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Verizon and NEC use existing fibre cables to collect traffic and road data

Cities may be able to avoid ripping up roads to install new technology and use what’s already there. The approach could have applications in public safety, infrastructure-monitoring and more.


In a recent proof-of-concept field trial, Verizon and NEC used network infrastructure with existing fibre optic cables already laid in the ground as distributed optical sensors to collect information on city traffic patterns, road conditions, road capacity and vehicle classification information.


The trial used new optical sensor technology developed by NEC with software underpinned by artificial intelligence (AI) for intelligent traffic monitoring, including the measurement of vehicle density, direction, speed, acceleration, deceleration and more.


A statement from Verizon explained: “Historically, companies have had to lay purpose-built fibre very shallow in the ground with fibre grating at pre-determined intervals to gather and synthesise this type of information. Now, with optical sensor technology developed by NEC, Verizon is able to use non-purpose-built fibre already in the ground to generate similar data.”



New applications


Verizon says the approach could lead to new or improved solutions for smart cities, such as helping first responders detect and respond to gunshots and helping municipalities to identify deterioration of bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure earlier and more easily.


The approach could lead to new or improved solutions for smart cities, such as helping first responders detect and respond to gunshots.


“This test marks an important milestone for technology that could provide a huge leap forward for those building smart cities and those tasked to manage them,” said Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of technology planning and development, Verizon.


“Instead of ripping up tarmac to place road and traffic-sensing technology, cities will be able to simply piggyback Verizon’s existing fibre optic network.”


Verizon notes that it has hundreds of thousands of miles of fibre already in place in the US and plans to deploy 1,400 miles of additional fibre per month.


“The breadth of geography where Verizon can mine for data to assist municipalities’ efforts is substantial,” the company said.

Eric Woods, Research Director, Smart Cities, Navigant Research, told SmartCitiesWorld: “This is potentially a very useful development. One of the biggest challenges for cities as they look to increase the granularity of data they collect on transport services and infrastructure is how to instrument existing infrastructure.


"Anything that enables existing assets to be used to deliver ’smart’ solutions will be valuable."


“Digging holes is expensive and inconvenient, even before you consider technology costs. Anything that enables existing assets to be used to deliver ’smart’ solutions will be valuable.”

Under the hood


Verizon used a fibre-sensing system alongside existing Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) communication channels on the same fibre with minimal impact on the fibre’s data transmission capacity.


NEC said in a statement that this makes it suitable even on congested networks and marks the first time that a 36.8Tbps data transmission system and distributed optical-fibre-sensing have been successfully demonstrated together through an operational telecom network.


Results from the trial can be found here.


The trial used AI tools such as convolutional neural networks and software vector machines to leverage distributed intelligent traffic informatics, through a single, integrated interrogator.


The distributed, multi-parameter sensor system evaluated various properties of back-scattering light, to derive data about the static strain, dynamic strain, acoustics, vibrations and temperatures for each fibre segment.


From them, users could identify detected signatures and translate the back-scattering signals into actionable information over a wide area, which was not possible using conventional sensors.


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