally, the ability to roam across these various types of commercial deployment options via the established standards means LoRaWAN provides the ultimate in commercial flexibility.
No discussion on smart city technology choices is complete without considering security and data privacy. LoRaWAN was designed and developed, from the beginning, with security in mind. The cornerstone of LoRaWAN security is the use of 2 x 128-bit AES encryption keys to define both network and application-level security. I encourage the examination of security documentation which is available on the LoRa Alliance Website.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to the subject of application use cases. LoRaWAN’s features enable the widest variety of devices to feed the plethora of use cases that cities will want to explore. Another theme I see in my work with cities across the world is tight budgets and siloed departments. These departments often need different outcomes and use cases. Topics include air quality (indoor and outdoor), streetlights, recreational assets, waste, water, building and parking, people counting, and traffic management. Deploy a LoRaWAN network and support all these use cases and more.
Thanks to the ubiquitous architecture of LoRaWAN, where a single coverage model can enable the vast majority of low bandwidth use cases, using LoRaWAN at the core of your deployment will be key to maximizing your smart city investment. High ROI is achievable because of LoRaWAN’s choice, flexible commercial models, the scale of the ecosystem, and best-in-breed operational costs.
Begin the Smart City Journey
It is not common to work with technology so adept and well-suited to the purpose for which it was designed. LoRaWAN is ideally suited to be the technology of choice for smart cities globally. Cities can confidently embark on or continue their smart initiatives, knowing that with better data and greater insights, they will become more sustainable, livable, and efficient.