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Livechat summary: leveraging lampposts as a key component of the smart city

Updated: Oct 18, 2018

Summary of the livechat led on Convercities street-lighting channel on July 5th, 2018.

Lampposts are everywhere in the city. Cities use them to hook advertising banners, traffic signage or surveillance cameras. In countries where the streetlight grid is powered 24/7, you find even more city or utility equipment hooked onto the poles.

Now, with the deployment of individual light point controllers, requiring an IoT wireless communication network in each street, will the lamppost become a new communication node for other sensors and smart city devices? Will light point controllers become a hub that collects data from other sensors around the pole and sends them to central management software and smart city apps? What are the missing pieces for lampposts to become the foundation of a smart city sensor network? How can cities generate revenue from lampposts to cover the cost of deploying such a smart city wireless network to control the lights? These were some of the topics discussed during this livechat on Convercities.

Today, advertising, traffic signs, cameras and wifi-spot on lampposts

Today, cities use lamppost to hook simple advertising banners, police signs, traffic signs, street names but also video-surveillance cameras and Wi-Fi spots that require fiber optic (or a 4G modem) to be brought to the pole.

Some cities, like Nantes Metropole (France) rents pole for authorized 3rd party to install Wi-Fi Spots. Other cities still need to define a renting strategy with a public pricing and associated billing and maintenance processes.

But, in Europe and Asia, the main issue to install electrical devices, including smart city devices, on streetlight poles is the need for power 24/7. In Europe and Asia, power is switched OFF in the morning by streetlight cabinets equipped with photocells, astronomical clocks or other control devices. Devices hooked on the pole then need to have their own battery to operate during the day. No problem in the USA, the UK, Australia and few other territories where streetlights have individual photocells and power is 24/7. That is a first challenge to address to turn lamppost into a smart city sensor platform. Cities like Auckland have addressed it and keep power 24/7 now that they are deploying individual light point controllers. But energy joule losses on the electrical network and maintenance processes still need to be addressed before making it possible.

Leveraging Light Point Controller as a communication hub for other sensors around

Once these challenges are addressed, the deployment of light point controllers on each luminaire enables to keep the power ON 24/7 on the streetlight grid. Each individual light point controllers is then programmed to switch the individual light ON/OFF at sunset/sunrise. Once equipped with such light point controllers, each lamppost is connected to an IoT wireless network. Each light point controller that embeds a wireless communication module to connect it to a central management software (whatever the wireless network is), could then serve as a local communication hub to collect data from sensors and other devices around the pole: noise sensors, air quality, humidity, traffic monitoring, occupation of the public domain (people counting), occupancy of parking spaces, detection of opposite direction of traffic and more. The IoT wireless network used by light point controllers would probably not be used for higher-bandwidth devices such as Wi-Fi spots and video-surveillance camera, which require dozens of Mb of data per second and at least a 4G (5G in the future) if not a fiber optic connection, but could be used as the backbone for all the lower bandwidth sensors.

According to the discussion on the Convercities channel, everyone agreed on such a “Lamppost as a Sensor Platform” architecture, mentioning the challenge of getting interoperable products from device suppliers, agreeing on open protocols and networks so that light point controller could serve as a hub for many types of sensors from many suppliers. For the city manager of Jyväskylä: “it will be crucial that all the different technologies will be inter-operable or compatible with each other. (…) We've had some failures earlier with equipment that were not compatible. So both devices were tested on their own, but in practice they did not function together. Both suppliers were convinced that their equipment was working properly!” But “each manufacturer tries to protect its industrial and commercial development by owning parts of their concept. It's very captive!”, said a manager from Nantes Metropole.

The Electrical Charging market succeeded to agree on a common protocol called OCPP (Open Charge Point Protocol). The outdoor lighting industry is working on TALQ, a common protocol between network’s gateways and central management software, and on uCIFI a common multi-transport data model working on LoRa, NB-IoT and on an open source sib-GHz wireless network that they will specify. Let’s continue monitor these initiatives and how widely they’ll be adopted by the device and network suppliers.

Will lamppost play a key role in the deployment of 5G?

Could there be a scenario in which the city gives the lighting grid to an operator which is free to use it as they desire and then the operator maintains the lighting infra in return? At least, could there be a scenario where the rent of the pole would pay for, say, equipment + wireless network to control each single light point (smart streetlight)?

There were some trials where a telecom operator paid for the light point controllers (hardware + installation), to allow the cabinet to be kept on power 24/7, so that they could install their 4G cells in return of this investment. It was beneficial for them since the cost of installing individual light point control was less than renting building rooftop to install their 4G cells.

With the future deployment of 5G, this opportunity to rent poles for telecom operators to deploy their 5G micro-cells seems to be bigger than ever. Cities in the live chat each have or are planning to have discussions with the telecom operators about this opportunity. City of Vantaa is working on a study with large operators and telecom equipment suppliers. The outcome of such studies shall probably be discussed again on Convercities soon!

Stay tuned for the next live chat and updates on “Lamppost as a Platform” and “Lamppost for 5G micro-cells” on Convercities street-lighting channel.