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Creating truly open cities: why interoperability and 6LoWPAN matter

Interoperability is the way forward for dynamic and effective smart cities, writes Gianni Minetti, CEO at Paradox Engineering.

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If you want to learn one of the best cases for interoperability, just go back to the foundation of the World Wide Web and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s intuitions. From the very beginning he had clear in his mind that if the technology had “been proprietary and under his total control”, it probably wouldn’t have taken off.


Today, cities and their citizens increasingly rely on connected devices and services. Applications based on the Internet of Things (IoT) contribute to deliver essential public services, improve quality of life, tackle climate change, increase public safety, and even promote inclusion and equality. However, the open standards body uCIFI Alliance reports that 82 per cent of smart city pilots fail due to a lack of maturity.

 

At Paradox, we have been developing and implementing IoT solutions for smart cities since 2011 and have found that projects built on interoperable technologies and open data models have a far higher success rate, since they grant superior flexibility and scalability with virtually no limit on how many devices and applications can be added over time.

 

6LoWPAN for mesh, interoperable urban networks

 

Interoperability is the ability of systems to share data and turn information into action without any access, implementation or usage constraint. In a city network, this means being able to integrate a number of different devices and applications on the same infrastructure, scaling up and adding new functionalities when and where needed.

Eighty-two per cent of smart city pilots fail due to a lack of maturity

The starting point to design an interoperable network is to move away from vendor-locked proprietary technologies and choose standard-based solutions and open data models. At Paradox Engineering, we believe 6LoWPAN is the right standard to provide cities with the flexibility to address today’s most pressing challenges and strategically plan for future applications.

 

6LoWPAN is an open source protocol stack whose various component parts make it ideal for connecting all sorts of devices to an IP network and transmitting data packets end-to-end across low power wireless networks. Based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, it enables all nodes to communicate in a mesh network using IPv6, the newest internet protocol.

 

A city can leverage 6LoWPAN to guarantee complete interoperability with all its internet-oriented applications over one single network. So, if a city begins its innovation journey by digitalising the street lighting infrastructure, 6LoWPAN grants the possibility to reuse the same smart network to run any other application, whether aimed at traffic and parking management, environmental sensing, or waste collection management. City stakeholders can be confident in the knowledge that there will be no barriers when it comes to adding new devices and applications to the network.

 

It is estimated that smart city projects using proprietary technology cost 30 per cent more than those using standard, open technology like 6LoWPAN. That’s because proprietary systems generate more complexity, can lead to duplicated implementation and maintenance costs, impossible or expensive integration with other systems, and run the risk of obsolescence and ultimately a poor return-on-investment. Also, 6LoWPAN offers free unlicensed bands with no recurring fees or costs, and it is natively designed to be energy efficient.

 

Interoperability, the road ahead

 

But is 6LoWPAN alone the answer to full and durable interoperability queries? Not exactly.

 

While we promote open standards and protocols, we should adopt an ecosystem approach to further accelerate innovative smart cities and other relevant industries such as MedTech, FinTech and PropTech. Cooperation and knowledge-sharing would speed up progress for everyone.

 

In this spirit we support the uCIFI Alliance in its effort to expand and complement existing international IoT connectivity standards by specifying a unified data model and interface across multiple IoT technologies. The Alliance brings together industry players, including our parent company MinebeaMitsumi, many utilities and cities.

Cooperation and knowledge-sharing would speed up progress for everyone

The technical workings to share standards and develop open hardware and software will not only unlock true interoperability for cities, but also allow communities to innovate and grow.


Nowadays smart cities cannot be limited to connecting devices and automating services; they are about data becoming tangible value for the benefit of all. Taking advantage of the same urban network and mashing-up different data streams, universities, start-ups and local businesses can design their own innovative services, stimulating mutual development.

 

Information is the new asset class for cities and it’s time to turn investments aimed at cost-savings into opportunities for sustainable, inclusive growth, leveraging interoperable infrastructures to engage citizens and local stakeholders in open innovation cases.

 

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