Smart City Technology is based on The Internet of Things (IoT), the idea of connecting traditionally offline objects into the World Wide Web to communicate, monitor or automate specific functions of that device. A great example of the IoT in action are smart home locks. These locks grant or deny access to a door, but they also connect to a WiFi network and can be locked or unlocked (hands free) anywhere in the world by the smartphone or computer tethered to that specific device.
This is the idea at the core of Smart City Technology, as it uses information and communication to enhance the quality and performance of urban services and increases the quality of living for citizens. There are two distinct conversations in this field of how to best develop this idea. The first is to define what aspects of the urban landscape will benefit from the connected world of IoT. The second is how to connect this technology.
The connection really does come down to two options, Star Networks vs Mesh Networks.
What is Star Network Topology?
Star Networks are what we would classify as traditional connection hubs, whether it be WiFi or Cellular connection. These systems house a single connection point for all devices attempting to connect within the network. Whether it’s a traditional home WiFi router or a telecommunication cellular tower they all work on the same principle. In recent years there has been a push within the telecommunication world to launch IoT compatible frequencies such as LTE-M and Nb-IoT to connect IoT technology to a telecommunication proprietary network.
Cellular connections are the wrong choice for Smart City Technology. These networks are inflexible, expensive and unreliable in changing environments. Use of these networks will only continue to line the pockets of telecommunication giants and cost the taxpayer millions of dollars per year, as the revenue model includes an annual cost for how many devices are connected, with many charging air-time usage as well.
Why Cellular Connections Need to be Dropped from Smart City Solutions
- The topology of star networks are inherently static. Once a tower is built it is not moving and it cannot adapt to the changing environment around it. Or in simpler terms, either accept what you have or shut up.
- Blackspots are common. Blackspots are areas where there is no, or very poor, mobile phone coverage. This goes back to the static nature of Star Networks.
- Every device has to directly connect to the network in order to function. This means that it’s possible that in a network of devices in close range, some may not be able to connect to the signal and have no path to recovery.
- If environmental factors change, local outages occur, or a disaster strikes there’s no way to modify the signal. Because the range is finite once you go out outside of the signal coverage the only way to reconnect to the network is move back within range or find another static tower to connect to.
- Installation and construction costs. To build a cellular tower it can cost anywhere between $200,000-$300,000. While most urban landscapes already have cellular towers built, the construction of new ones could be coming out of the taxpayers’ pocket if it’s to be used for municipal functions.
- As more devices are added to the network the signal becomes weaker as it has to be split between all the connection points.
- All the money from network usage goes to private companies. It’s a pay to play model.
While in some cases Cellular solutions can make sense (such as tracking smart cars that can travel hundreds of kilometers outside city limits), it should not be the main point of contact for Smart City Solutions. The solution for sustainable, efficient and low cost Smart City Technology is the application of Mesh Networks which use decentralized radio frequencies that are independent of telecommunication companies.
Mesh Network Topology in Action
Mesh Network topology is, in a sense, the anti-Star Network. Instead of static, rigid systems that are dependent on their environment, Mesh Networks are designed to be flexible and enable highly reliable connectivity even in the most challenging environments.
In a Mesh Network every device self-configures to connect and collaborate with its neighbours. This means that the devices themselves build the size and strength of the network, as opposed to the range of signal from a cell tower. Unlike cellular networks, Mesh Networks actually become stronger and more resilient as more devices are added. Using multiple points of entry to a network, Mesh automatically configures its system based on the availability and location of the devices it can connect to.
When any device is added to a Mesh Network it automatically checks its neighbours to find multiple reliable connections for redundancy. If an outage occurs, the network automatically self-heals and finds an alternative path to create the strongest network chain so that connection is never lost. Mesh network devices and sensors can speak directly to each other, improving networks speed and efficiency while enabling even greater intelligence.
The Future is Now
Mesh Networks can be seen in action right now in homes that use WiFi-Mesh Networks. Instead of the traditional topology of transmitting a signal to devices within range, the signal can be transmitted to nodes placed near the edge of the signal that both creates a larger network and searches for other nodes. This allows for not just an extension, but another point of creation of the network which builds itself in the most efficient way possible. Moving this technology into the industrial sector is a natural extension of its capabilities.
While telecommunication companies may attempt to appropriate Mesh Networking as an option for IoT connection, this can all be done on decentralized radio frequencies that are just as reliable and secure while incurring no usage charges or costly construction fees. Whether it’s a 2.4GHz for short range, low energy communication, or a stronger frequency like a sub-gigahertz, Mesh works in a way which is reliable, safe, secure and at a low cost to citizens.
Learn more about Smart City Mesh Network Solutions here.