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Smarter cities with edge computing

David Rose, Veea, explains how edge computing helps deliver smarter cities.

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David Rose, Veea
David Rose, Veea

Smart cities are beginning to shift from initial pilots and projects to more wide-scale deployments. At the heart of the smart city is the widespread deployment of IoT (Internet of Things) sensor networks, which provide a regular flow of data that allows for effective and efficient management services and assets.

 

Typical deployment scenarios include everything from tracking buses to traffic light management, street lighting control, air quality and refuse monitoring.

 

While these offer clear operational benefits for the city, the various applications also create considerable data streams, which can risk overloading networks if they are forced to remain in constant contact with cloud-based data centres.

 

In addition, the wireless networks these sensor networks use for backhaul, whether Wi-Fi or cellular, can’t usually guarantee coverage, even in the most developed cities. While 5G is being positioned as the panacea for many of these problems, the reality is that it is still years from widespread commercial deployments and lacks use cases which justify the cost.

 

However, there is new technology that offers a solution to cities and that can help them reap the full benefits from becoming ‘smarter’ – edge computing.

 

The rise of the edge

 

The standard Internet model relies upon having continual connections to the cloud – where services are typically hosted, in giant server farms run by the likes of Amazon, Microsoft or Google.

 

However, the past few years have seen a growth in a complementary model called edge computing, whereby processing and storage shifts to computers located at the very edge of the network – as close as possible to the end-points and devices they are servicing.

 

With edge computing, data processing and storage shifts to computers located at the very edge of the network – as close as possible to the end-points and devices they are servicing.

 

This offers a number of benefits, including allowing services to continue to operate when there is no connection to the Internet, and allowing localised processing of data. This significantly reduces the network load, with only critical information being transmitted across the network.

 

The edge solution

 

Edge computing allows the development of applications that can operate independently of an Internet connection. Networking a number of these boxes together creates a distributed computing resource and Wi-Fi network spread across parts of a city.

 

Multiple edge servers can span the area and mesh to form a network. Based on open-source software, the solution enables applications and services normally run centrally to run locally at the edge.

 

Typically, multiple edge servers can span the area and mesh to form a network. Based on open-source software, the solution enables applications and services normally run centrally to run locally at the edge.

 

This enables:

  • Autonomous operation if backhaul coverage is lost
  • Lower latency because applications are nearer to the source of information
  • Reduced demand on backhaul links as more data is being processed locally
  • An open platform enabling third-party developers to create new smart city applications

The technology provides an attractive and resilient platform for cities, while at the same time reducing backhaul costs – both through the amount of data required and the sharing of connections through the creation of a mesh network.

 

In action

 

Beyond the obvious operational cost savings and resilience benefits, the presence of edge application platforms also opens up the possibility of developing a limitless range of applications which can be added to and managed via a single platform, rather than being individually siloed across a multitude of different management devices.

 

As with any computing platform, once deployed, software developers can also create additional applications that utilise the platform to leverage existing technology to the benefit the city and its citizens.

 

Potential services can include:

  • Streetlighting: Many cities are in the process of upgrading their streetlights from sodium to lower-power LED. With the major cost of these upgrades being the physical fitting, adding an edge appliance can provide lighting controls, but also offer a route to deploying a ubiquitous platform on which other applications can be developed.

  • Security Cameras: With CCTV cameras being a critical tool in modern policing, edge computing can allow simple low-cost wireless IP cameras to be deployed, with footage stored locally and only accessed when required. This offers considerable backhaul cost savings.

  • Worker messaging: Secure high-bandwidth messaging services running on an edge computing platform would be able to operate on standard smartphones or tablets, without requiring an Internet connection – providing a highly resilient system for city workers and first responders.

  • Sensor monitoring: With IoT sensors being increasingly embedded in everything from rubbish bins to traffic lights, there is a huge amount of data being generated. By using edge computing, these sensors can be monitored locally, with data only being communicated centrally when there is a reading that is out of the ordinary or a fault that needs reporting.

  • Connected parking meters: The edge system provides a resilient network for monitoring systems such as parking meters. This allows data to be transmitted to a central hub only when required – such as in the event of a fault – and can also provide data on available parking spaces.

The benefits of smart cities are clear and well understood. However, there are significant challenges both in the huge amount of data that they will generate and in creating the necessary network infrastructure to support a huge increase in the number of end devices.

 

Edge computing offers a solution to many of these problems – opening up a world of possibilities for smart cities while at the same time delivering benefits critical for municipal systems, including cost savings, low latency and resilience. It also provides a computing platform that not only benefits cities as a whole, but also citizens directly.

 

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