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The Cabling Infrastructure Behind Smart Communities

Date posted: 9 June 2021  –   Category: Cabling Services

Ask anyone to make a list of the most technologically advanced cities, and you’ll probably get a lot of large metropolises like Tokyo or London. Hull, a fishing town nestled along the river Humber, probably never makes it to anyone’s list. However, visit the city and you’ll find yourself experiencing some of the fastest Internet speeds in the UK. 

The country’s first full-fibre city is making the most out of these speeds and its relatively small population to make large leaps in urban IoT innovation. Experiments with placing sensors and using LoRa (Long Range) for functions such as waste management collection have been ongoing for years. 

Today, the city is working on its most ambitious tech project yet: creating a city-wide OS to tie all these different management systems together. What role do fibre optic networks play in the building of smart cities like Hull?

Cabling the City of the Future

Before a city can be smart, you have to build the neural pathways that turn separate systems into one unified, digital brain. Because the city of the future will not be built on one single concept. For instance, technologies like 5G and LoRa will be needed to support both high and low data transmitting wireless sensors. These connections will be built on the back of fibre cable networks. “The lifeblood of its potential will come from the wireline network,” according to a report by Deloitte on deep fibre connectivity.

Fibre optic cables provide the bandwidth needed to deploy IoT technologies at a city-wide level. These cables offer more than a thousand times more capacity than copper cables. More importantly, they’re less susceptible to electromagnetic and radio frequency interference–a characteristic that bustling smart cities will need to operate.

Connecting Technologies

Smart cities will generate massive amounts of data that will need to be monitored and analysed in real-time. Most of the information will come from systems that require the information be processed quickly, for efficiency and safety. Waste collectors will need updated collection reports to keep their route optimised. Smart traffic lights need to constantly be in sync. Buses kitted out with sensors have to transmit in real time to keep timetables accurate.

Most of these public assets will be connected to the grid via smart sensors. One of Hull’s first smart city experiments was attaching sensors to bins that alerted collectors when the receptacle was full, or if it was being vandalised. Such systems will rely on fast wireless protocols such as 5G and beyond to transmit data in real time.

To bring these individual – sometimes mobile – assets online, you’ll first need to build coverage. And this is where modern cities leave much room for improvement. The availability of 5G connectivity only hovers around 40 percent, even in highly urban cities like London and Liverpool.

To be operational, a smart city will need numbers a lot higher than that. Connected cities will have a variety of different sensors embedded within itself to capture everything from noise and air pollution, to how many parking slots are left in a certain area. Most of these will be wireless. Hooking them up to a secure and fast connection will require fibre-connected micro cells and antennas, spread strategically for maximum coverage. Micro cells can be installed onto public utilities like lampposts and traffic lights, making it ideal for dense cities with limited space for new cell towers. 

Fibre will also be needed to power new connectivity strategies, such as edge computing. Transmitting data back and forth to a data centre increases latency and data loss. Bringing the computational hubs closer to the source, such as energy plants or parking lots, can further help how fast we analyse and feed back data to the network.

In the future, fibre optic cables can even evolve beyond just being a highway for data, rather creating data themselves. Distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) is a technology that explores fibre’s ability to listen to the chatter passing through using vibrations. Most promising use cases are for detecting changes in pressure, which cities can use to detect leaks in pipelines and sewer systems.

City planning and day-to-day operations have always relied on data. Smart city systems provide a faster, more efficient way to collect these large volumes of information. 

But true transformation into the city of the future will not be about how much data you can amass. The end goal is to bring these disparate sources of data together under one unified platform. To be able to do that, smart cities need to be supported by robust fibre optic networks.

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