Ubicquia adding cameras, mics, edge processing in new Wi-Fi cells for smart cities, 5G roadmap for small cells
Ubicquia, a maker of small-cell technologies that plug into streetlights, plans to integrate camera, microphones and Qualcomm edge processing in upcoming Ubicell devices that provide Wi-Fi coverage, as well as 5G support for its Ubimetro small cells, according to CEO Ian Aaron.
Modern wireless-broadband standards like 4G/5G LTE and Wi-Fi promise blurry-fast speeds, but they also require significantly more cell sites than older technologies to cover a similar area. By leveraging the dependable power inherent in streetlights, extremely small form factors—the Ubicell is about the size of a Dixie cup, and the Ubimetro is only slightly larger—and simplifying equipment installation, Ubicquia has designed its platform to address many of key pain points associated with densifying wireless networks, Aaron said.
“We don’t require the same permitting [as other small-cell technologies], because you just have to plug into the top of the streetlight, versus having to put equipment on the vertical poles,” Aaron said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We don’t have anything on the vertical poles. All of our products have integrated the full certified power metering—whether it’s our Ubicell or our Ubimetro—so you don’t need additional power-metering boxes. We’ve done a lot of work to make these product cost-effective.
“But in small-cell deployments, some of the biggest issues around deployments are the other logistical things—the permitting, the time, the construction. We are doing things to rapidly reduce that time and eliminate that permitting.
“There are a lot of small cells that are trying to get deployed, but they’re getting pushback from the cities because of too much power. They’re getting pushback from the cities because of too much equipment that doesn’t meet their beautification criteria. Those are things that are really front and center to us. If we can solve those problems—which we think we’re doing—we can really help carriers scale.”
Ubicquia also plans to help communities meet their smart-cities goals as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, Aaron said. Many cities already have deployed Ubicell technology, which has long supported smart-lighting functionality and Wi-Fi connectivity. Earlier this year, Ubicquia announced the capability to “sniff” MAC address of connected devices to provide cities and partners with valuable information about traffic near a given Ubicell.
“This is really solving problems that cities are having when they do construction, and they want to know about people movement that’s driven by the construction,” Aaron said. “This also good for mobile operators as they want to understand the best place to put a small cell, based on people, activity, congestion and dwell time. And this is something that is just available on every single Ubicell and can be activated in seconds just in software.”
This capability is not just valuable in densely populated urban environments, according to Aaron.
“We’re deploying in a small little city in Ohio. Every weekend in the summer, they have concerts,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Wow, we want to track how many people are at the concerts—how many people are coming in, how long are they staying?’ It’s amazing.
“We have another city that has farmers’ markets. They’re saying, ‘We never knew exactly how many people are coming to the farmers’ markets.’ We literally activate [the foot-traffic monitoring functionality], and we give them a report every weekend about how many people are coming and how long they are staying.”
Ubicquia also has announced a new version of the Ubicell with an integrated Qualcomm 845 Snapdragon processor that is capable of performing neural artificial intelligence and supports “a whole library of V2X [vehicle-to-X] services, according to Aaron.
This summer, Ubicquia will unveil a new Ubicell that includes four cameras and two microphones to help cities deal with “curb management,” Aaron said.
“It’s not designed for facial recognition, but it’s designed to be extremely cost effective,” Aaron said. “Plug it into a streetlight with LTE backhaul, and you can—for example, in New York—see that there’s garbage on the street and create a work order for said occasion. You can see that a car is double parked or causing traffic and create a notification.
“It’s really about all of the things that you typically see at the curb level, and how a city can manage that more effectively. We’ve got the processor memory and, obviously, the plug-and-play capability of the Ubicell, which makes it exciting.”
Even with the addition of the cameras and microphones, the Ubicell form factor only increases by 10 millimeters in height, according to Aaron.
In addition, the microphones and the processing power on the new Ubicells will provide cities with a cost-effective alternative to expensive gunshot-detection systems, Aaron said.
“We did some work for the Brazilian Military Police and built a software library that detects 365 guns,” he said. “Because we have these devices on the streetlights, we can triangulate and tell you the exact direction of the audio, do an analysis of the audio with the Qualcomm processor, and, because of the cameras, within a millisecond [of the gunshot] we can start capturing video or images.”
By integrating so many capabilities into its platform, Ubicquia hopes to make many Internet-of-Things (IoT) visions become a practical reality, Aaron said.
“Cities have been in this smart-city pilot purgatory for 10 years,” Aaron said. “We’re breaking that mold, and we’re creating products … that can scale across the city.”
Early this year, Ubicquia and AT&T announced a Ubicell pilot project with the city of Las Vegas. Aaron said the city of Las Vegas is please with the pilot and is wants to make a “pretty significant expansion” of the deployment to about 9,000 poles in the Las Vegas Innovation District.
Ubicquia also is working with wireless carriers to leverage its streetlight-based platform to help deliver the massive number of small cells needed to support densified 4G and 5G networks as inconspicuously as possible.
“There are a lot of small cells that are trying to get deployed, but they’re getting pushback from the cities because of too much power,” Aaron said. “They’re getting pushback from the cities because of too much equipment that doesn’t meet their beautification criteria. Those are things that are really front and center to us. If we can solve those problems—which we think we’re doing—we can really help carriers scale.”
Aaron said the first version of Ubimetro supports operations in the CBRS 3.5 GHz band and integrates with leading virtual-RAN providers like AltioStar and Mavenir. A version of the Ubimetro that supports 5G LTE is expected to be commercially available by the end of this year, he said.
Ubicquia hopes to have a Ubimetro small cell that supports 5G deployment on millimeter-wave spectrum in the middle of next year.
While many cities are outspoken in their objections to carriers’ deployment of pizza-box-sized small cells on poles and other locations, at least some have a very different attitude toward Ubicquia equipment, Aaron said.
“Let’s put it this way: We’ve got more cities than we can handle right now with their hands up, asking us to deploy,” he said. “It’s got to be coordinated with the carriers, and right now we’re only working with a couple.
“It’s a work in progress, but we’ve got a quite a few cities that are wanting to be part of our pilot program.”