January 9, 2019 - Here at CIMCON, we believe that street light controls are the primary gateway applications to a smart and connected city. The industry seems to agree with us. What is smart street lighting exactly? Intelligent street lights leverage IoT technology to enable remote and wireless management of outdoor lighting.
There are a lot of different ways to enable communication between streetlights and a central management system; cellular networks, RF Mesh, WiFi networks, the list goes on. Given our background offering multiple radios and solutions, we are uniquely suited to provide non-biased information on the benefits and detriments of the different solution offerings.
Let’s be clear, most systems operate similarly. To put it (very) simply, a smart controller plugs into a streetlight fixture, that controller allows for dimming and scheduling while tracking a variety of lamp parameters including current, voltage, and lamp burn hours; the system of streetlights is controlled by a central management system (CMS) where the lights can be remotely monitored and managed. The main variation between solution options is how information is wirelessly communicated by the smart streetlight controller to the management system and vis versa.
So which wireless network is best? We think RF Mesh and outline the benefits of this solution below. We’ll also point out a few of our concerns with cellular based smart lighting solutions. However, at CIMCON we know there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all" solution. Our goal is to help cities find solutions that meet their unique needs, so we are happy to help your town build the perfect smart lighting solution with any communication you see fit. Email us to learn how.
Advantages of RF Mesh Control:
- The real estate at the pole and the network itself are owned by the city. This means the mesh network is owned or operated for the benefit of the customer not at the behest of large telecoms providers. Only certified, authorized, and authenticated devices connect to the private network
- A mesh network is considered a “20 year network” as lifecycles are longer and less prone to change due to external technical or market needs (higher capacity phones).
- The self-healing nature of the mesh network ensures the lighting control nodes are always on the network
- RF Mesh does not have a single point of failure as lighting control node can switch easily, through the mesh topology, from one router to another if there is a failure
- RF Mesh is designed for demanding utility-grade applications such as residential electric metering
- More nodes and mesh extenders reinforce the strength of the mesh network ensuring 100% coverage
- Devices are designed to function without overloading the network
- Devices do not have to compete with video streaming or other high bandwidth applications as the mesh network is operated for Smart Lighting, Smart Metering, or Smart City applications.
- No per node cellular data charges
- RF Mesh utilizes the same types of network infrastructure and security as those deployed in Fortune 100 corporations
- Alignment of mesh security and networking with standard IT infrastructure means lower maintenance costs and lower levels of training required for support staff
- RF Mesh is based on open global standards for advanced networking (IPv6) and Smart City/Metering applications (6LowPAN/Wi-SUN)
- Open standards allow for a lower cost of entry for a wider number of vendors in a smart city ecosystem
- Secure mechanisms like Private Key Infrastructure, Certificates, Firewalls, and AAA servers are a standard part of the deployed infrastructure ensuring application of best practices on the lighting control network.
Concerns with Cellular Control:
- Limited lifespan of the cellular network- Cellular operators control the lifespan of the network, not the customer and we are more than half way through the 4G lifespan. LTE CAT-M1 or NB-IOT are newer but following 2G and 3G technologies may sunset in ~10-15 years. Once the network is shutdown, the nodes will have to be replaced even if the nodes are still doing their core function without any problems. 30 million 2G endpoints in the US were orphaned by sunsetting of the functional 2G networks.
- Cell towers are single points of failure. A single cell tower can cover a significant urban area, if the tower is down, communication for thousands of lighting control nodes will be lost
- Data congestion on towers will lead to degraded service, potentially denying access to some data services depending on service priority and data plan.
- The lighting control nodes will share the cellular airwaves with those streaming 4k videos or listening to music. Those consumers may have higher priority of service (because they pay a lot more for the service) than a small IoT low data rate lighting control node.
- Cell coverage is not 100% even in urban areas.
- It’s next to impossible to improve cell coverage if a lighting control node has poor connectivity
- The annual operating costs must include the data charge. Cellular solution providers frequently exclude data charges from their solution proposals.
- Based on published rates additional operating expenses may be incurred when compared with a mesh solution, severely impacting the ROI time frame.
- Many cellular modules use up to 1A of current when communicating, leading to significant power consumption over time. Mesh networks are comparatively lower power, consuming milliamps, when communicating.
- Such power consumption can degrade the benefits of using energy efficient lighting. A 5W cellular modem increases by 1/6 the overall power consumed by a 30W LED fixture when the modem is communicating.
- Pole Attachment: The FCC has shared proposals for regulations that standardize on access and rates for access. Many towns and cities with lucrative locations believe the rates are too low. The proposed FCC regulation standardizes across the board to the detriment of cities with high value real estate.