The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
Combining Technologies to Bring Connectivity to the Community
Our journey into telecommunications began in 2009 as an initiative to provide a backhaul for Festival Hydro’s smart metering system. That project led us down a path to offering wireless and fibre optic connections. It became clear early on in the project that the infrastructure we were putting in place provided us with the opportunity to create a robust backbone that would support the offering of affordable internet and other connectivity options in a community that was, at the time, largely overlooked by the big players in the Canadian telecommunications space.
That was back in 2009. Today we have more than 70 km of carrier-grade fibre optic cabling that supports:
- Smart meter data systems
- Point-to-Point Connectivity for businesses
- Wireless Access Points for residential and business services
- Fibre Optic Internet Connections
The deployment of dual band Motorola 7181 access points (802.11a/n) allowed us to offer customers connections in the 2.4 GHz band, while using the 5 GHz band to backhaul information. “Repeaters” were used to add wireless coverage to areas where the fibre did not extend. These repeaters used wireless mesh technology to connect to root nodes which then connected directly to our fibre network that would carry information the rest of the way to the headend.
When all was said and done we were left with a network of more than 300 access points that serviced 58 collectors for smart meter data and Rhyzome Networks was formed to manage the city’s wireless and fibre network.
Rhyzome Networks has undertaken a project to upgrade the equipment used for wireless access in order to create stronger connections between the root access points and the repeaters. Our new network does not rely on the original projects wireless mesh and fibre combination, and instead uses wireless point-to-point and fibre for the backhaul of information and the aging 7181 access points will be swapped out in favor of Aruba units.
Within our new network framework:
The wireless point-to-point uses the 5 GHz band for backhaul.
This decision was based on the increased number of spatial streams available (8) that allowed for a less congestion than in the 2.4GHz band where there are only 4 spatial streams.
Clients have been moved over to antennas with 5 GHz radios.
Although the signal has less penetration than 2.4 GHz, it offers a much stronger connection in spaces where there is a high amount of radio frequency (RF) congestion, such as high density residential areas.
Aruba access points and Nanobeam technology combine in a new way.
This affords us the ability to stay competitive by offering higher speeds for our wireless residential and business customers.
There are many lessons that have been learned over the years and a number of things to keep in mind when implementing a wireless network of this magnitude.
Combine technologies that will mitigate those affected by an outage.
In our original wireless mesh design the failure of a root node access point could take an entire cluster offline. With the new technologies that we are implementing we have removed that single point of failure for the wireless clusters. Now when a root node access point is down the others can continue to communicate through the point-to-point devices that are mounted with the access points themselves.
When considering the technology you will use, investigate the availability of a Centralized Management System (CMS) for all devices that make up your network.
A good CMS will give you a highly integrable means of monitoring all your networks equipment including access points, switches, ONTs, etc. This is particularly useful if you do indeed have a large network or if you would like the ability to apply changes across the entire network with relative ease. Manageability is crucial.
Think long term.
The network should be flexible rather than rigid in its design. Think about the potential for growth and scalability of your deployments. Growth should be an easy move if you have planned it out right from the beginning. Our considerations when choosing the equipment that we would ultimately launch with factored in the usual key elements:
- Support availability
- Stage in the lifecycle
- Availability of a CMS
But in addition to that we looked at the ability and ease with which we would be able to incorporate future projects such as a Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) network and Low-Power Wide-Area Network (LPWAN) to support the testing of autonomous vehicles and the collection of big data that will help us to understand the flow of traffic and tourists in the City.
Dream up creative applications to monetize your network.
Although servicing businesses, residential customers, and backhauling smart meter data is currently the main operation of our network it is not the only function. Stratford, Ontario has a thriving tourism industry and in order to meet the needs of people who are visiting the city we offer free wifi in the downtown core. Simply by connecting to “Stratford Free” people can watch video on energy conservation and then access a variety of information geared towards tourists such as what’s happening around town, information about the Stratford Festival and maps to help them navigate the city streets.
This is a project that never ends.
The last thought I would like to leave you with is that as long as technology is always changing and improving, and new ways to connect people are being created, you will want to be in a constant state of research and development. Once your network has been launched and you stand there for a moment surveying your successes, the thought running through your mind should not be that “it’s done”, instead you should always view yourself as being at the very beginning.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.