Smart cities: Leveraging IoT with right network infrastructure

Smart cities: Leveraging IoT with right network infrastructure

Urbanization is no longer as unprecedented as it seems, with the global urban population expected to grow approximately 1.84 percent per year between 2015 and 2020.[1] Combined with the growth of the worlds population, urban areas could be inhabited by an additional 2.5 billion people by 2050, with close to 90 percent of this increase concentrated in Asia and Africa.

While existing cities embark on expansion, many new ones will have to be built to cater to the demands of urbanization. Urban planners will need to consider planning for the future as a key priority. To ensure sustainable development, delivery of high-quality citizen services as well as to attract investment, new businesses, and talent, cities are quickly evolving in order to cope with the strain of rapid urbanization and population growth. A number of megalopolis are coming to the forefront, investing in new technologies to become so called smart cities. Singapore hopes to be a pioneer in this area by bypassing the city concept and launching it on a national level with its Smart Nation initiatives.

Yet, as digital technologies are increasingly being embedded across all city functions, new challenges to the underlying network infrastructure will also arise. Indeed, networks in smart cities are critical in the delivery of IP access and bandwidth on a city-wide scale. A data network incorporating both wired and wireless technologies will be vital in the smart city design. With many cities constrained by aging or limited network infrastructure, this proves to be a complex undertaking.

The Big Internet of Things (IoT)

Today, less than one percent of things are connected to the Internet or intelligent systems. Yet, by 2020, IDC projects that there will be 212 billion "things" in the world and that by 2017, 3.5 billion people will connect to the Internet, with 64 percent of them via mobile devices. On the other hand, many of these devices only come with a wireless interface, clearly indicating that Wi-Fi has replaced wired as the connection method of choice for many users.

As Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and IoT continue to evolve, the number and kinds of devices attached to the Wi-Fi network will continue to grow rapidly. In a connected city, IoT brings myriad of sensors and cameras tracking the movement of people and resources to generate data in the effective provision of public services.

IDC expects that local government investments in IoT initiatives will account for more than 25 percent of external government spending. In Singapore, for instance, as part of the governments goal to become the world's first smart nation, a few IoT initiatives will be introduced, such as a nationwide sensor network with data analytics abilities.

Building the foundation

IoT begins with a network infrastructure that allows all the things, devices, phones, displays, and controllers to easily communicate. Because it is so easy to bring so many devices into the range of a Wi-Fi network, it is extremely important for the network to be able to handle the high volume and density of the devices. These devices will then add to the crush of structured and unstructured data already filling databases. In order to make the transition into a smart city that is established by data and analytics, cities will require a robust, agile and secure network infrastructure.

People and connected things are capable of generating massive amounts of data - an estimated 40 trillion gigabytes. Government agencies will be seeking to uncover new information about the workings of their cities from this data, so as to efficiently provide public services. Through the deployment of data sensors, insights can be provided into all connected devices, device types, location, and layer-7 application visibility and control.

Making sense of data

The network infrastructure must do more than to simply pass packets at high speed; data needs to be stored, protected and most importantly, analyzed. Network infrastructures should encompass analytic tools that can aid government agencies and policymakers in making the unknown known by transforming seemingly unrelated and detailed information from the network into meaningful intelligence.

In a smart city, the deployment of self-service applications that grant simple access to citizens, even on the go, are key enablers in delivering a better citizen experience. However, these applications can be rendered ineffective if they are not being adopted and fully utilized by citizens. The ability to understand the types applications people are running on their network and how well each is performing will be essential in ensuring that smart city investments are being maximized.

Having access to information about application usage by device type, frequency of use, network consumption by each application can help government agencies and policymakers make informed investment decisions

Optimizing network performance

With IoT being embedded across all city functions in a smart city, networks will grow more complex. In order to manage that, there will be a need to intelligently route traffic and use underutilized network resources. Visibility and control over the network then becomes critical.

To be able to support the highly mobilized and virtualized environments that smart cities will face, network infrastructures need to adopt open source software-defined networking (SDN) components. Having more network control via open SDN allows developers to innovate independent of hardware and software. The ability to build new products or services increases dramatically. By keeping SDN open, the challenges faced in building a smart city can also be collectively overcome from a larger R&D effort.

Ensuring peace of mind

The IoT puts many more doors on the Internet that need to be securely locked and monitored. Smart cities need a network infrastructure solution that not only provides seamless wireless coverage for public access, but also be able to provide the security necessary to protect the city resources.

Furthermore, with the increase in the use of mobile devices, network infrastructures must be capable of discriminating between permitted and rogue devices. Having visibility and control of all of the network components wired and wireless from one central location are essential to prevent rogue access points (APs) from being plugged into the network. By incorporating a unified management and analysis platform within the network infrastructure, integrated data resources can fully utilized to give governments a comprehensive view of the smart city and identify breaches, if any.

Get smart, think smart

With these considerations, cities should be able to plan for the upgrades to their network infrastructures that are critical to deploying a smart city. Careful design is essential as the fiber/copper distribution in the network infrastructure alone is complex.. With an efficient and scalable network infrastructure that is able to manage and support all ongoing IoT processes simultaneously, cities will be well equipped to ride the wave of the IoT explosion.

Source: eGovinnovation

SMART GRID Bulletin March 2017

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