Municipalities worldwide are looking to invest in multi-purpose, citywide broadband networks, thereby creating a "smart city." They are doing so not only are to better manage multiple local government applications such as traffic management, utilities automation and video surveillance, but also to offer residents a better lifestyle and access to new opportunities through broadband services.

Smart city initiatives provide a cost-effective and efficient approach for managing the city's day-to-day operations. To do so requires a single, multi-purpose network for a wide range of applications and services, a network that can deliver more real-time access to information, enable better collaboration between different agencies and enhance situational awareness.

A smart city also can be a safe city. Safe-city applications require reliable network infrastructure with high capacity and low latency to ensure the quality of video, data and voice applications, as well as immediate access to data. A wireless infrastructure offers the required reliability along with an improved business case, which is driven by the ease of wireless installation and the ability to deliver multiple services over the same service area.

Safe-city projects can encompass a broad range of applications that leverage the same infrastructure for the overall benefit of residents and to offer revenue-generating municipal services. Such applications can include:

  • Public-safety alarms and alerts,
  • Video surveillance,
  • Intelligent traffic control,
  • Transportation security and access,
  • Automatic meter reading,
  • Municipal access,
  • Mobile work force,
  • E-services (e-health, e-education), and
  • Residential access.

Managing a safe city involves a vast web of independently mandated departments, from law enforcement agencies and fire/emergency medical services to hospitals, government agencies and civilian interfaces — with an even vaster array of devices, needs and security considerations. The wireless technology choice is just one piece of the puzzle; system integrators need end-to-end solutions that address all application requirements and, of course, the seamless integration between them. Successful safe-city network infrastructure ideally will use a best-of-breed architecture that includes point-to-multipoint, point-to-point and mesh wireless topologies for different applications. In addition, the infrastructure needs to be robust, secure and flexible to accommodate growth, in order to support both current and future applications.

While broadband wireless solutions are becoming increasingly popular for safe-city connectivity, municipalities need to consider several key factors when evaluating infrastructure options. These include the breadth and depth of the solution portfolio, including both licensed and license-exempt products, the degree to which solutions are optimized for safe-city and municipal wireless connectivity, and the ability to support creative revenue streams by enabling the addition of commercial applications and services that provide a compelling return on investment.

For example, the city of Houston realized it needed a city-wide wireless network for both its residents and municipal operations. The network it deployed enabled the city to do the following:

  • Provide free broadband access to more than 300,000 residents in underserved, underprivileged communities;
  • Work with school districts and churches that are building computer centers, where kids can get free Internet access and have a safe environment to stay and learn — 20 centers already are available today;
  • Improve safety throughout the city through improved traffic control, including remote control of school zone lights to ensure the safety of children; and
  • Read water meters remotely, which reduces costs and improves the control of water use.

Clearly, municipalities can create significant efficiencies to their day-to-day operations through the use of a unified communication infrastructure. By deploying a wireless broadband network, cities can better manage multiple local government applications and offer their residents a better lifestyle and access to new opportunities.

Today's infrastructure must be ready for tomorrow, i.e., it must be scalable to support additional devices, mobile connectivity, new bandwidth requirements and real-time application deployments. Realizing the full business potential of a safe-city project requires a network infrastructure that meets diverse application requirements while controlling CapEx and OpEx. It must provide ubiquitous metro connectivity with standard IP interface to end-point devices, and support mobility and coverage that reaches the most remote locations. Reliable connectivity in harsh outdoor conditions is critical, as is the ability to deliver 100% uptime — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.

A safe-city project incorporates multiple applications, some of which are time-critical, such as traffic management, while others may be bandwidth-intensive, such as video surveillance. The safe-city wireless infrastructure must include quality-of-service networking elements to set appropriate priorities for different applications and users. These will minimize data latency and guarantee a certain level of performance by reserving bandwidth for more-important applications, while those that are less important get bandwidth on a best-effort basis. Further, safe-city applications require the highest level of security, as does the network infrastructure that supports it. The security mechanisms within the network must not have a negative impact on performance, which could adversely impact revenue-generating applications.

Safe-city network infrastructure must provide seamless interoperability between disparate applications to communicate critical incident information and to ensure collaboration between agencies and jurisdictions. Moreover, the network infrastructure should be able to leverage future investments in surveillance equipment and revenue-generating applications, and adhere to open standards that enable integration of emerging devices, applications and technologies. Providing IP-based network infrastructure solutions ensures a future-proof implementation, lowering total cost of ownership while enabling adoption of new services and devices as they develop and mature.

Finally, proactive management is paramount to maintaining the availability and performance of the network and the applications it supports. The majority of safe-city applications involve outdoor network devices that are subject to vandalism or damage as a result of harsh weather conditions. The ability to detect changes in performance, identify intrusions and other network impacts will contribute significantly to the value of the safe city as a whole, while maintaining public confidence and respect for individual rights and privacy. Therefore, centralized network management is essential.

Wireless broadband networks create a new and more-efficient paradigm for public-safety agencies to work together, save costs and optimize utilization of existing manpower. Wireless systems link disparate devices and systems of the safe city in a network that is independent of landline infrastructure. This enables real-time, mobile broadband access to critical databases, seamless voice services, live video feeds from geographically spread surveillance cameras and a host of other services in a single, reliable network.

Wireless technologies make it possible to add and place cameras in locations previously inaccessible, and offer the quality of service, high capacity, high availability, built-in data encryption and low latency that is essential for real-time, high-resolution video streaming over large geographic areas. Wireless broadband also offers the flexibility to provide mobile voice, video and data coverage so that municipal agencies always are ready for the unexpected, such as accidents, fires, crime scenes and attacks, as well as the expected, such as sporting events, rallies and municipal celebrations and special events.

Cost-effectively deploying networks that support such capabilities poses many formidable challenges, but these can be met by choosing the right broadband wireless network technology and infrastructure. Fourth-generation WiMAX technology, based on the IEEE 802.16e standard, has the features and attributes necessary to meet the cost, performance and coverage demands required for a wide-area, cost-effective, all-inclusive broadband municipal network. WiMAX also can support complex video-surveillance deployments within safe-city networks, and its scalability makes it the ideal technology choice in terms of bandwidth capacity, geographic expansion and installation of new sites.

Dana Nehama is the vice president of product management for 4G solutions provider Alvarion.

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