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How Fibre is shaping the Smart City

Yesterday, we shared an ambitious dream - to connect the computer, an amalgamation of indistinct parts, to the Internet. When that dream became a reality, the world changed, initiating a tectonic shift in the way our society functions and bringing forth an information age, where the stroke of a fingertip can unravel an entire archive.

Today, our dream is just as ambitious - to connect everything around us to the Internet. But this dream, in which ambient objects are exploited for their wealth of data, radically expands the scope for change.

Nowhere is the vision of a connected society more apparent than the smart city, an embodiment of our shift towards a more efficient, equal and sustainable future. In the smart city, real-time data is fed from a network of sensors, each no larger than a fingernail, and analysed to extract actionable insights with Big Data.

Imagining a Smart City with Waste Management

To understand the smart city, we need to imagine a connected ecosystem functioning across the mediums of infrastructure and services. Take waste disposal, for example. Bins are only collected when sensors indicate they have reached maximum capacity, streets are only swept when image data identifies loose waste and recycling centres only accept waste when there is sufficient space.

The strategic collection of bins reduces the time that refuse trucks must be on the road, minimising fuel consumption, and thus, air pollution. Furthermore, this optimised process eliminates the occurrence of overfilled bins, something that could put public health at risk.

Imagining a Smart City with Waste Management

To truly understand the smart city, we need to imagine a connected ecosystem functioning across the mediums of infrastructure and services. Every component of the ecosystem impacts another, and that’s why sensor deployments need to transcend barriers of urban geography and affluence.

In practice, this means a service such as waste disposal is monitored by a city-wide network of sensors, each of which feeds into an underlying goal to optimise efficiency. Bins are only collected when sensors indicate they have reached maximum capacity, streets are only swept when image data identifies loose waste and recycling centres only accept waste when there is sufficient space.

The strategic collection of bins reduces the time that garbage trucks must be on the road, minimising fuel consumption, and thus, air pollution. Furthermore, this optimised process eliminates the occurrence of overfilled bins, something that could put public health at risk.

Introducing a waste management system similar to this can deliver obvious, but meaningful, benefit to cities and their citizens. Each step in the system contributes to the smart city concept. Most importantly, perhaps, this system highlights the variety of ways to amass interpretable data, from ultra-sonic sensors that detect bin level to IP cameras overseeing the real-time state of streets.

A Relationship of Proportion in the Smart City: Fibre and 5G NR

The proportionate relationship between fibre and wireless density is particularly evident with 5G NR, a 3GPP wireless standard which places an emphasis on massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). Breakthrough gains in spectral efficiency, combined with utilisation of mmWave spectrum, means 5G NR will be a key solution for smart city sensor deployments.

Referring to mmWave spectrum is notable in the context of site density because its propagation characteristics are inherently limited, requiring a dramatic increase in the number of nodes, indoor and outdoor, to provide ubiquitous coverage availability.

Wi-Fi is a facet of the Smart City, and it needs Fibre

It’s time that we baulk at the idea of 5G NR replacing Wi-Fi as a method of connectivity. Each of these technologies exhibits a portfolio of unique attributes, and the use case overlap is still too narrow to replace one or the other in every scenario.

Just as cellular networks are progressively leveraging higher frequency spectrum to meet the needs of the smart city, Wi-Fi is following a similar trajectory. In fact, we are on the verge of witnessing major changes in the Wi-Fi ecosystem, spurred by developments such as Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), WiGig and HaLow. Without fibre backhaul to access points, Wi-Fi will flounder.

Security and the Smart City are Inseparable

A city is not smart if it’s not secure. That principle should be the North Star as we begin to connect everything around us to the Internet. In the absence of security by-design hangs an existential threat. Imagine the consequences of a black hat hacker disrupting transport or bringing down healthcare systems.

Employment of fibre can help to bolster the security of the smart city’s network layer. As one of the most secure methods to transfer packets over the Internet, fibre is more difficult to tap because, unlike copper, there is no electromagnetic field.

Conclusion: Fibre facilitating an Urban Explosion

The mass migration of rural communities to urban districts is only in its infancy, with 68% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050[1]. A step-change of such magnitude brings with it lofty challenges, all of which touch fundamental societal issues such as quality of life. By connecting the disconnected we can forge smarter cities, where data from sensors introduces new precedents of efficiency.

The smart city represents a convergence of multiple cutting-edge technologies, each working in symphony with one another to fulfil a common goal. Without fibre at the edge, it is impossible to create a smart city. For, as the lifeblood of connectivity, fibre offers an unparalleled concoction of security, performance, and future scalability.


[1] United Nations, “Revision of World Urbanization Prospects”, 2018.

The increasing proliferation of WiGig in 60GHz spectrum speaks to the narrative of a Wi-Fi ecosystem advancing to facilitate skyrocketing traffic demand. In a smart city environment with Public Wi-Fi, achieving a quality experience across a dense network of access points is unattainable without deep fibre penetration.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Wi-Fi HaLow is emerging as a low-power solution designed specifically to meet the requirements of IoT sensors such as those deployed in the smart city. Unlike alternate Wi-Fi technologies, HaLow puts a focus on long-range transmission in the 900MHz band, supporting smart city applications that depend on mobility.

Fixed backhaul will remain the most appropriate solution for Wi-Fi access points, regardless of their access technology, and as fibre moves deeper into buildings, it will provide unparalleled performance metrics, underpinning smart city deployments and the increasingly critical process of offloading traffic from the Radio Access Network (RAN).

Security and the Smart City are Inseparable

A city is not smart if it’s not secure. That principle should be the North Star as we begin to connect everything around us to the Internet. In the absence of security by-design hangs an existential threat, leaving critical infrastructure and its human beneficiaries at risk of a vulnerability.

The exploitation of such vulnerabilities would be disastrous for our society, on a scale never experienced before. Imagine the consequences of an actor with mal-intent disrupting transport, bringing down healthcare systems and stopping the flow of water.

These dystopian-type ramifications apply to the smart city because it is composed of millions of simple sensors, most of which operate with limited processing power and battery life. This is a toxic combination for security, which relies upon on-device mechanisms such as encryption.

But the source of security vulnerability is not exclusive to the sensor layer, and as economies of scale permits the production of more sophisticated devices at a lower cost, we will need to concentrate on the security of the network layer.

This is precisely where fibre excels as one of the most secure methods to transfer packets over the Internet. Unlike copper, there is no electromagnetic field, making it inherently more difficult to tap. And, in a scenario where fibre is tapped, the resulting leakage of light can be instantly detected by the operator.

Acting as the backbone of the entire smart city ecosystem, fibre ensures the integrity of data is not compromised as it moves across vast distances. This can be achieved with the implementation of strong end-to-end encryption protocols, effectively providing multiple concurrent layers of security.

Conclusion: Fibre facilitating an Urban Explosion

The mass migration of rural communities to urban districts is only in its infancy, with 68% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050[1]. A step-change of such magnitude brings with it lofty challenges, all of which touch fundamental societal issues such as quality of life.

By connecting the disconnected, from critical transport infrastructure to water delivery systems, we can forge smarter cities, where data from sensors introduces new precedents of efficiency. As the new oil, the more data that a city can amass, the greater the potential for positive impact.

The smart city represents a convergence of multiple cutting-edge technologies, each working in symphony with one another to fulfil a common goal. Without fibre at the edge, it is impossible to create a smart city. For, as the lifeblood of connectivity, fibre offers an unparalleled concoction of security, performance, and future scalability.

[1] United Nations, ‘Revision of World Urbanization Prospects’, 2018.

 

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Posted on 3 Jul 2019.

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