For smart cities and the Internet of Things, 2017 is the year when it gets real, or more accurately, when it gets much bigger.
There are tremendous advantages to be gained by these initiatives. To wit: all the lights turn green for an ambulance going to the site of an accident and then to the hospital, weakening pipes are detected before they burst and flood homes and traffic patterns are detected and changes made to get everyone home safely and more quickly.
It's a great future, but one that is not easy to achieve. AT&T is offering a holistic, community-wide IoT platform to a handful of spotlight cities. IoT-based smart city tools are also available to communities, utilities and enterprises on a commercial basis.
Telco Transformation spoke with Michael Zeto, general manager and executive director of AT&T Smart Cities, about where the company is on this ongoing project and what to expect in the coming year or two.
Telco Transformation: What is a smart city to AT&T?
Michael Zeto: A smart city is a city that has a holistic strategy to deploy IoT technology with secure connectivity in a way that drives value for the city and its citizens by creating a safer, more sustainable and livable city.
TT: What is the connection between the IoT and smart cities?
MZ: The Internet of Things is the foundation of what a smart city is. So the Internet of Things is all of these connected assets and these connected things. You are just taking that concept and applying it in many cases to traditional city infrastructure. So the IoT in essence becomes the foundation for what a smart city is.
TT: What differentiates an AT&T smart city?
MZ: One of the ways in which AT&T is unique is we have an innovation and partner ecosystem that allows us to work closely with many of these device and sensor manufacturers early on in their development and engineering process. By working with them in our Foundry [Innovation Centers], or within my business unit, we have the ability to make sure that they are using secure models that are efficient and allow us to securely connect their assets -- whether that be street lights, a parking meter or an acoustical sensors in a fire hydrant that detects the flow of water. Then, AT&T can ensure that the data derived from that device is securely passed through our network into the cloud in an application that is securely hosted and then allows the city to visualize and understand that data. (See Elbaz: Foundries Are Driving AT&T's New Products & Services, and AT&T's Elbaz on How AT&T Foundries Create a Culture of Innovation.)
By us participating early in the ecosystem we not only help to bring the ecosystem along and move faster to provide solutions for cities, but we also help them from a security perspective, which is extremely important to AT&T. We have four layers of security: The device layer, the network layer and the cloud and application layer. And then threat analysis and detection that is 24/7/365.
TT: How do companies work with AT&T on the IoT and smart cities?
MZ: There are a couple ways. One is that we've got an IoT developerís kit. For companies that are at scale we have a device certification process that allows us to work with them early on and make sure that they are using a module that is certified on the network. And in cases in which we develop a solution that we want to take to market we will take that device, with our connectivity embedded in it along with the software application that allows you to capture, visualize and analyze the data, and in essence sell it as a solution to a municipality, an enterprise or utility.
TT: Are things portable across the country? Can you sell the same gear in multiple locations?
MZ: AT&T developed the AT&T Smart Cities framework specifically for this reason. We can help cities develop a holistic strategy, deploy solutions that add value, measure them and then scale that across their region and across states. And that framework is the same framework that we're using in each city across the US regardless of the strategic problems that they face in their region... Any intelligent streetlight platform with AT&T connectivity can be installed in Atlanta or Chicago or San Francisco or anywhere in the United States.
TT: What about standards?
MZ: Weíre obviously heavily involved in 3GPP and other standards with GSMA support. LTE is one way to make sure that you are working with standards-based technology, and then you're going to have multiple types of connectivity powering these smart city solutions. It just depends on the use case. In some cases itís fiber, in some itís WiFi, in some itís cellular and LTE and in some cases you may have a low-power solution for very low data throughput and long battery life applications. Weíre starting to see is large players in the hardware space, the manufacturing leaders, want to use LTE Cat-M because it is standards-based and runs on a secure network. There are cost concerns [and they are asking]: "How does the cost come down?"
TT: Where are you offering smart city services?
MZ: Right now we're publicly in eight cities. We've got two more cities that we're going to announce and we've got a relationship with Columbus, Ohio because they were a winner of the US DOT Smart City Challenge. We were one of the sponsors and are working with them on their strategy. We are working with Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Miami-Dade County; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Montgomery County [Maryland]; and Portland [Oregon]. We are working with Georgia Tech because R & D universities are really critical to the adoption of smart cities and public/private partnerships.
TT: What happens on the commercial side?
MZ: In the commercial agreements, usually a department issues an RFP to solve a specific problem.
TT: How do you see the trajectory of the business?
MZ: Last year there were a lot of smart projects but not a lot of smart cities. It was the year of the small pilot or the small projects. This year we're getting to where more of the large cities are starting to issue RFPs and RFIs, to take the learnings from those projects and start to do things at scale. What you'll see at the end of 2017 and 2018 is cities truly starting to become smarter at scale. On the commercial side you'll start to see more deployments at scale.
TT: How much do Mirai and the other IoT-based botnets scare you?
MZ: We're looking at our security across the board. Even though that botnet may be spread through consumer wearables, that still plays in smart cities. Of course we are very cognizant of that. AT&T is on the industrial side, the consumer side, the car side. We have 30 million connected devices overall,; the most of any carrier out there, by far.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation