Whatever the smart city goal, fiber is part of the solution

This article originally appeared on RCR Wireless News by Sean Kinney.

Fiber connectivity underlies a wide range of smart city applications

Smart city is something of a broad term that generally refers to using wired or wireless sensors to gather data which is feed into a compute infrastructure, analyzed, then used to initiate an outcome that makes the operation of a municipality more efficient.

Drilling down to specific use cases, they run the gamut from smart lighting and traffic management to improved access to city services and air or water quality monitoring. But, regardless of the particular application or desired outcome, underlying a smart city is (ideally) easy access to high capacity fiber that can support current and future needs.

Morné Erasmus, CommScope’s director of smart cities, explained to RCR Wireless News that smart city technologies aren’t the problem with widespread adoption but rather regulatory and organizational complexities are more prevalent hinderances.

CommScope, he said, sees three primary “building blocks” of a smart city: a smart building, a smart community, then the macro level that emerges when those two are linked together as a whole. “We always talk about smart buildings, communities or campuses and then the city. It really starts with the building–enabling connectivity within the building. Connectivity today is a utility. If you can’t get a cellphone signal or an internet connection in a building, people are not moving to those buildings. That’s just part of what life is today. It starts there then, when you walk outside the building, you need the same coverage there.”

In terms of outdoor coverage, Erasmus said CommScope is seeing city-led RFP activity are metro cell poles for small cell placement. “Traditionally that business for us is driven by operators or the neutral hosts but we’re starting to see that shift a little bit” to cities and utility providers. “They have their own right-of-way on power poles and they’re looking to get into that business.”

And, given the complexities associated with multiple carriers siting radio equipment, this is a prudent approach to streamlining an otherwise complex (costly and time-consuming) process while still meeting the goals of the various stakeholders.

While shared infrastructure models have gained traction in some global markets, particularly South Korea where the three operators shared 5G deployment costs and China where the three carriers entered into a joint venture for the purposes of deploying and managing infrastructure, that approach is not as well-developed in the U.S.

But, he said, “I think there’s slowly some tides changing there. The only way cities can control their own destiny is to say, ‘OK, what if we own the infrastructure. We become a neutral host.’”

But, whether it’s small cells for mobile broadband or connecting street lights to serve as platforms for traffic and environmental sensors or television cameras, “It’s all about connectivity really. The fundamental layer there is connectivity. In the simplest form, it’s all about connecting IoT devices, getting some insight into whatever applications there are and then driving efficiencies higher. All of that happens through connectivity.”

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