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Wireless protocol for smart cities: Is one better than the other?

Wireless protocol for smart cities: Is one better than the other?
Wireless technologies are an integral part of smart cities. At present, there are several wireless protocols in the market that are either competing or complementing each other. When looking at the various protocols available in the market, the key is to remember that smart city comprises of several different divisions like transport, resource management, etc. These different sectors would require different technologies and hence the ideal protocols would be different.

  “‘Smart cities’ encompass many different applications and use cases,” said Julian Watson, Principal Analyst for IoT at IHS Markit. “IHS Markit currently includes mobility and transport, energy and resource efficiency, physical infrastructure, safety and security and healthcare and governance within its scope of smart cities verticals. It’s important to recognize that no single wireless protocol or technology can fit the requirements of all use cases. We, therefore, see many technologies, such as wired technology, standard cellular technologies like LTE and LTE Advanced, LPWAN technologies such as NB-IoT, LTE-M, and LoRaWAN and short range wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi all playing a role in smart city development.”

For instance, Wi-Fi will play an important role in governance, providing useful information to citizens through public Wi-Fi networks to smart city smartphone apps, Watson added. LPWAN technologies such as NB-IoT will likely play a role in energy and resource efficiency (smart meters). Higher-bandwidth LTE is being deployed as part of some smart lighting projects to improve cellular coverage within cities. Bluetooth Smart (or BLE) and LoRaWAN will be used in applications that require low-cost sensors and long battery life, such as smart bins.

Would a single protocol dominate?

Pankaj Vyas, R&D MD of Telit, agreed that there are quite a lot of technologies that are vying for market share. But there are also those that aim to work well together as the requirements vary between applications. 

“There are multiple last-mile technologies that are competing against each other and there are technologies that are complementing each other,” Vyas said. “One way to look at it is, would a single technology dominate against another? This will be determined by the applications. If one were to look at an application like surveillance, then the technologies that really provide you high throughput connectivity are the ones required. If you look at something like devices or applications where it’s a typical sensor data like temperature, humidity, or air pollution, etc., then there is a very small data need on the link and it’s a different technology for that.” He added that when it comes to the question of which technology would dominate, it would be a technology that can give the customers conversions on price, a wide spectrum of applications from low throughput to high throughput, and low power consumption.

Asked if he would be able to point out one technology that would become more popular than others, Vyas indicated that he would place his bets on Wi-Fi. “I would say so, because Wi-Fi is a technology that can get you a low throughput also, and of course it can go all the way up to hundreds of megabytes per second. There are innovations that enable it to run on low power.” He added that another protocol that also has strong potential is Narrow Band IoT (NB IoT). Cellular technologies, on the other hand, provide internet uplink anywhere without needing existing broadband network which augurs well for applications/ topologies where usage of existing internet connection may not be possible.

Especially in sectors like security surveillance Wi-Fi would be of prominence according to Vyas. However, he added that other factors such as artificial intelligence and edge-based technologies would also come into play in surveillance of smart cities as customers move toward higher quality video footage and solutions like face recognition.

Knowing the advantages and disadvantages

Different wireless protocols would have distinct functions when it comes to smart city deployment. However, this is not to say that systems integrators (SI) should not be aware of the various strengths and benefits that accompany a protocol. In fact, knowing these could prove to be critical in ensuring that a particular project receives the right technology.

Julian Watson, Principal Analyst,
IoT, IHS Markit
“The most important thing is to work out choose the right technology for the right use case,” Watson said. “For instance, Wi-Fi will not be suitable for applications that need wide area connectivity, such as remote patient monitoring. There are some generic advantages and disadvantages of some protocols.”

For instance, Watson continued, public Wi-Fi, though not suitable for all applications, has already been extensively deployed in cities and can therefore be leveraged for smart city applications. Cellular technologies based on 3GPP are relatively expensive compared to unlicensed alternatives but have strong security credentials compared to other wireless technologies: security will be extremely important when managing critical smart city infrastructure such as traffic lights.

Speaking specifically of Wi-Fi, Vyas said that power consumption would be something that solution providers need to work further on. Apart from that there is also the need to work on the Wi-Fi topology. Wi-Fi can give customers last mile connectivity that goes all the way up to the internet but, for this to function well, the link must be established.

“This is where the role of systems integrators come in,” Vyas said, adding that how they design this topology that would have multiple Wi-Fi devices and one uplink would be a crucial factor.

Product Adopted:
Wireless Transmission

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