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Where Does the Future of Smart City Design Begin? It’s in Plain SightWhere Does the Future of Smart City Design Begin? It’s in Plain Sight

The path toward a wirelessly connected smart city is already in place.

Phil Beecher

August 11, 2021

4 Min Read
Adobe Stock

Many of the world’s urban city centers have taken a bit of a beating over the past year. Lockdowns, social distancing, and remote mass working have left offices sitting idle and many main street businesses shuttered. But the pandemic has also spurred ambitious plans to make our cities more sustainable, efficient, and safe for citizens. Design engineers play a crucial role in turning these smart city ambitions into reality. In this context, interoperability and open standards are increasingly the smart choices to accelerate time-to-market and enhance cost efficiencies, reliability, and security.

A Post-Pandemic World

There have certainly been a few bumps in the road throughout recent global lockdowns. And yet, the smart city market is still predicted to achieve stellar growth over the coming years. One estimate claims it will expand by nearly a quarter (23%) between 2020 and 2024, growing by over $2 trillion. Although money may be tight due to falling city budgets, COVID-19 has also been responsible for an unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation projects, and that’s likely to spill over into smart city, smart utility, and Industrial IoT (IIoT) spending going forward. 

You can see it everywhere, from Amsterdam to Milan and Dallas to New York: projects designed to make streets safer, roads easier to navigate, utilities more efficient, and air more breathable. For the Wi-SUN Alliance, the uptick in interest in such projects has driven our membership up 20% over the past 12 months across scores of countries in the Americas as well as EMEA, APAC, and South Asia.

Related:Wi-SUN vs. Wi-Fi

Time to Open Up

When designing and building products to turn these projects into reality, it’s helpful to keep several tenets in mind. The most important is open standards. Adherence to open standards and interoperability ensures that the finished product will be built on mature, reliable, secure, and stress-tested technologies. In fact, in a study we ran a few years back, nearly half of IT leaders (45%) demanded that intelligent city IoT solutions be built using industry-wide open standards.

For engineers, open standards and design can unlock value in speeding your product development time and minimizing associated costs. You’ll get reasonable and non-discriminatory access to design information and technology. For example, ARM has an open-source version of the Wi-SUN Field Area Network (FAN) protocol stack which you can integrate into your code, saving you significant development and debugging effort. The use of generic, proven firmware components provides flexibility and future-proofing in product implementations.

The term “Internet of Things” comes from the use of internet protocols (IP) in products and devices beyond those traditionally associated with the “internet.”  Supporting IP connectivity in products has significant benefits. Cloud connectivity — for example, with AWS, Azure, and other providers — becomes much more straightforward using an IP transport layer. Support for protocols such as Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) simplifies the integration of low-cost, low-energy consumption devices into large networks with cloud connectivity.

Building the Future with Wireless Mesh

Wi-SUN FAN technology provides the foundational network on which many smart city and smart utility ecosystems now run. Using a canopy network of smart electricity meters or streetlights, battery-operated devices for applications like gas and water metering, environmental monitoring, traffic sensing, parking management, and weather sensors can be easily integrated into the network. Wi-SUN FAN developments will also support multiple data rates within a single network, permitting higher router-to-router data rates for a faster, lower latency backbone network, with lower speed leaf nodes for longer range connectivity.

This comes in addition to the benefits you get with a wireless mesh topology. This network design means that leaf nodes connect to a nearby router. A shorter distance connection can use a higher data rate than other LPWA protocols such as LoRa, resulting in less energy consumption and reduced channel utilization, allowing higher node density and/or lower latency. A Wi-SUN FAN mesh network is self-forming and self-healing, using IP routing protocols and well-proven RF and channel access mechanisms. For product designers, this reduces risk because you know it’s going to work and scale. Deployment is more straightforward, too: if a part of the network has reduced connectivity because it is down a narrow lane surrounded by reinforced concrete and steel, then it’s easy to add a repeater node.

For many urban centers, like the City of London or Miami, a wireless mesh network makes absolute sense in the context of smart street lighting. The placement of smart streetlights across a city provides a readymade backbone to add a wide range of other line or battery-powered sensors. Using communications that “just work” will provide the basis of how many of our cities will get smarter over the coming years.

Phil Beecher is the president and CEO of Wi-SUN Alliance and a recognized global expert on wireless IoT. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author(s)

Phil Beecher

Phil Beecher is the President of the Wi-SUN Alliance, an industry organisation which promotes standards-based interoperable wireless communications products for Smart Ubiquitous Networks, Smart Cities and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and implements a rigorous testing and certification program to achieve its aims.

Since 1997, Phil has played a key role in the development of communications standards including Bluetooth, WiFi, IETF, IEEE and cellular and the specification of test plans for a number of Smart Utilities Network standards, including Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and Home Energy Management Systems.

He was chairman of IEEE 802.15 TG4g (a wireless standard for Smart Utility Networks), chairman of IEEE802.15 TG4u and TG4v (defining RF spectrum for IoT networks globally), vice chairman of IEEE 802.15 TG4m (TV Whitespace), vice chairman of the WiFi Alliance Smart Grid Task Group, chairman of OpenSG Edge Conformity Task Group, Contributing Editor to IEEE802.15.4-2006 and has held positions in the U.S. Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) Test and Certification Committee, Telecom Industry Association and Bluetooth SIG.

He is a graduate of the University of Sussex with a degree in Electronic Engineering and holds patents in communications and networking technology.

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