Why Bandwidth Matters for Smart City Solutions

Authored by Denise Pucilowski, the Director of Innovation for Intelligent Cities at Current.


cable bandwidth photo


This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on September 5, 2019. You can connect with Denise on LinkedIn and see her original post here.


The dreaded buffering wheel. You know the one…it sneaks up on you usually when you need a strong connection most. Whether it’s uploading a file for a deadline, connecting to an important conference call, or streaming a video during a presentation—no matter the situation, suffering through the endless spinning wheels can be miserable and futile. And for intelligent cities, a lack of adequate bandwidth can be crippling and counterproductive to smart city technology investments, inhibiting cities’ ability to tackle problems with unprecedented speed and scale. Inadequate networks cause a delay in information. Those lags, on the more serious side, can impact first responders attempting to provide proactive, faster emergency response times. But it can also cause frustration for drivers circling the block because—perhaps due to a delay in data—a city-provided parking app incorrectly navigated them to a space already occupied.


Recently, I got into a discussion with another professional in the industry about different use cases for high and low bandwidth technologies. We both recognized varying levels of bandwidth may serve different purposes, but we disagreed on what bandwidth an intelligent city required. Smart cities may be more than smart technology, but intelligent cities still need a strong digital framework and architecture to provide a base for the future.


Understanding the Bandwidth Spectrum

Today, high bandwidth is needed for enriched data, such as traffic light controls or video streams. Municipalities may not see the purpose or even need for these use cases now—but future use cases and their success may hinge on the ability to handle complex, enriched data.


Technology/Application Suitability Map


For basic metering and controls, lower bandwidth networks can serve well. But for options like traffic optimization and adaptive signal control, higher bandwidth is necessary. Broadband supports the analysis and potential transfer of video, audio and more data sets, which will likely be essential when dealing with rich data streams and use cases.


Some companies try to sell cities on low bandwidth systems, but these networks are not extensible; which is just a fancy way of saying they cannot be upgraded in the future to allow for more throughput. Relying on low bandwidth now and hoping these networks will serve you in the future is not a good strategy. This is like buying a computer with finite memory—what will you do when you inevitably need more? Buy a new network and more equipment, ultimately raising costs, delaying timelines and postponing use cases?


Look to the Past to Gauge Future Bandwidth Levels

When deciding which level of bandwidth is right for a given city, it is critical to examine both the specific goals for today and the possible use cases of tomorrow. Smart city technology has a symbiotic relationship with your long-term goals and vision: You can only achieve those goals if you have adequate digital infrastructure in place, and the type of framework you set up will influence future investments, goals and decisions.


Not convinced that future use cases are limited by the network? Look at how file sizes are changing over time, or how the amount of data we collect is growing exponentially. One IDC report predicted that the global datasphere will grow from 33 ZB in 2018 to 175 ZB in 2025.


Annual size of the global dataspere


Not only is the amount of data growing, but that data is also becoming more critical to our daily lives and moving in near real time.


how much of global datasphere is in realtime


This massive growth in data volume, size and importance necessitates higher bandwidth. Only large bandwidth networks will have the capacity to support the complex use cases that could positively impact your city.


Before buying any smart city technology, take a step back and lay out your city’s pain points, your citizen complaints, and your city’s goals. Then it’s time to ask:


  • What use cases would you like to implement in your city, and in what order?
  • What type of data would you need for these use cases?
  • Does the ideal data need to be delivered in different mediums (e.g., video, audio, alerts)?
  • What information central to solving use cases is currently missing?
  • What is the cost of using Wi-Fi versus cellular networks?
  • How could new information shape actions or policies around these issues?


Asking tough questions of your city, its citizens and its departments is the first step, and the answers will influence your smart city strategy and as a result your bandwidth decisions. Digital infrastructure should meet your immediate needs while still providing a foundation for the future. It must be able to support complex applications and enriched data—while it may seem costly initially, the implication of a lack of bandwidth or a collection of incompatible, add-on point solutions can cost a city a lot more.


The network provider you choose at this stage will also impact the type of digital infrastructure you implement, as well as how you plan for the future. For example, a lighting control company may have a proprietary network that it requires customers to use to build out their networks. Unfortunately, this is often a poor choice for cities. Not only is there no guarantee that the company’s selection is the best fit for your city, but you are also taking considerable risk by trusting your data to these suppliers. That’s why Current partners with leading professional networking companies like AT&T and Nokia to transport data securely, resiliently and reliably. They understand how to best position networks today while still building for the future.


If you can come to terms with concepts like bandwidth, then, app development and technology advancements enabling actionable data could be just around the corner.


There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Intelligent City

Collaboration is the cornerstone of any intelligent city, and that extends to the process of choosing a network and setting expectations for the future. Are you leveraging public-private partnerships to understand how others will be looking to use data? Are utilities and other businesses sharing plans, innovations, and costs? Does your city or its partners have dark fiber that could be applied to intelligent initiatives? Your partners, along with your goals, will have an impact on your final decision.


As Navigant Research noted, “There is no single answer to the question of which is the best street lighting network for a given city. The challenge for municipalities is to balance short-, medium-, and long-term requirements against the costs and benefits of different network options. Does the proposed network have the bandwidth, flexibility, and functionality to meet current and anticipated needs at an affordable cost?”


Your city’s vision for the future will dictate the type of smart city technology you need. Are you setting goals and expectations for the world of tomorrow? Or will you be stuck staring at a buffering wheel?


Want to learn more? See how Current is empowering smart cities. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to discuss your thoughts on smart city infrastructure or to figure out the right smart city strategy for your situation.