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Open standards and interoperability are the key to smart city growth

Phil Beecher, President, Wi-SUN Alliance, explains the value of open standards for smarter cities.


Smart city applications may still be in their infancy but the Internet of Things (IoT) is a true game-changer in terms of the opportunity it presents to unlock operational efficiency and improve quality of life.


There is still some way to go before we see widespread adoption of smart city technology but it’s gathering pace and spearheading the charge are cities including Chicago, Copenhagen and Paris.

Recent research undertaken by Wi-SUN Alliance to find out what the main challenges are for IT leaders in organisations in smart city and other IoT development sectors in the UK, US, Denmark and Sweden revealed that IoT implementation is happening on a wider scale and faster than perhaps many would imagine – over half (51%) of those investing have already fully implemented an IoT strategy.

For a city to remain competitive in today’s global marketplace, essential citizen services must be reliable, timely and efficient. Consequently, choosing the right communication network technology is a foundational step towards enabling a range of Industrial IoT and smart city solutions.

IoT networks

IoT networks, just like the internet, should be built on a set of standard protocols and structured to provide the flexibility to support this growing range of applications, as well as provide highly resilient connectivity. They must also be fault-tolerant while providing the capacity to deal with very large numbers of devices.

Our research also verified this, with over half (52%) saying that standardisation is what they’re looking for when evaluating these technologies. Other key criteria included network topology (58%) and communication performance (53%).


It’s heartening to see respondents so advanced in their planning and understanding of networks – with most (53%) favouring a combination of star- and mesh-based networks.

Mesh-based architectures have been designed with flexibility and adaptability in mind, and to maintain highly reliable connectivity even in the most challenging environments. With star-based networks, a physical obstruction can cause localised loss of coverage to part of the network that will prevent these systems from operating.

Within a mesh network, any device can connect seamlessly with its peers and can create multiple redundant connection paths across the network. Thus, mesh networks become more reliable and resilient as they grow.


If there happens to be a temporary outage, e.g. through power failure, the mesh will automatically re-route network traffic through an alternate connection path. Similarly, if the landscape changes, then the mesh will adapt to ensure continuous connectivity.

A mesh architecture provides greater resilience and flexibility than a star-based technology, making it a far better choice for smart city networks.

Open standards

The use of open standards is also important in IoT networks as it negates the need to be locked into one vendor and provides yet another advantage for smart city applications. Solutions built on open standards, supported by a certification programme for interoperability, provide the network operator with a choice of vendors, competitive pricing and the confidence of a continuity of supply.

In order to support multi-service networks, it makes sense for a local authority or municipality to use the same communications infrastructure for a wide variety of applications, such as street lighting, traffic management and smart parking, as well as applications as yet unknown. A single communications infrastructure not only avoids the replication of network equipment but enables new and smart functionality where different applications can interact and share data.

IoT will soon be transforming towns and cities near you with the aim of enhancing the lives of both consumers and organisations alike. There are many unknowns but one thing is certain – the cities which implement their IoT initiatives on an ecosystem using open standards are far more likely to succeed and grow than those who don’t.


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