Smart cities promise better and healthier urban environments
WiFi ideal for creating smart city networks, but has challenges
INTEREST in connecting venues and vehicles is growing as more countries in the Asia Pacific region, one of the largest and fastest-growing urban regions in the world, invest in creating smart cities.
According to Navigant Research, annual smart city technology investment in Asia Pacific will almost quadruple by 2023, reaching US$11.3 billion.
India has recently announced that its plan to build a hundred smart cities, while Singapore has announced that it wants to be the world’s first Smart Nation underpinned by a Smart National Platform that brings together a nationwide sensor network and data analytics abilities.
Smart cities promise better and healthier urban environments through the adoption of city-based applications enabled by low-power, ruggedised environmental sensors and wireless connectivity.
A smart city can be run more efficiently than a traditional city as municipal authorities will be able to monitor more aspects of the city on real-time basis and respond accordingly. These include sensors that are able to send alerts when traffic or crowds are building up, or if there are malfunctions in the water or the electricity supply, and ensure that information services about city facilities that are always up to date.
Smart cities do not have to rely on static sensors, either. WiFi services are now increasingly common as part-free or paid services available in major venues such as airports and sports stadiums, and on public transport hubs in Asia.
Ground transport operators are competing with airlines through offering WiFi services, which can already be enjoyed in trains and stations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea.
Most recently, free WiFi in selected Singapore mass rapid transit stations was announced in August 2014.
In many large Asian cities, millions of passengers may pass through multiple transport hubs such as airports, train and bus stations, and subway systems every day.
As smart mobile device ownership grows across the region, these passengers very often demand timely access to essential information such as the weather, air quality, public transportation situation, schedules and location-related guidance as they make use of these facilities.
WiFi is an ideal method for conveying such information, and would also support operational needs such as points-of-sale, shipping and logistics, digital signage and video security. Homeland security could also receive a boost from WiFi-based smart city initiatives.
WiFi could also provide a platform for new revenue-generating services. With 3G and 4G (Third and Fourth Generation) networks reaching peak capacities, WiFi is seen by many telecom operators as an effective alternative for offloading mobile data traffic for a variety of data-intensive applications, both from end-users and for smart cities.
Besides revenue-generation through WiFi access and 3G/ 4G offload, associated WiFi technologies could also bring about new revenue streams.
Technology is now available for accurate indoor location positioning, for example, which could track user footfall and indirectly interest in various locations, as well as enable delivery of targeted location-based advertisements.
Supporting WiFi in an existing environment can be very challenging from a wireless performance perspective, however.
One problem is that there is typically little or no existing networking infrastructure to build on, especially in structures that are decades old. Additionally, traditional WiFi technology does not function properly in many indoor situations, where thousands of people gather and access the WiFi networks.
Third, big fluctuations in user volumes or cargo density can occur over the course of the day, dramatically impacting network performance.
In the worst case scenario, WiFi exists but connections are unstable, leading to low user satisfaction and the inability to support critical applications.
Governments, municipal authorities and service providers looking to build wireless networks in a smart city context can now consider wireless LAN (local area network) infrastructure that can handle dense public environments.
They can consider WiFi access points with intelligent capabilities to connect a high density of smart devices, and band-steering technology can ensure the optimum connections for challenging environments, for example.
What’s more important, these smart city ready WiFi networks should, with built-in capabilities, be able to analyse locations of the citizens, and drill time and predict movement, so that they can plan resources accordingly.
Here is a list of questions to ask technology partners when considering WiFi implementations in a smart city setting:
How many access points are required?
How consistent is the coverage over the day, especially during peak hours?
How good is network performance in locations with traditionally poor connectivity?
How is peak demand handled in high density locations?
Is the network easily managed?
Can accurate location based services, voice over WLAN and similar revenue-generating applications be supported?
How detailed are the analytics?
Can the system be easily expanded with third party technology?
WiFi infrastructure that works well in dense public environments could benefit members of the public as well as industry, service providers, municipal authorities and the government. Technology providers must offer trials or other ways to test the equipment and survive stress tests.
When large numbers of citizens are involved, deploying the best technology to offer effective services creates a win-win situation for all.
Michael Lok is the South-East Asia managing director at Ruckus Wireless.
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