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    For smart cities, connectivity is king

    The new street-lighting ecosystem

    In the new smart city, connectivity is king. And connectivity starts with lighting.

    Today, as connected replaces conventional lighting, the familiar street light is becoming an innovation platform. According to Gartner, “18% of global streetlights in urban zones will be connected in five years, up from 3% in 2018.” It's now emerging as the technological foundation of an entire ecosystem of urban projects that will transform how city dwellers inhabit their environments.


    Smart lighting provides the perfect infrastructure for the urban Internet of Things. Light poles can sufficiently power a wide array of IoT devices, and they're already distributed across the cityscape. The fact that they're typically positioned above the street means that they're well-positioned to host sensors that track movement across, and a range of conditions within, an urban area. In these ways, citywide connected lighting is ideal for hosting a communications network that can support IoT applications both today and into the future.


    So far, so good. Yet making the smart lighting ecosystem work requires the coordinated efforts of numerous stakeholders, including engineers, systems integrators, street-lighting vendors, IoT vendors, and communications service providers – not to mention municipal authorities. So it's crucial to work with a vendor that can cover a number of the competencies that establishing a connected lighting system demands.

    Building the ecosystem

    Here are the elements you need to master as you bring a transformative connected lighting project to life.


    Hardware: Connected luminaires are just the beginning. Urban IoT projects often need access to deep expertise in IoT devices as well. These include sensors, cameras, microphones, and navigation equipment.


    Software: Smart city initiatives require a comprehensive IoT platform that provides a consistent and scalable base for both pilot projects and initiatives no one's thought of yet. You also need comprehensive control dashboards for managers, and possibly advice on developing the user-facing apps those managers can use to administer the project day to day.


    Communications and network infrastructure: According to Gartner, “System integrators and global lighting manufacturers are preferred partners for street light modernization initiatives for city managers; CSPs are named as partners in only 16% of smart city lighting projects since the start of 2016.” A smart city ecosystem needs reliable connectivity and adequate bandwidth to thrive. Look for partners who can advise you on the right mix of cellular, small cell, Wi-Fi, and short-range IoT communications to ensure consistent and smooth communications.


    Data storage and analysis: A well-equipped smart city generates a wealth of information that city managers can use to improve quality of life. Sensor data indicating when streets are heavily trafficked and when they aren't can of course lead to more intelligent provision of lighting to certain areas of town – luminaires can dim when no one's around, thus saving money. But there's much more to it than that. Sensor data on air quality can inform public health initiatives. Data on traffic patterns, parking habits, peak congestion hours, and even wind speeds and humidity levels can help drive initiatives that improve quality of life.

    But these opportunities are lost if IoT sensors can't report data to repositories that powerful analytical tools can easily access. The upshot: you need to work with data and analytics providers who understand how to handle hundreds of thousands of new information sources so that you can take advantage of them, deriving insights you can put to work.


    Power grid and utilities: In many cities, lighting is already delivered in partnership with, or as a service by, utility or grid operators. The municipality's relationships with these operators have typically originated in an era of lower-tech lighting. Those relationships may thus need amending. Working with partners who understand the services that grid operators have provided can be valuable. First, it can help reshape the project's cost structure for the better. Second, it can lead to the proper allocation of responsibilities between power companies and civic offices.


    Systems integration: A systems integrator that has experience with your chosen connected lighting apparatus, your IoT platform, your enterprise data repository, and your network providers can help reduce implementation times and shorten time to benefit.

    Putting the coordinated ecosystem into action

    The right vendor, one who can cover at least several of the bases enumerated above, will knit a series of discrete initiatives into a dynamic and successful system. Think of the difference between an IoT sensor that counts cars – and the software, data, and analytical nexus that can translate traffic statistics into better road design. Or, again, think of the difference between passive security video capture and real-time situational awareness.


    The former is useful and necessary. But the latter can alert first responders or even trigger dramatic street lighting changes – such as a blast of startling light at the scene of a nighttime street altercation – to defuse problems before they escalate. It's the right vendor's expertise that bridges such differences.


    In many cases a strong vendors collaborate with peer vendors to amplify that expertise. Signify, for example, has partnered with Ericsson and with American Tower on its smart pole connected street lights; with SAP on a smart city data integration project based on the SAP HANA platform; and with others.

    Room to learn and grow

    The right vendor knows to build into your lighting ecosystem room for your projects to change and grow. That's important, because smart city technologies almost always inspire new initiatives after their initial rollout. (This is one reason why the average number of use cases for smart lighting projects roughly doubled between 2015 and 2017, according to Gartner.)


    An ecosystem that can change and grow, moreover, is one more likely to please the ultimate stakeholder in a connected lighting project: the public. Citizen buy-in becomes increasingly important to smart city initiatives as public knowledge about these initiatives grows – and as empowered citizenries in “world cities" around the globe become even more scrupulous about the projects that affect their communities. In a sign of the times, Wales' capital, Cardiff, actually polled residents before selecting the light temperature for its new LED street fixtures.


    Building a citywide connected street lighting network is an integral step towards creating a communications network that can support IoT applications today and into the future. It's also a planning- and labor-intensive initiative that requires coordination between a range of stakeholders. Given all the moving parts, you have the best chance of success if you enlist a vendor that can offer a wide range of competencies.

    Take a deeper dive and read a recent Gartner Market Insight report: How Should CSPs Exploit the Opportunity of Smart City Streetlight Projects?

    Gartner, Market Insight: How Should CSPs Exploit the Opportunity of Smart City Streetlight Projects? Toni Nygren, Wm. L. Hahn, Godfrey Chua, 6 June 2018. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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