By Bill Bennett
What is a smart city?
In a smart city, digital technology monitors, connects and, sometimes, controls almost everything. Sensors, software and networks combine to make the city work more efficiently. The aim is to build urban areas that are safer, cleaner and greener while making better use of resources.
Done well, smart cities are better places to live and work. Among other things, transport runs smoother, the air is cleaner and there’s less wasted energy which means lower carbon emissions.
Building on the Internet of Things (IoT)
To build a smart city you need internet of things technologies: sensors, applications and a way of processing data in real time. Most important of all, you need intelligent networks to pull the other components together.
New Zealand’s cities already have extensive data networks. You don’t have to use fibre to build a smart city network, sometimes a wireless connection is the appropriate technology, but the fibre network stretches down every street and connects every urban building. If you need more than a trickle of data, fibre is the best option. There are few spots in any New Zealand city that are more than a few metres from the nearest strand of fibre.
The role of fibre in the Smart City
Sukanya Maharathy, who manages Chorus’ Internet of Things portfolio, says her smart city focus is on the high end of the market, “if it needs high bandwidth or a reliable congestion-free connection that’s available when you need it, then you must have fibre. Take a public safety application with audio connected, the system hears a scream or a gunshot. You need to be able to jump on immediately to view the CCTV camera.” Helping things run congestion-free is an important aspect of fibre.
Say there’s a missing child at a Santa parade on Auckland’s Queen Street. If there are thousands of people with mobile phones connecting to the network and sending photos or videos of the event, CCTV cameras that are sharing mobile tower capacity with the thousands of phones sending photos and videos of the event might struggle to keep up.
Bus stop information boards are another application where Sukanya expects to see fibre play a role. “Transport organisations want to expand the bus stop notice boards that give you updates on when buses will arrive. The plan is to add more information and, potentially, to add CCTV so that bus operators can see when there are people waiting.”
Likewise, digital billboards now show short video clips. She says it’s not far-fetched to imagine they will soon move to 4K video.
What is a Smart Location?
Lauren Taylor is a Chorus business development manager. She says while everyone knows Chorus provides fibre to businesses and homes throughout New Zealand’s cities, she looks after a product called Smart Locations that provides fibre connections elsewhere.
“It could be a roadside cabinet or a piece of street furniture like a traffic light or bus stop. We can connect to anything that doesn’t have a standard street address”, she says.
What about wireless and 5G?
It would be easy to see fibre versus wireless as an either-or competition. Yet because Chorus is a wholesale network provider, its move into the smart cities market means it must work with retail service providers like Spark and Vodafone, and that means a complementary approach. Lauren says her role is to support their sales efforts, often called in to discuss plans for high bandwidth applications with their direct customers.
Sukanya says other retail providers have been on their IoT journey for a long time; “Mainly in the low bandwidth space because that’s where the market has been. For some applications wireless is absolutely the right technology but there are areas where wireless is not going to cut it; you need fibre if you want to use CCTV cameras for facial recognition. And as applications become more data intensive and need some local analytics using edge computing, then fibre is your obvious choice”.
Read more about how Smart Locations help to make smarter and safer roads.