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What 5G means for smart cities

The speed at which 5G is deployed worldwide will have a significant impact on how soon it will become the defining technology of smart cities, says Babak Beheshti.

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Today, approximately 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities. This will reach 68 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations.

 

By the same year, the continued migration of people from rural to urban areas, augmented by general growth of the earth’s population, will see an increase in another 2.5 billion residents to the world’s big cities.

 

Premise of smart cities

 

Managing the resources and operations of so many large cities can only be cost-effective and efficient if they are automated and connected – and this is the basic premise of smart cities.

 

The creation of smoother and safer living through a gradual digital transformation is already beginning in some world cities, but it does not end there. Streets, buildings, public and personal devices need to be interconnected.

5G is an enabling technology for IoT, and as smart cities essentially rely on IoT to function, 5G and smart cities are inextricably linked

Sensors must be placed everywhere to collect data. The massive amount of data generated by these sensors then needs to be communicated, analysed and fed back to the infrastructure to affect changes in the operation of smart cities.

 

As an example, Barcelona’s sensor-embedded parking spots already connect with an app that directs drivers to available spaces. Projects are also underway in cities including Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Columbus, Ohio to realise the smart city vision as well.

 

5G possibilities

 

5G brings about a massively improved platform to deliver scalable and reliable connectivity to the world. The technology is designed to be high data-rate and low-latency. These two characteristics allow for fast real-time transfer of data between two or more points. This will allow for many new applications to be deployed that were not possible before 5G.

 

Internet of Things (IoT) has become an instantly recognisable term. It refers to smart, web-enabled devices that have more of a fixed functionality, as compared to general purpose smartphones, tablets or computers. Examples of IoT devices include connected thermostats, security cameras, door-locks, and even connected kitchen appliances.

As you can see, CMTC services are very much aligned with the vision of digitally automating cities

5G is an enabling technology for IoT, and as smart cities essentially rely on IoT to function, 5G and smart cities are inextricably linked. As such, 5G will play a critical role in allowing information gathered through sensors to be transmitted in real time to central monitoring locations.

 

This web of connectivity will enable maintenance of the infrastructure and manufacturing systems, as well as robust flow control, adjustment and fine tuning of operating parameters to respond to real time fluctuations in the environment and processes, as they occur.

 

Machine communication

 

Specifically, 5G offers massive machine type communication (MMTC) and critical machine type communication (CMTC). MMTC is intended for a large number of IoT devices, effectively a large number of sensors and actuators sending a lot of data back and forth. Example applications include smart buildings, logistics and fleet management, as well as air and water quality monitoring. It is designed to be latency-tolerant, efficient for small data blocks to be transmitted or received, and to be sent on low bandwidth pipes.

 

CMTC is intended for applications where the data is delay-intolerant, and the critical nature of the data requires guaranteed and accurate transmission to the destination.

 

Examples of CMTC applications include unmanned applications such as autonomous vehicles, remote healthcare, traffic safety control and electric grid control. As you can see, these services are very much aligned with the vision of digitally automating cities.

MMTC is intended for a large number of IoT devices, effectively a large number of sensors and actuators sending a lot of data back and forth

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) is another enabling technology within 5G that will greatly impact smart city deployments. MEC is basically an architecture that provides computing and storage capabilities for applications at the edge of its internal network.

 

This cloud-based service environment allows for real-time, high-throughput, low-latency access to applications that are inherently intolerant of latencies. In traditional, centralised network architectures, these latencies are caused by traffic having to go through the entire network to a central point and then back to the end user equipment.

 

5G use cases

 

MEC use cases in 5G include all applications where processing and performing analytics on the stored data cannot tolerate the typical delays associated with uploading the data to the core of the cloud network, perform the processing and then download the results back to the end-user. This calls for the processing and storage to be pushed to the edge of the network, as possible to the end-user.

 

Examples of MEC use cases include:

  • self-driving cars that need to use machine learning techniques on large data sets to analyse and adapt to their environment. This is edge computing.
  • video-monitoring, which inherently creates huge amounts of data as its records. Edge computing allows significant processing and analytics to allow for high reliability motion detection, pattern recognition and more.
  • IoT, as it generates huge amounts of data that often need to be aggregated and analysed to understand and control the environment in which they are situated. Edge computing allows for these large data transfers and analytics to take place close to the IoT clusters and at the edge of the network.

Therefore, data generated by IoT devices can be processed at the network edge. This decreases bandwidth and energy consumption across the network and removes the need to go through the central cloud server. Specific smart city applications that can benefit from MEC include intelligent lighting, waste management, smart parking, water metering and environmental monitoring.

 

Privacy and integrity

 

Handling massive amounts of personal and mission-critical data calls for a secure communication network. The two fundamental components of security – privacy and integrity – are to be strictly safeguarded in a smart city. Privacy is defined as measures undertaken to prevent sensitive information from reaching the wrong audience, while making sure that the right audiences can access it.

 

Integrity involves maintaining the consistency, accuracy, and trustworthiness of data over its entire lifecycle. Data must not be changed in transit, and steps must be taken to ensure that data cannot be altered by unauthorised parties.

 

The end-to-end security built into 5G, along with the software defined differentiated security protection protocols, allows for diverse types and large number of devices to be connected to the network easily in a plug-and-play fashion, where the security parameters of each device type are customised to the applications and tolerances of the applications that use them.

Network slicing is key to meeting 5G’s diverse requirements, is a perfect fit for IoT and smart city applications

Finally, designing a network that can simultaneously support both a wide variety of use cases and demanding performance requirements, with a single set of standard network functions, is simply impractical to implement. On the other hand, ‘network slicing’, key to meeting 5G’s diverse requirements, is a perfect fit for IoT and smart city applications.

 

Network slicing enables the network elements and functions to be easily configured and reused in each network slice to meet a specific requirement. One slice simply looks like self-contained network that includes the core network and the RAN. However, each of these slices can have its own network architecture, security, quality of service and network provisioning as a result of the network virtualisation software implementations.

 

5G effectively allows a network slice to be a low-security, low-bandwidth network for one application and a high-security, high-reliability one for another application.

 

We are embarking on exciting times. The speed at which 5G is deployed worldwide will have a significant impact on how soon it will become the defining technology of smart cities.

 

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