Challenges to smart street lighting adoption

Challenges to smart street lighting adoption
Smart street lighting can offer multiple benefits for a city — environmental monitoring, traffic monitoring, smart parking, gunshot detection, traffic light controls, smart waste management, public messaging and high definition video surveillance, among others.
 
This wide range of applications could result in the global connected street lighting and smart lamppost market to expand at a CAGR of 33.1 percent from 2017 to 2024, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
 
However, cities looking to adopt smart street lighting face several challenges. 

Fragmented market for communication networks 

While there are many communication networks that can be used for smart street lighting, which one should a city adopt?

“There is no single networking option that works best for all smart street lighting use cases,” said Ryan Citron, Senior Research Analyst at Navigant Research. It depended on the types of smart city applications cities were looking to deploy, Citron suggested.
 
Ryan Citron, 
Senior Research Analyst, 
Navigant Research

Due to low barriers of entry, high flexibility and general ease of communications agency rules, radio frequency (RF) mesh has become a common and popular technology for smart street lighting. Power line carrier (PLC), outside of the U.S. and the U.K., has traditionally been the leading method of communication for smart streetlights in a networked system.
 
With the advent of 5G networks that bring faster speeds and massive device connectivity, cellular technology is also an emerging technology for smart street lighting.
 
“Navigant Research expects PLC, RF mesh, cellular and Wi-Fi solutions to continue to play a role in smart street lighting over the next decade,” said Citron.

Cameras for good or an invasion of privacy?

While smart street lights embedded provide a security function, some have raised privacy concerns.
 
Newark Liberty International Airport and several shopping malls in the U.S. started installing LED smart lightings with embedded cameras in 2014. As the advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Chad Marlow once put it: “I think rather than call them smart bulbs in smart cities, I’d call them surveillance bulbs in surveillance cities.”
 
As the officials want to provide public safety and traffic management through cameras embedded in the smart street lights, they also need to ease citizens’ concerns over their privacy being invaded.
 
“Suppliers and cities can reassure citizens by demonstrating that the data collected is anonymized and not used to gather information on individuals. Emphasizing this focus on metadata — and making the data publicly available — will help to alleviate surveillance and privacy concerns,” said Navigant’s Citron.
 
In Eindhoven, the Netherlands, for instance, their smart street lighting program received support from citizen partially because the city allowed for a participatory planning process involving the community over the course of the project.

Other difficulties: tight budgets, working silos

Cities with tight spending budgets could be the first to pull out from adopting smart street lighting. Although a better power management and LED lightbulbs could reduce electricity costs in the long-term, cities still need up-front funding to cover sunk costs.
 
In some countries, the streetlight ownership model could become a barrier to adoption. As street lighting is generally provided by a local utility, with the city paying a fixed rate per street light rather than for the actual electricity consumption, there is no cost incentive to invest smart street lighting. In this case, regulators might need to set other incentive to motivate the utility providers.
 
Last, departmental silos of city governments make smart street lighting deployments with additional smart city applications difficult to implement.

Benefits brought by smart street lighting and related applications require teamwork. If departments in the government aren’t working together, implementing additional sensor applications could be viewed as unnecessary and an added complication for cities. 
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