The most expansive use of the Internet of Things is smart cities. These communities will integrate a wide variety of IoT use cases -- for instance, traffic control, environmental monitoring and emergency response -- to drastically expand the automated functions.
In Part I of a conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length, Michael Zeto, general manager of AT&T's Smarter Cities business unit, describes the evolution of IoT in general; in smart cities; and in work the carrier is doing at Maxwell Airforce base in Montgomery, Ala. Zeto spoke about what constitutes a smart city in an earlier Q&A with Telco Transformation. (See AT&Tís Zeto: More Cities Get Smart in 2017.)
Telco Transformation: What factors are driving the IoT in general?
Michael Zeto: I think we've seen a couple of driving factors that have helped drive the adoption of the IoT. Technology has evolved to the point where you've got smaller chipsets and you've got more cost-effective communications modules that allow you to embed the communications module to connect more things.
As the cost of the technology comes down, it becomes more possible to connect things like meters to put a communications module in the cap of a fire hydrant to leverage sensors that can monitor water flow, for example. You've got the size and then you've got the cost of the technology decreasing.
I think on the device side, you also have the hardware provider moving from proprietary to white box hardware, which is leveraging open source. We've done that, in a sense, with our network. We've worked toward software-defined networks, which allow us to use more cost effective non-proprietary hardware solutions. Lastly, more and more of the data is housed in the cloud, versus needing to have servers on site. That brings cost down as well.
TT: IoT sensors must use very little power and be secure. A lot of sensors go places where you don't want to (or canít) replace batteries. On top of that, security isnít a revenue generator. Itís disaster avoidance. Given that list of particulars, what progress are you making in creating low-cost sensors?
MZ: One thing I want to point out is that security is paramount for us. We start everything with the discussion around security. Regardless of whether it's seen as disaster avoidance or not, we make sure that our customers and our ecosystem partners are 100% focused on security.
That's one of the reasons that we lead with some of the lower power standards based technologies like LTE-M. LTE-M is a communications capability that we're using in the LTE network and it's perfect for those subterranean, ten-year-plus use cases where you're not transmitting a lot of data but you still want to transmit it securely. You want to use standards-based technology and you want to not have to touch the device for a very long time.
LTE-M is something that we're in the process of deploying. We'll have a nationwide roll out relatively soon, coming up.
TT: Do you coordinate your ecosystems with the other ecosystems out there to make sure that when this all gets deployed it's not an AT&T-only ecosystem,
Verizon-only ecosystem and a Sprint -only ecosystem, and so forth?
MZ: We try to. We try to lead there as well. We participate in many of the standards bodies that are out there. GSMA, for instance, features multiple carries across the world coming together to discuss how they can participate in smart city ecosystems. We do have those discussions. That's where low-power technologies like LTE-M and NB-IoT are discussed. We're all working together as an ecosystem.
Then we work very closely with the hardware manufacturers and the module manufacturers and the chip set manufacturers to make sure they have modules that are certified on the technology. Then you integrate that communications module with the device, the device is certified with the module on the network, and away they go.
TT: What are you doing with Maxwell Air force Base in Montgomery?
MZ: The smart cities concept, the strategy and the framework that we've developed at
AT&Tcan be applied not only to cities but also to campuses and bases and venues.
The public sector group also serves the federal government. One of the opportunities that we had was to create the first smart base. The goal was really to improve situational awareness and enable an immediate response to incidents or threats. For military bases with large open areas, multiple buildings and remote perimeters, wireless surveillance technology is a much better fit than traditional systems. The traditional systems are hard-wired and require large, long cable runs or people physically monitoring the perimeter.
We developed perimeter security system solutions that include IR beams to detect entry onto the base. Itís also deployed along the fence line along with cameras that are connected with LTE and the output is pulled back into the command center. So, they can use wireless technology to monitor perimeters of the bases remotely.
That's the beginning of the smart base concept. You can take it down the road of driving efficiencies, through smart lighting or environmental centers to monitor air quality around the base. It can be used for the people who are working there or for the families living there. We have the ability to leverage a lot of the same smart cities technologies that a city would benefit from in a base or a campus environment. That's what we're doing there.
TT: Lighting seems like a great entry point for the IoT and smart cities because it is ubiquitous.
MZ: First off, think of the use case as solving a problem. So, if you want to reduce costs and drive efficiencies around lighting, you would convert your luminaire to an LED. You'd add a control platform or node to that that allows you to control the brightness of the light and monitor it remotely.
That use case, that problem you're trying to solve, regardless of whether it's on the base or whether it is in a city or on a campus, is the same. The technology you would use, in most cases, us the same. You might have a cobra head street light in a city versus a decorative one on a campus. There might be some changes to the form factor, but not necessarily the underlying technology. The connectivity options would be the same, whether it be fiber or wireless, cellular/ LTE. And then the cloud or platform solution that allows you to manage the system and gather the data would be the same as well. It's a little different from indoor to outdoor.
This luminaire is [vendor-] agnostic, by the way. So whether it's Phillips, Acuity, GE, Cree or whoever the LED is, the node sits below it or attaches behind it. We've taken what would normally be four or five devices that hang off of a pole and we've consolidated them to one unit. So there's one touch, one installation needed, and one maintenance call if one is ever needed to manage that piece of digital infrastructure.
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation