24 May 2022 / by Alistair Fulton
Public utility operators were early adopters of Internet of Things (IoT) technology for cities that need to increase sustainability as well as make quality of life improvements for citizens and visitors. One of the biggest opportunities for the IoT sensor networks is to improve efficiencies and better manage natural resources.
Knowing how weather-related conditions such as rain and water levels are changing in real time can help prepare for and react to potential dangers faster to better protect infrastructure and the community. Connected sensors enable this data capture, advanced analytics uncover key insights, and long-range connectivity is important as sensors are in outdoor and harsh environments.
Low Power Sensors and Networks
Low power wireless sensors powered by batteries or solar cells can provide key data for such IoT networks, whether for water supply, electricity, smart buildings or logistics. Battery-backed sensors can be placed in many locations to provide as much data as possible and low power wide area networks (LPWANs) provide a long range link with a battery lifetime of decades, minimizing the cost of rolling out a monitoring network by avoiding the need for regular battery replacement cycles.
All of this data can be ingested into machine learning databases that can identify patterns, highlighting equipment that may be about to fail, and allowing resources to be provided more accurately. This is an essential element in optimizing the use of increasingly scarce resources and improving the quality of life of citizens in a city.
In fact, 84 percent of IoT deployments are currently addressing the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets defined by the United Nations according to a joint World Economic Forum and IoT Analytics report.
These sensor networks provide this actionable data across many parts of the smart city in several different ways. The early implementations have seen sub-GHz networks used for smart street lighting, air quality sensors and traffic monitoring.
The long range and low power of the LPWAN network allows sensors to be placed where they make the most sense to provide the necessary data, rather than placed depending on the available power or connectivity. These sensors link to gateways that feed the data back into enterprise software systems for real-time monitoring.
The range and robust design of the network means only a few gateways are needed to cover a city, and these can be rolled out quickly and easily in convenient locations by city governments, LPWAN network operators or even by citizens with a broadband connection and their own gateway.
As cities drive to become more sustainable, public lighting infrastructure provides an opportunity to improve energy efficiency via Cloud-based monitoring and management as well integration with other urban IoT capabilities like smart metering.
Sensors in smart buildings can provide more data on where the resources are needed. Cities need to optimize use of resources as they typically consume the most energy and create the most waste. Distribution grids struggle to balance production versus consumption. Providing highly accurate real-time data from LPWAN networks allows providers to take a more flexible and agile management approach, basing critical decisions on actionable data.
Using a sub-GHz LPWAN network gives more in-building penetration, allowing sensors to monitor room occupancy and building systems to manage the temperature, humidity and lighting to make the most efficient use of resources. With low power links running at 868MHz in Europe or 912MHz in the US, these sensors can even be self-powered, harvesting light or thermal energy from the building.
There is also a trend to use the 2.4GHz band that is also occupied by other protocols such as Wi-Fi and Zigbee (or now called Matter). Using rugged protocols from LPWAN networks with the economies of scale that come from having a single 2.4GHz design that works anywhere in the world can provide a lower cost, more reliable monitoring network for the smart building using battery-backed sensors.
Smart Home Networks
Smart building LPWAN technology is also making its way into the home. While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are the dominant smart home technologies, LPWAN technology is also used to provide reliable monitoring and set-up for a wide range of smart devices. With LPWAN technology in smart speakers, for instance, smart devices can be easily added to home networks.
This capability is being extended further in several ways. Using the smart speaker as an LPWAN gateway with a long range allows data from neighboring sensors to be picked up, giving more analysis of a local area.
Amazon Sidewalk, for example, is doing exactly this, providing a network of smart speakers around the city that act as gateways to collect data from the sidewalk and beyond.
Peer-to-peer networks are also emerging that provide the same function. With the right network architecture and incentives, a gateway set up in a house to collect sensor and security data can also be offered to neighbors and to the local authorities to provide a secure data collecting service.
Supply Chain Management and Logistics
Smart sensor networks can also be used throughout the logistic chain, tracking products from the factory through the smart city and into retail. With a standardized LPWAN technology, the same low-cost sensor that is used to track equipment as it moves through the manufacturing line can be used to track the unit securely as it ships to an online distribution warehouse or store and onto a customer.
The data from the sensor can even be used to set up the equipment in the smart home and set up any warranty or guarantee arrangements.
Should the unit be stolen, either in transit or from the warehouse, store or home, the LPWAN sensor can provide the location and potentially even disable operation, deterring theft and reducing waste. With the low power operation, a tiny coin cell provides this capability for many years.
While these tracking sensors can make use of national LPWAN networks, they are increasingly tapping into the smart home networks to provide that location data. Tracking data from a unit can be picked up by neighborhood networks across the smart city to provide real-time updates during delivery and at other times if necessary, with minimal costs.
Realising the Value of LPWAN
The value of a low-power, long-range wireless network is only just being realized for the smart city. Low-power, battery-backed or battery-free sensors can provide real-time monitoring of infrastructure, providing the data that is needed for the optimization of scarce resources across the city, reducing waste and saving costs.
The combination of IoT analytics and connectivity technology will accelerate intelligent decisions and improve overall response time for optimizing resources and responding to natural disasters.
While the infrastructure for these networks is already rolling out at a national level, there is also a trend for local implementation in smart homes, through emerging commercial and peer-to-peer services.
These are enabled by the long range capabilities of sub-GHz networks, providing connectivity for local sensors and tracking for supply chain management across the smart city, while 2.4GHz versions are helping to monitor and optimize the use of smart buildings.
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This article was originally published on smartcitiesworld.net