Smart City v2.0

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

As we all know, technology is constantly changing. It moves forward very quickly and the rate of change in the Lighting Industry over the last few years, with the introduction of LED’s and Lighting Management Systems (BMS and CMS) has accelerated this change and new product innovations. This, however, pales into insignificance when compared to rate of change in Smart City and Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

Across the UK there are approximately 1m lighting points connected to various street lighting Central Management Systems (CMS) . These intelligent lighting control and monitoring systems use a combination of radio frequency wireless communication to talk to a central collector point and GPRS (mobile phone networks) or landline communications to connect to a web server host. The authority can then browse various data sets about the asset (burning hours / energy used / status etc.) and make changes to its switch on / off times and lighting level (dimming). With clever analysis then the asset can be managed and energy resources saved, no wonder they are sold as Smart City systems.

It is estimated that switching to LED technology could save an authority about 40% of its annual street lighting energy bill, by adding CMS and refining burn hours etc. this could be extended to almost 60%. The benefits are real and achievable. There is of course a cost for this investment let's take a look at the typical costs for a borough council with 20,000 units, this will be an initial cost of 20,000 x £185 for the LED lantern and CMS node plus £4000 (base station) per 400 columns (50 units) plus ongoing licence fees per year of £100,000. This together with initial setup training and commissioning and hosting somewhere in the region of £10,000, adding all this together and we have costs of £4.1m and ongoing costs of £100,000 a year. That's a lot of money, but with real tangible savings. Surely with this level of investment and control, we have achieved a level of Smart City?

Sorry to say, but no…… you have an intelligent dimmer switch.

There has been a huge investment in the UK over the last few years in these systems, with some hope that they can be added too, in order to provide the level of intelligence and connectivity that a Smart City requires. Unfortunately due to proprietary communication systems, lack of interoperability and no clear standards, regulations or vision of what a Smart City would need, this just isn't possible.

A Smart City has now been defined by the British Standards Institution (BSI) as one where there is “effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens”.

A smart city takes this integration of technology, one step further. It is a city where these individual city systems are better integrated, not just within themselves but together, in order to seamlessly deliver on the city purposes. This increased connectivity allows cities to be managed more holistically and effectively.

Street Lighting columns represent a very useful asset to the city looking to create this Smart approach. They are regularly spaced around the city, they have power supplies and convenient to maintain and retrofit items too. The possibility of using the CMS system to carry back this extra data from Traffic Monitoring, Pedestrian Count, Air pollution, Litter Bin sensors etc. seems to perfect a fit - alas, it is just a dream, as these items would all need to “talk the same language” before we could hope to transmit any useful data via the CMS system.

And here lies our problem, again we have competing standards for communication, and with CISCO predicting over 50 billion IoT devices connected by the year 2020, it's no wonder that there’s a race to become the leader of the pack

With differing benefits in range, security, data rates and interoperability there are a number of communication protocols out there to choose from.

The three main choices so far have been UNB, ZigBee and a form of LoRa all operating in the license exempt radio spectrum, but none of these talk to each other at hardware level and maybe not at server level either!

The Smart City will use and consume lots of data from its various sensors and from Open-Data sources across the city and surrounding areas. This will require us to use open protocols to collect this data and ensure that it arrives intact and easy to analyse.

Imagine the scenario that you invested in a CMS system and the authority has now started down a path towards a Smart City - multiple sensors added to your lighting column, that it was never designed to take, all using different protocols to talk to their multiple collectors based around the city. A myriad of different back end systems to access this information, all trying to be collected together to give an overall picture of the city - nightmare! Or is it your potential reality?

This will alway be the case with new competing technologies, however some sense is prevailing, we have new standards being created by BSI and we have three “new” communication protocols appearing, that I believe will win the race and make life and interoperability easier for all.

Bluetooth low energy (LE) also called Bluetooth Smart or Version 4.0+

A widely recognised and used communications protocol that has been adapted for the IoT, with low power, high security and mesh technology, advancements in this industry standard will allow for easy integration of new devices, sensors and high data speeds. Already being used successfully in Smart Homes and through large scale lighting applications from Gooee, Silvair and others it is a well established and easy to integrate IT solution.

Low Power Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi HaLow)

Wi-Fi HaLow extends Wi-Fi into the 900 MHz band, enabling the low power connectivity necessary for applications including sensor and wearables. Wi-Fi HaLow’s range is nearly twice that of today’s Wi-Fi, and will not only be capable of transmitting signals further, but also providing a more robust connection in challenging environments where the ability to more easily penetrate walls or other barriers is an important consideration. Wi-Fi HaLow will broadly adopt existing Wi-Fi protocols and deliver many of the benefits that consumers have come to expect from Wi-Fi today, including multi-vendor interoperability, strong government-grade security, and easy setup


Not strictly a communications protocol, or even designed for the Smart City it was built on open standards and IPv6/6LoWPAN protocols, Thread’s approach to wireless networking offers numerous technological advantages, including a secure and reliable mesh network with no single point of failure, simple connectivity and low power. All Thread networks are easy to set up and secure to use with banking-class encryption to close security holes that exist in other wireless protocols. Although Thread has primarily been designed for Smart Homes, I can see it being used as a basis for further advancement in Smart Cities and data sharing / interoperability.

All of these technologies above have one thing in common, easy to setup and easy to use with existing IT networks / standards.

They will allow multiple sensors to be added to the network easily and quickly and be able to use data from other sources quickly, whilst remaining secure. So where could this technology lead us, well let's look at some possible examples of how and why this technology will impact our lives.

Health Service - Hospitals are large places, with a changing set of needs and equipment and patients being moved around the hospital on a daily, if not hourly basis. If this equipment was each tagged with an RFID tag, then these could be traced, by the smart lighting. Their use and locations analyzed and used more effectively by the Trust. Each patient would be issued with a Bluetooth band, containing their details, which would be used as an ID tag and also location device, when the patient has a visitor or is required to be seen by a healthcare practitioner then there location can be identified quickly and easily, imagine walking into a hospital, firing up your mobile phone and locating your friend or relative quickly and easily in real time rather than wandering endless corridors searching for the ward they are in. The bluetooth wrist band would also be used to track patient observations and could be downloaded quickly and easily without disturbing the patient during the night.

A lot of us now use personal fitness trackers to record our health statistics, if this data could be sent to directs to your doctor on a weekly / monthly basis then this could be recorded and trends analyzed and advice / assistance dispensed by the doctor as and when required to promote healthy lifestyles and proactively combat illness. This could represent a huge financial saving to the health service if trackers were dispensed at targeted patients and care given remotely on a weekly basis.

Social / Elderly care - Local Authorities often contract a social care service to provide home visits to elderly or unwell members of the community. These social care providers may be asked to assist the patient with general day to day duties like getting dressed, housework, cooking a meal or just spending time with them whilst their main carer gets a well deserved and much needed rest. For some it is a vital service. If each care visitor was issued with a bluetooth beacon then the times they arrive at the home, amount of time and location of their presence in the home can be monitored and recorded to ensure that the authority is being provided with the level of service it has paid for and more importantly for the patients relatives, peace of mind that their loved one is being cared for. This data can be sent back via the smart street light system connected outside the house, it does not even require an internet connection in the home.

Retail - IoT in retail is already making its presence felt, with RFID tags on products to help with stock control to tracking movements within a store to assess layouts and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, but what about targeting customers with offers. In London you can download an app and sign up to offers from stores that you like, and as you pass by their stores, they can send you details straight to your phone of those offers you might be interested in. this might entice you to go inside, but we all like a bargain and nobody only shops in one store, how about their competitor down the street maybe they have an offer as well? What if once you showed an interest in this offer that has been sent to you, the other stores in town were able to send their similar offers directly to your phone so that you could compare and make an informed choice without traipsing all over town. This could also be achieved by sharing Bluetooth Beacon information over the Smart city network and those stores that wanted to send offers / data over the system would pay the authority a fee for transmitting this data.

These are just some examples, and there are lots lots more, of how by investing in the right technology, you can start to add value to an authority and its partners if they have the right advice and the vision to see a bigger picture. To this end British Standards Institution (BSI) have recently published a series of Published Documents (PD) for Smart Cities, which although cannot be considered as a “Standard” they give a set of recommendations and guidelines and are likely to be used as the basis of any published standard in the future. These documents cover the following topics

Smart Cities Vocabulary

Smart City Framework

Smart City Concept model

Smart City Overview

Smart Cities - Guide to Development

These documents, along with existing standards and regulations on data integrity and management, radio transmission, electronic components, governance, resilience and a whole host of related documents provide a good, although complex, framework in order to plan your Smart City. Another article with a review of these documents will be published shortly

The government have invested heavily in the IoT and Smart Cities sectors for the UK and recognise the need for these standards to ensure more costly mistakes are not made, indeed they are even setting up a City Standards Conformity Assessment Scheme for the UK, whereby existing knowledge from pilot projects has been used along with the standards described above to compile a series measurement methods to ensure that your Smart Cities Project and Products meet these requirements.

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