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Telcos Aggressively Expanding Smart City Services

— December 7, 2017

Among the essential building blocks for the smart cities market are communication networks that connect the sensors, controllers, cameras, and other hardware infrastructure capturing valuable data from the city environment. The need for urban connectivity is creating new opportunities for the telcos responsible for providing public wired or wireless communication services to government, consumers, and businesses. Telcos are increasingly making strategic acquisitions and extending their footprint into solutions and services for smart cities and Internet of Thing (IoT) application areas. Whether through established technology such as 3G/4G or potential disruptors like 5G and narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT), cellular providers are aiming to become the leading suppliers of connectivity for smart cities.

Significant Acquisitions and Service Offerings in North America

In recent years, a number of telcos have made bold expansions into the smart cities market. Verizon, for example, has been working to expand its presence in that industry. It made a major move to extend its footprint with the acquisition of smart street lighting and sensor network provider Sensity Systems in late 2016. Verizon is supporting a wide range of smart city applications, including transportation, public safety, city management, and smart buildings.

AT&T has also significantly increased its visibility in the market since its initial smart cities launch in 2015—notably through its role in the Atlanta and San Diego IoT platform deployment projects. It is supplying Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for short-range connectivity, plus fiber and LTE for backhaul to the cloud.

In early 2017, AT&T obtained exclusive rights to distribute the sensor nodes from Current powered by GE through a reseller agreement in the US and Mexico. AT&T will be the commercial lead on future smart cities projects, with Current as its technology provider.

Significant Global Acquisitions and Offerings

Telefónica, the Spanish-based global telecom provider, has also been targeting smart city opportunities. It was lead commercial partner in the SmartSantander project, which involved deployment of over 20,000 devices in Santander and the surrounding area (including sensors, repeaters, gateways, etc.).

French carrier and service provider Orange is leveraging its expertise in 4G, fiber, LoRa, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth to install a network of connected sensors for Romania’s Alba Lulia Smart City 2018 project. Telefónica and Orange Group are key players in the development of FIWARE standards—an open source initiative that aims to establish a standard for smart cities based on the FIWARE platform.

Most recently, Telestra, an Australian telecom company, acquired fleet management systems provider MTData and created a partnership with Melbourne-based Smart Parking. The company has already won contracts to install Smart Parking’s sensors in five Australian council regions.

Telco Expansion Challenges Non-Cellular Connectivity Providers

The aggressive telco expansion into the smart cities market should serve as a warning shot to other providers of urban connectivity such as RF mesh and Wi-Fi players. These providers should quickly move to protect market share by emphasizing their relative advantages over cellular (e.g., private networks, lower operating costs) and developing more vertical solution partnerships and connectivity capabilities.

While most cities are likely to have multiple providers and types of connectivity for different use cases, cellular providers are making a clear push to capture the high bandwidth segment of the smart city communication networks value chain. There is evidence that resistance to public cellular is declining in the utility sector. With the deployment of new cellular technologies such as NB-IoT and 5G on the horizon, the same is likely true for cities.

 

Evolving Smart City Strategies: Five Trends and a New Challenge

— December 5, 2017

During research for the UK Smart Cities Index 2017, we had the opportunity to discuss the current state of smart city development with smart city leaders and other key stakeholders. They are now seeing years of work on developing city innovation programs coming to fruition as smart city programs become central to city strategies and successful projects are deployed at greater scale. This momentum is reflected in a number of emerging trends.

Bridges between Innovation and Operations

The leading cities have laid strong foundations for the development of innovation both technically (in terms of test beds and platforms) and culturally (in terms of a trusted ecosystem of partners). The challenge now is to integrate this innovation culture with the day-to-day operations of the city. These cities are strengthening the links between innovation teams and city departments. New pilots and demonstrations are also being more closely aligned to city strategies and priorities.

Emergence of City Platforms

Cities are developing more cohesive strategies for the deployment of new technologies. In particular, they are taking a more strategic view on the future deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the necessary communications infrastructure. These cities have deployed or are planning large-scale deployments of low power networks, are vying to be test beds for 5G technologies, and are looking at future fiber needs to support these ambitions.

From Smart Cities to Smart Places

Smart city programs are branching out to include multiple local authorities and agencies at different tiers of government. A city-region approach enables closer integration across a range of services and offers the benefits of scale when applying for funding or tendering for new services or solutions. It also enables smaller cities and towns to be involved in more ambitious programs. At the other end of the scale, there is a growing focus on the development of smart districts and communities within cities.

City Partnerships

There is a strong desire among city leaders to build more public-private sector partnerships. One of the most notable developments in this regard is the increasingly close relationships that smart city programs are developing with local universities. Universities are not only providing research support, but are also often active players in defining projects, securing funding, defining strategies, and contributing to or providing leadership of programs.

A Holistic View on City Challenges

The opportunity to take a more holistic view of city challenges is one of the foundational concepts of the smart city movement. However, it is much harder to achieve in practice. The leading cities are now taking their experience with diverse pilot projects to develop approaches that embed such a perspective in the design of programs, scoping of projects, and measurement of benefits. Some cities, for example, are combining this with a focus on smart districts or communities where the complex interconnection between transport, health, energy, housing issues, and innovations can be tested at scale.

Learning to Manage Risk

These positive developments are leading to fresh assessments of the challenges facing smart city initiatives. While funding unsurprisingly continues to be a significant issue, the most commonly cited challenge to the wider adoption of new technologies was the ability of local government to accept and manage the risks associated with innovation—in financial, organizational, cultural, and technical terms. Finding new ways for cities to manage these risks—and the role that the private sector, national government, and other partners can play in reducing or underwriting that risk—may be the most important innovation of all.

 

Businesses Say Bring On IoT Regulations

— November 28, 2017

Most businesses do not seek new regulations from governments or regulatory agencies. They already have enough rules to play by. But when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), many take a different tack and are quite open to strong regulations since they are acutely aware of the many reported hacks or known vulnerabilities in things like webcams, baby monitors, and cardiac devices.

A new survey underscores this sentiment. 96% of business respondents saying there should be IoT security regulation, according to the study of 1,050 global IT and business decision makers conducted by Gemalto, a global digital security vendor based in the Netherlands.

Not only do business people see the need for enhanced IoT security, consumers do as well. The same Gemalto survey finds that 90% of consumer respondents (out of 10,500) believe there should be IoT security regulation. 65% of the same consumers are concerned about a hacker controlling their IoT devices.

Challenges Businesses Face

The leading challenge for companies trying to secure IoT products or services is the high cost of implementation (44%), according to the survey. That means companies either bite the bullet and invest in greater security for products or services or cut corners. The latter is obviously not a wise approach. It leaves customers too vulnerable to shoddy security in the IoT products or services they purchase. If spending remains a barrier, it could spell trouble for the emerging IoT market as a whole. With no baseline of security, IoT technology buyers will remain leery and unlikely to make purchases.

Another concern the study revealed is that only 6 out of 10 businesses encrypt all the data they capture or store via IoT devices. That means 4 out of 10 (or 40%) businesses do not, a major red flag. Not all data flowing from IoT devices is that valuable; the number of times someone turns on or off a connected light bulb is minor. But health records or personal financial details is another matter altogether.

Energy Sector Relatively Secure, So Far

So far, the energy sector has a fairly good record of thwarting attacks against devices, with some exceptions. Things like smart meters, substations, and other grid assets have remained safe for the most part. But there are many attempts to penetrate the grid, like earlier this year when nuclear facilities came under attack. Those attempts are likely to increase as more things connect to the grid through distributed energy resources and behind-the-meter devices like smart thermostats or EV chargers. Without stronger rules and incentives, the risks will rise significantly.

One can understand the desire for more stringent regulations for the IoT. The number of things connecting to the grid and other systems is growing exponentially, and so too the number of potential threats. A strong set of standards throughout the IoT value chain is needed to keep data, systems, and people safe. Strong rules will force vendors to devote the needed resources and money to make it happen sooner rather than later.

 

Organizations Work to Combat Security and Interoperability Concerns Surrounding IoT

— November 21, 2017

According to Navigant Research’s new IoT for Lighting report, global market revenue for Internet of Things (IoT) lighting is expected to grow from $651.1 million in 2017 to $4.5 billion in 2026. With the growing number of connected devices and plethora of continual new data generation, data security is a top concern. It is seen as a barrier to adoption for IoT lighting and other IoT technologies within the commercial building space. However, despite the challenges surrounding security, there are organizations that are working to improve security and address other key concerns, such as interoperability.

Addressing Security Concerns

A non-profit, the IoT Security Foundation (IoTSF) aims to make it secure to connect the growing number of connected devices so the benefits of IoT can be realized. In September 2017, IoTSF announced a Smart Buildings Working Group. The key function of the group will be to establish comprehensive guidelines to help each supply chain participant specify, procure, install, integrate, operate, and maintain IoT security in buildings. Intelligent building equipment and controls such as lighting, HVAC, fire, building security, and audiovisual will be included.

The Smart Buildings Working Group, though in its infancy, has already received positive feedback and responses to partnership requests from technology firms. Lighting vendors are starting to express interest, as well. The growing list of partners and participants includes Oracle, Honeywell, and global engineering firm Norman Disney & Young.

Fighting Interoperability

Many IoT lighting systems and lighting control systems are proprietary or modified versions of standards, such as ZigBee. Some customers prefer proprietary systems, as this can simplify discussion over a responsible party for any possible system malfunctions. However, for many, this leads to confusion around which systems to purchase and to fear that components or an entire system might become obsolete. Additionally, this limits coordinated controls within a smart building and can limit the idea of holistic operations within a building.

There are groups, such as the IoT Ready Alliance and the DesignLights Consortium (DLC), working to address interoperability for IoT lighting and other IoT devices. The vision of the IoT Ready Alliance is interoperability and future-proofing of lighting products and services. By helping to expand the number of products that are IoT ready, consumers are not required to make the decision right away. This essentially helps in future-proofing lighting in a time where continued technology advancements can make the decision to upgrade to an advanced lighting system difficult.

The DLC is also helping to drive the widespread adoption networked lighting controls through its Networked Lighting Controls Specification program by providing tools and resources for utilities, energy efficiency programs, and the lighting industry.

Marching Forward

While there are organizations to address these barriers to widespread adoption, the fight to combat security and interoperability concerns within the commercial lighting market and the broader IoT space has just begun. Organizations such as IoTSF, DLC, and IoT Ready Alliance, while making progress, cannot combat these issues alone.

Industry players from lighting manufacturers to startups to tech firms will need to provide support and partnerships for these organizations in order to achieve an optimal outcome. Although initial feedback to these organizations and their work is reassuring and a step in the right direction, time will determine the full support and true success of these programs.

 

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