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Accelerating city digitisation and avoiding silos with interoperable IoT data model and LPWA networks

Open and interoperable data models will help cities speed up the deployment of smart technologies, writes Stephane Dejean, Chief Marketing Officer at Kerlink.

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In association with the uCIFI Alliance.

 

As highlighted in a market report lead by SmartCitiesWorld and released in November 2019, decision-makers at cities, utilities and integrators admit that they regularly encounter three types of challenges to successfully roll-out their IoT projects.


First, they recognise that they currently have few, if any, controls on the data generated by the sensors deployed on the city territory. They are also too dependent on the solution provider for their collection and treatment – the silo effect – whatever the type of use case.

 

Second, they claim to spend too much money in a never-ending effort to become familiar with proprietary data formats or try to bypass this situation by integrating APIs in intermediate layers to reach something as close to an interoperable standard as they can get.

 

Third, and consequently, they decide not to deploy IoT projects, for fear of committing public money to dead-end single-source supplier systems that lack interchangeability, scalability and sustainability over the long run.

 

Enabling better and quicker decision-making

 

A first obvious and pragmatic answer to these challenges is to leverage a jointly agreed way to format the data created by the sensors on the field, whatever the type of application (street lighting, parking, water management, waste collection, environmental sensors, traffic monitoring, building efficiency, safety etc).

Smart city projects could cost 30 per cent less if they were leveraging really open solutions, that would probably dramatically reduce the rate of 82 per cent smart cities pilots’ failures currently observed on the market.

Making it uniform and transparent would not only simplify the integration of new applications, build strong synergies between applications and produce enriched and actionable data for better and faster decision-making, it would also enable cities to capitalise on existing infrastructure, software and applications to merge operations. This would come without the need to twist and adapt the communication infrastructure, if not finally adding a brand new communication layer to the existing ones to support the city new needs or plans.

 

Initiatives do already exist to define a “common language” between communication networks and application central management layers, like the TALQ consortium or the DALI technology, or within the software platform itself, like the FIWARE open source platform. However, until recently what was missing was a joint initiative to converge on a common data model that could enable a quick, easy and native communication format between connected sensors, communication networks and application software. This type of unified payload structure was undoubtedly key to enabling cities to avoid vendor lock-in and offer a more flexible and wider sourcing for sensors, to combine different solutions to fit their specific needs and to eventually swap solutions already deployed in case of issues such as performance, security, remote management or sustainability.

63 per cent of cities rank the lack of interoperability between smart city devices as number one in the list of hurdles that prevent them from deciding for full deployment

This unified data model highlights the opportunity to deploy additional use cases with less risks and less integration effort throughout a city’s digitisation path, but also to retake possession of existing solutions and potentially shake the yoke of their current suppliers to make them more performant, more flexible to open their proprietary solutions or more cost-efficient. The purpose of the initiative driven by the uCiFi Alliance is clearly to fill this gap and to offer a relevant complementor to already existing open building blocks.

 

Connectivity is a key asset

 

A second and complementary answer is to give the choice of an alternative connectivity solution that really fits the purpose. Most smart city use cases do not require expensive infrastructure, low latency, high bandwidth and throughput, or demanding QoS. Instead, they require energy-efficient design, easy, flexible and cost-effective deployment, widespread coverage, deep indoor penetration and high scalability to absorb an increasing number of connected sensors of all kind - the massive IoT.

 

These new types of networks are an exciting alternative to existing proposals by offering cities the tremendous opportunity to deploy, operate and potentially monetise a carrier-grade IoT connectivity on their own. Low Power Wide Area Networks (aka LPWAN) are thus able to offer the appropriate performance, capacity and scalability and they are increasingly perceived as key assets that cities can directly own or control, financially and/or operationally.

 

Key drivers for such choice potentially include the desire for increased autonomy/independence in the way connectivity solutions are implemented, whether coverage, operations, access or security), an improved trade-off between financial investment conditions and business models throughout the smart city solution’s lifetime, and a more reactive indoor and outdoor coverage optimisation for demanding use cases.

 

This may also help to federate citizens around open data initiatives and to position privacy-compliant by design city projects. LPWAN is an alternative to consider as it answers both technical requirements and financial advantages while bringing the openness and richness of a thriving ecosystem made of sensors makers, connectivity vendors, applications providers and solutions integrators. This expertise in the entire IoT value chain grants the availability of many validated use cases that can be easily replicated and scaled.

 

From rural towns to bustling large metropolises, city officials and decision-makers around the world are facing the increasing challenges of climate change, population growth, access to basic sanitation, energy supply and management, infrastructure development and mobility. Officials should consider more flexible and scalable tailored network capabilities and capacities, or the ability to rely on a partner that can quickly and easily adapt to evolving collaboration models between several parties. This would accommodate the needs of public services and authorities, service providers and users, while addressing both their technical needs and financial challenges.

 

If leveraging IoT solutions can definitely help authorities to monitor critical indicators for faster and better decision-making, the use of open and interoperable data model and connectivity network will accelerate their deployment, streamline their operations and cut their overall costs.

 

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