by Dan Leaf, CEO and President, LEAF Communications
As we look toward the future, we envision a world of connectivity, data and efficiency, with smart cities being the future for urban areas. At its core, a smart city uses devices and sensors to track and analyze data in real-time to better meet the needs of a community by improving its operations and managing resources more efficiently. This connectivity facilitates improved traffic, better management and tracking of public transportation, monitoring of utility usage and needs, connection of autonomous vehicles, security and more. The information collected can be shared between other devices and sensors, government agencies, citizens and personal devices.
Improve traffic: Sensors track and monitor cars, pedestrians and weather to effectively maintain a consistent traffic flow. They also track available parking and feed that information back to an application that lets users know exactly where parking is available. Residents won’t have to travel around town or circle parking lots to find an open space, reducing energy consumption and traffic jams.
Public transportation: Passengers can get real-time information on bus and train locations, routes, traffic and ETAs. No more rushing and guessing, but knowing; not having to arrive 30 minutes early and wait in the rain, but having time to pick up a quick cup of coffee and still make the train.
Monitor utilities: Sensors can detect activity and dim or adjust lights based on conditions, proximity to pedestrians and traffic, rather than staying on at all times. This reduces light pollution and makes a city’s energy consumption more cost efficient.
Autonomous vehicle connection: In addition to GPS, radar and advanced communications, connectivity makes roads safer, less congested and more efficient. Imagine a traffic model formulated by precise data, physics and mathematics rather than current unpredictable and unreliable variables including human emotions, reaction time and distractions. Not only does this allow for more efficient circulation but it will also significantly reduce the number of accidents. The ability to know about upcoming traffic conditions, weather, an accident, something obstructing the road or conditions that the human eye cannot see or predict, will be essential in increasing safety on the roads.
Safety: Improved video surveillance, gunfire detection and other real-time data that can be sent to first responders will improve response times by pinpointing the exact location of an incident. When a person is injured and cannot call for help on their own, these detections can alert and dispatch first responders, instantly sending the life-saving help a person might need.
Why Current Connectivity Infrastructure Won’t Cut It
Our current wireless infrastructure has been developed for 4G and LTE devices and connections. These radio frequencies were designed to travel far, not fast. The towers are tall and spread apart and can transfer data from a distance. These worked great when the majority of users were making phone calls, doing the occasional Google search or emailing on the go. But the way we use our connected devices has changed dramatically. Take those frequencies and multiply the number of devices running off these towers exponentially and the network is now overwhelmed with demand and the need for faster connection speeds. Consumers are now using multiple devices far more than ever before. Each consumer can have three or four devices that all use connectivity at the same time; phone, tablet, smart watch, hot spots, etc. Video calling, streaming music and media, tracking steps or health, routes and maps, weather and more. Our community has already increased the demand for a better wireless solution and adding additional devices for smart cities will escalate that need even further.
Small Cell Technology is Key for the Future of Smart Cities
Information communication technology (ICT) is essentially a network of objects and devices that transmit data via wireless technology. With more devices, sensors and objects requiring this instant connectivity, networks need a solution to handle the growing demand. For these ICTs to function efficiently, the new networks need to be able to handle increased bandwidth, while still being extremely fast and reliable. That’s where small cell technology comes in.
Small cells are an essential part of our wireless network and are made up of nodes connected via fiber back to the macro towers. The wired connection allows them to carry data 30-50 times faster than 4G with sub-millisecond latencies, which is essential for connected devices to communicate with each other and relay information in real-time. Each small cell can carry the same amount of data as a macro cell tower, but because it covers a smaller geographic area, it can handle the growing demand and variety of devices transmitting data through it. The coverage of each small cell can range anywhere between one-tenth of a mile to two miles per node. Small cells are relatively small compared to macro towers and can be installed almost anywhere—utility poles, rooftops of buildings, steeples of churches and more. This allows connectivity to be unobtrusive and retain the aesthetic value of the city’s infrastructure.
Challenges of Implementing Small Cell Technology
There are still obstacles to overcome for this network build-out to be accomplished in a timely manner. Each city’s jurisdiction has its own regulations, which can cause delays in deployment. On average, 75 percent of the construction process is spent on planning, jurisdiction requirements and approvals. Efficient build-out strategies are vital for our communities to benefit from a better connection. One of the ways we can achieve this is by working with experts in the communications industry to better understand the new technology, its benefits and the opportunities it will offer, and how we can streamline the process to make it a reality in our communities. It is important for local leaders to understand how technology works to fully comprehend how it can better serve the future and new innovations.
Smart cities are built to improve urban life and reduce the hassles of city living. Without these small cell nodes in place, smart cities are still just an idea. Small cells are the key piece of infrastructure that will allow new technological advancements to work, kicking off the next industrial revolution.
About the Author
Dan Leaf is an Air Force veteran with over 22 years of experience in the communications industry. Throughout his career, Leaf has become an expert in wireless infrastructure, successfully building and managing companies that provide unparalleled service to clients. Leaf has worked with Fortune 500 companies, fire marshals and all major carriers to provide small cell deployment, 5G integration, first-responder systems (ERRCS), site acquisition real estate services, architecture and engineering, and complete project management and construction services. The broad range of functions that Leaf and his team provide are what give them a holistic approach and expert experience in wireless infrastructure and communication technology.