Connecting Cities to a Smart Future

November 23, 2017

Start-ups at Expo highlight how Mobile IoT can make cities effective and efficient

Smart manhole covers, remote controlled streetlights, sophisticated damage detection systems, smart parking solutions and much more: the Mobile Internet of Things (Mobile IoT) can improve many aspects of urban life. Exhibitors at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona demonstrated how an expanding array of smart city solutions are employing the cost-effective low power wide area (LPWA) connectivity delivered by Mobile IoT technologies to enhance city living.

A clutch of innovative start-ups displayed Mobile IoT solutions at the GSMA Mobile IoT Innovators Showcase at the Expo, which took place in mid-November. Part of 4YFN, the start-up business platform of Mobile World Capital Barcelona, the Showcase highlighted how both industry standard Mobile IoT technologies, NB-IoT and LTE-M, can be used to provide low cost remote control and monitoring of city assets and infrastructure.

BS2 of Germany, for example, demonstrated sensors that use NB-IoT to relay data on the condition of buildings and infrastructure to the asset manager. “Customers can recognize damages inside their buildings before they can be recognized on the outside,” says BS2 CEO Benedikt Seuss. “We make every type of concrete building, such as bridges, tunnels, parking decks and energy facilities, smarter, safer and more sustainable.”

BS2 has found NB-IoT makes infrastructure monitoring solutions cost-effective. “NB-IoT is a big enabling technology for us,” says Benedikt Seuss. “It helps us to roll out our sensors much easier, reduces the running costs, increases the power lifetime and, with deeper penetration into buildings, it helps us to have coverage where we need it.”

Above and below ground
Indeed, the broad coverage offered by Mobile IoT technologies means they are ideal for monitoring assets at ground level or even underground. At the Expo, Revolution11 of San Francisco demonstrated a smart manhole solution, which employs a set of LTE-M connected sensors that can send alerts if a manhole is about to flood or if there is a fire. The system can also notify the owner when their manhole is accessed. Jim Marshall of Revolution11 says: “LTE-M lets us build in the price of connectivity … into the device itself, so infrastructure owners don’t have to worry about separate data charges or getting the device working on the network.”

A similar concept can be used to monitor the occupancy of parking spaces. In Barcelona, local specialist Urbiotica demonstrated how NB-IoT can enable municipalities to monitor bays reserved for disabled drivers and vehicles loading or unloading, as well as helping all drivers find somewhere to park. Camille Loth, Product and Sales Manager, Mobility at Urbiotica, says: “Where the parking spots are dispersed in the city with little density, the communication of the sensors through the mobile operators’ network with NB-IoT protocol will reduce cost, greatly simplify the roll out and offer a plug and play solution for the customers.”

Keeping the lights on or off
Energy conservation is another major driver behind the development of smart cities. Romania-based Flashnet showcased an interactive demo of a NB-IoT connected streetlight at the Smart City Expo. The connectivity can be used both to remotely control streetlights, dimming them when there is little or no traffic, and to monitor the performance of the lamps and the electricity grid, to help plan maintenance work. Widely-deployed, connected streetlights could significantly cut municipalities’ energy bills and maintenance costs. Orsolya Szallos-Kis, Sales Engineer at Flashnet, says NB-IoT provides the secure and efficient connectivity that smart street lighting needs. “By using a public infrastructure, like NB-IoT or LTE-M, …the connectivity of all the sensors around the city will have secure communication, and also the existing infrastructure can be used more efficiently, without the need to deploy additional base stations or cells,” she explains. “Making the most of a single infrastructure is the key to having efficient and sustainable solutions, and Mobile IoT connectivity offers exactly that” Both NB-IoT and LTE-M can be overlaid on existing cellular networks employing licensed spectrum.

Commercialisation under way
Although Mobile IoT technologies are still relatively new, the start-ups participating in the GSMA Mobile IoT Innovators Showcase are close to commercialising their solutions. Together with Deutsche Telekom, Flashnet has deployed its street lighting solution and some other NB-IoT-based applications in Patras in Greece, and for a pilot in Bonn, Germany. “For now we see the most interest in NB-IoT to come from Europe, and most probably the European NB-IoT based projects will be pioneers around the world, but we expect that with time interest will grow in the Middle East and in Asia as well,” says Orsolya Szallos-Kis.

BS2, which is part of Deutsche Telekom’s hub:raum accelerator programme, is planning to begin a pilot of its connected infrastructure sensors before the end of 2017. “Once we have completed our pilot, we will look to roll out NB-IoT to all of our other solutions, like gauge metering, crack monitoring and roof monitoring,” adds Benedikt Seuss.

Meanwhile, Revolution11 is talking to device manufacturers about taking its smart manhole prototype into a pilot project. “We hope to have a pilot project up and running in the first part of next year,” says Jim Marshall. “We plan to use other sensors, such as GPS and CO2 sensors, via software upgrades over time. These will enable us to make sure a manhole is safe to enter and will give vendors more precise locations of the infrastructure in the manhole as they work.”

Urbiotica, which has already deployed more than 15,000 connected sensors in dozens of cities and private areas worldwide, plans to use Mobile IoT technologies to reach new regions where unlicensed spectrum bands are not available. “We see a great potential here to extend our business worldwide and keep on working on new use cases at the best price for the benefits of our customers,” says Camille Loth. “The real-time information published to the users have allowed our customers to offer concrete answers to issues arising from the exponential increase of population in urban areas: reduce traffic, air pollution and save time for drivers, solve urban conflicts caused by noise pollution, and modernise traditional services through digitalisation.”

As LTE-M and NB-IoT coverage continues to expand and more modules and development kits become available, a growing band of entrepreneurs are likely to see the same potential to use Mobile IoT to address the many challenges facing the world’s increasingly congested and crowded cities. As a result, Mobile IoT is set to become an integral and vital part of urban infrastructure.

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