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Making Cities Smarter, More Scalable and Future-Proof With Wi-SUN FAN

Smart city projects may have experienced some funding challenges during the pandemic, but the world that emerges from the crisis will be one where municipalities are even more primed to drive innovation-fuelled change. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of city leaders around the world believe such programs are now vital for the future. The prospect of more cost efficient, environmentally friendly, affordable, and healthy places to live is a particularly tantalising one for local authorities that have seen residents leave and tax takings slump over the past 18 months.

Getting there will require progress in many areas of urban planning and technology innovation. Fortunately, the foundational communications infrastructure on which new applications can be built is already here, in the form of Wi-SUN Field Area Networks (FAN).

The topic of building a scalable, future-proof smart city, forms a panel discussion at this year’s Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference and Expo. On Thursday 21st October, Phil Beecher, President & CEO, Wi-SUN Alliance, joins member companies Silicon Labs, Cisco and Landis + Gyr, to provide insight on how to easily enable the addition of future generation smart technology into existing networks.

What makes a city smart?

Smart cities are nothing new. In fact, the concept has been promoted in earnest since the mid-2000s when big-name tech companies began to pour money into research. As urbanisation continues, with almost 70% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, so the urgency to build out new initiatives has surged.

No two projects are alike, just as no two cities are. But there are common approaches and technologies that typically define a smart city initiative. These include networks of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors which generate data in huge volumes and send it to cloud- and AI-powered systems for real-time analysis. Based on this output, continuous adjustments can be made to systems as diverse as street lighting, energy provision, traffic management, building maintenance, waste disposal and water and sewage systems. The end goal is to use data intelligently to improve the quality of life for citizens and drive more sustainable, efficient services.

How Wi-SUN helps

Wi-SUN FAN offers all three, alongside a range of other benefits. It’s a communication technology for very large-scale outdoor networks which is already being used to connect everything from smart meters and streetlights to smart vending machines—all on the same network. This has obvious cost efficiency benefits, which is why it’s already in use around the world, from London to Tokyo.

At the core of the Wi-SUN FAN value-add is the use of a wireless mesh network architecture. Wireless mesh networks are particularly effective in providing reliable and resilient connectivity in even the most challenging environments. City centres are particularly difficult places to provide ubiquitous coverage, where the mix of high rise and brick or stone-built buildings and reinforced concrete infrastructure, such as bridges and tunnels, can cause radio shadows and unreliable communication.

However, Wi-SUN FAN mesh networks provide great flexibility enabling devices to communicate directly if possible, or relay messages through one or more devices, if direct connection is not possible.  They are self-forming, which means that the network configures itself to ensure the best connectivity for all the network devices and self-healing allowing the network to adapt to changing conditions. Networks built using Wi-SUN FAN are extremely reliable in. Devices on the network create multiple redundant connection paths so that if there’s a temporary outage, they can automatically re-route traffic through a different path.

On the same network, battery powered leaf nodes connect to their nearest routing node, which can then forward messages across the network. The ability to connect to a nearby router means that these devices can communicate with lower energy consumption, higher node density and lower latency than would be required for a longer distance connection.  Wi-SUN FAN networks work extremely well in high density urban environments and when connected to a backhaul network through a cellular or fibre connection, provide an ideal communications infrastructure for smart cities and smart utility networks

Smart city planners must also look to cost-effective solutions which offer the best performance at low cost, avoid vendor lock-in and are optimised for security. To tick all these boxes they need to look for open standards-based infrastructure like Wi-SUN FAN. For example, Wi-SUN FAN uses IEEE and IETF encryption standards for device authentication, and message encryption and the use of internet technology allows for network security features such as intrusion detection and network traffic analysis.

Using products based on open standards and backed by a robust certification program for interoperability, means that city planners have a wide range of vendors to choose from, at competitive price points, and confidence of continued supply in the years ahead. Using a single multi-service communications infrastructure for all their smart applications can also cut costs, improve reliability and opens the door for innovative new functionality and sharing of data.  The multi-service architecture of Wi-SUN FAN allows new applications to be added onto the network without impacting the operation of existing applications, and allows data and device management to grow and evolve with common tools providing better efficiency for the staff employed to support the network.

Already driving smart cities forward

Wi-SUN’s FAN 1.1 which will deliver a certification program for battery operated devices will provide interoperability for a wealth of new applications. These include gas and water metering, environmental monitoring, traffic sensing, parking management and weather sensors.

Among the companies already transforming urban centres into smart cities are Florida Power & Light, the largest energy company in the US by retail electricity produced and sold. It’s already deployed half a million streetlights, connected using Wi-SUN capable wireless mesh technology, to improve fault detection and public safety and reduce energy costs. Elsewhere, the City of London recently completed a two-year smart lighting project with Wi-SUN to help drive energy savings of up to 80%, reduce maintenance costs and illuminate some of the capital’s most eye-catching historic buildings. The highly flexible, adaptable wireless mesh network architecture was particularly important in helping ensure coverage amidst the city’s narrow streets and tall buildings.

From Hawaii to Dubai, the list of locations signing-up to Wi-SUN technology grows by the year. We’re ready to lead the way to a smarter future as the world’s cities start to adapt to a new post-pandemic era.