Local, Mobile, Global: Smart City Networking Technology Choices Drive Edge Compute Neutrality by Aaron Allsbrook

February 4, 2020

There is no single approach to rolling out Smart Cities which are often built project-by-project, making the architecture understandably complex, and often siloed. The foundation of any Smart City environment lies in connecting physical things in the built world (buildings, street lights, surveillance systems, traffic lights, bridges, tunnels, transportation systems and more) to the digital world where connectivity and data transfer allow for the control and improvement of the environment and people’s lives.

While many systems within advanced urban areas will continue to be connected by fiber-optic networks and other “fixed” solutions, given the millions of sensors, actuators and gateways Smart Cities include, wireless communications, especially as we see 5G networks coming online enabling faster and more reliable speeds, allows for faster rollouts which scale more easily.

The rise of Smart City projects, many funded by large public/private partnerships, is poised to accelerate further in 2020, and it’s challenging for the designers, engineers, developers, and consortiums to keep up with growing demands for expansion and reconfiguration, particularly as the ROI is now proven, moving proof-of-concepts into mass adoption simply to save money (and lives).

The use of wireless technology makes this a “moveable feast” as nodes may move around, be added, and be combined with other modes (for example, street lights that go beyond controlled LED lighting to include cameras, air quality sensors, and even gunshot detectors).  We envision the investment of laying more and more fiber optics to support IP networks which are accessed with wireless communications, and the combination of local-only edge computing networks with Internet access to deliver data to cloud-based applications which may not need the same low latency performance as is required in closed-loop systems supporting automated systems.

Smart City opportunities have greatly influenced the development of a range of wireless technologies, moving beyond IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi), trialed decades ago in the early days of Smart City development and found largely unsuitable for IoT, Industrial IoT (IIoT which, by the way, is deeply related to Smart City approaches).

Some industry observers and participants categories Smart City wireless technologies according to ti traditional classification based on range: Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPAN), Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN), and Wireless Metropolitan Area Networks (WMAN).

Others classify as Cellular Mobile Networks, IoT-Dedicated Cellular Networks, and Multi-Tier Networks, design around little or no human interaction for Machine-To-Machine (M2M) or Machine-Type communications (MTCs).

IoT-dedicated cellular network technologies are succeeding when they answer the requirement for low-cost, low-energy applications with limited traffic requirements, and include technologies including LoRaWAN, SigFox, Weightless, and more.  Multi-Tier networking types include IEEE 802.15.4 based protocols, including ZigBee, WI-SUN (802.15.4g), ULP (802.15.4q), Wireless M-Bus, Z-Wave, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), WiFi Low Power (802.11ah), and others.

Part of what is driving this cacophony of choices is the broad range of Smart City applications, including Smart Streets, Smart Buildings, Smart Public Venues, Smart Public Transportation, Smart Energy, Smart Water Management, Smart Waste Management, Smart Environment (weather, air, noise monitoring), Smart Safety, Smart Government, Smart Schools, and more.

Thus – the layers of combinations and complexity create exponential options and, when left unchecked, can drive up unexpected costs and risks, especially in projects where the private and public sector have come together to roll out systems intended to last lifetimes.

There are obvious classifications; for example, Bluetooth/Bluetooth Low Energy, IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee are often chosen for interconnecting workplace devices and may make sense for very local, short-range communications.

Long-range technologies are designed for covering large areas and often designed as point-to-point or point-to-multipoint networks, which are often owned by an Internet Communications Service Provider, government or commercial enterprise.  Low-Power WANs (LoRa, LoRaWAN, SigFox, etc) are winning based on their lower-cost mobile and secure bidirectional communication and are very popular for smart grids and metering, smart street lighting, smart buildings, and smart transportation.

If all this does not make the case for edge computing technologies that work with ANY network protocol (and connect ANY networked device), nothing will! One of the greatest challenges in designing and planning Smart City applications and services is making “wise choices.”

ClearBlade saw this coming years ago, and we have a proven platform that provides a single solution for the rapid development of complex IoT environments. From the edge to the cloud, on any protocol or solution, the ClearBlade Edge Platform is ready for deployment.

ClearBlade is the only IoT software platform that can deploy a common software stack across the board.

Encryption, authentication, and authorization of API access including tokens and certificates are built-in. On ClearBlade’s Edge Platform, security isn’t just a feature. It’s one of the reasons we built the platform in the first place.

Connectivity via MQTT, REST, and Sockets along with prebuilt patterns for BLE, Zigbee, Thread, and more are also readily available and solves for multi-protocol environments.

Our agile approach makes it possible for developers to start in the cloud and push to the edge or develop independent edge applications where customers experience them. Core functions can be kept close to where they are needed while taking advantage of cloud storage and cloud-based analytics and reporting.

Data filtering and streaming is also a fundamental advantage of our platform, which makes solid the ability to store, modify, analyze, manage and route data at the edge.

With our “sync and state” management, both user and device states are synced with IoT systems as devices go on and offline. And devices continue real-time behaviors and 100% uptime, even when a connection to the Internet is lost.

ClearBlade connects all gateways, clouds, and devices across numerous protocols including (and always expanding) CoAP, ZigBee, BlueTooth, ZeroMQ, AMQP, OPC-UA and many more.

And finally, we’ve pre-integrated with hundreds of systems for data, messaging, code, triggers and portals, and are the most “developer-friendly” platform in the industry – which explains why we continue to win new customers, roll out mission-critical implementations, grow and constantly reinvest in R&D to make sure systems work today and in the future as Smart City innovation is non-stop.

To learn more about how ClearBlade makes Smart City projects, across all categories, more affordable, achievable and sustainable than any other IoT and Industrial IoT platform, you can contact us here.

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