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January 7, 2021

The Smart City Road Map

We get it, becoming a smart city can be daunting. So we build this Roadmap to provide answers to all your questions - from where to start, to how to finance your project and everything in between.




Why Should a City be Smart?

Cities are home to more than half of the world’s population and they are expected to add another 2.5 billion new residents over the next 30 years.

“The populations of the world’s cities are expected to swell over the coming decades and city planners and CIOs will need assistance from technology and service providers to build the city infrastructure of the future,” said Gordon Feller, founder of MeetingoftheMinds.org, a global leadership network focused on urban sustainability, connected technology and innovation. To accommodate ever growing urban populations, municipalities must make more efficient use of their assets and infrastructure. Many are turning to smart city applications to improve city operations and quality of life for city residents.

Cities across the world are rapidly adopting new technologies, including intelligent streetlights, air quality sensors, gunshot detectors, video surveillance systems, and traffic counters, to build the next generation city infrastructure. Smart city platforms like CIMCON's NearSky Platform, bring together these technology and service providers, making it easier than ever for cities to test, deploy and manage their smart city applications.

Smart city applications allow a city to create and capture new value from infrastructure they already own. In a smart city, streetlight poles become the hub of a new economy, creating value through the data which can drive operational and energy efficiencies. By 2022, smart city technologies could save governments and citizens more than $5 Trillion annually. Ultimately, smart cities enable a government to deliver more service to their citizens with less infrastructure and cost. To learn more about how smart cities and all stakeholders can unlock economic opportunity at the pole, read our blog about The Pole Economy


Smart City Architecture – How do Smart Cities Work?

It is true that smart cities are filled with technology, but value is created by what the cities do with that technology, not the technology itself. Smart Cities improve efficiency by collecting and analyzing data. Insights from that data is then communicated through appropriate channels so that someone can act to make cities better places to live and work. This is a simplified representation of the true architecture of a smart city. In reality, a complicated ecosystem of IoT devices, communication networks, software solutions and user interfaces are constantly interacting to achieve a city’s desired outcomes. This section explores the architecture of a smart city.


IoT Network

A smart city is a system of interconnected devices, also known as an IoT system. The IoT system is equipped with sensors and that send and receive data over communications or mesh networks. Streetlight sensors, for example, measure luminescence, bulb health and energy use of a streetlight, then communicate that information over radio frequencies. In some cases, these IoT devices have processing capabilities, that capability is often referred to as edge computing. Processing raw data “at the edge” ensures that only the most pertinent information is communicated over the communication network. A mid-sized smart city may have thousands of sensors deploy and creating data at any given time, likely too much data to be useful. Edge processing sifts through the data to reduce communications load on the network.


Communications Networks

IoT devices dispersed around a smart city must be able to communicate to each other and to some system management software. These communication networks connect cameras, controllers and other sensors, providing an essential foundation to the smart city. There are many types of communications networks in the field today, including fiber, radio frequency (RF) mesh, cellular, Wi-Fi, power line communications (PLC), and low power wide area networks (LPWANs) such as LoRa and Sigfox. Rapid growth in the smart city markets is driving advancements in cellular offerings including Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), LTE-Cat-M1, and 5G networks. Each network has strengths and weaknesses, but all must provide affordable communication for an immense collection of devices in a dependable and secure manner.  



A Wireless Gateway serves as a “switchboard” for a group of IoT devices. Before being communicated to the end source, data must pass through a gateway. Smart sensors communicate the data they generate over short ranges, usually using radio frequencies, to a gateway, which uses backhaul networks such as cellular, ethernet, Wi-Fi or WiMax to communicate that data to a cloud-based management system.



A firewall is a security system that monitors and controls network traffic in computing systems.  Because smart cities are constantly sending and receiving information, firewalls must be in place to ensure secure data transmission by preventing unauthorized access to city data or the IoT network.


Data Storage

Data delivered by the smart city IoT sensors are stored on the cloud or on servers. Developers can access data from storage locations and use the data build applications to meet specific smart city needs.


Data analytics

Data analytics are used to draw meaningful insights from the raw data collected by smart city sensors. Often, analysis is paired with a data visualization tool to make the insights easier for users to consume. This type of information visualization tool is called a dashboard. In smart cities, data analytics can occur at the edge, in the cloud or on a server. When analytics are performed at the edge, less data needs to be communicated over wireless networks, allowing for less expensive, lower bandwidth networks to be utilized.



After a city has insights from the data collected by their many smart sensors, it must deploy applications to take actions based on those insights. Applications can be informational or functional. An informational application gives citizens, businesses and municipal decision makers improved situational awareness regarding their city. A functional application may act to improve specific outcomes within the city by sending commands to IoT devices in the field. For example, data collected from a camera at an intersection may be used for an application that manages traffic signals in real time, based on the traffic volume.



What Services can Smart Cities Provide?

With help from our partners, CIMCON’s NearSky™ Platform provides a host of smart city digital services which enable better decision making and leads to better outcomes. Digital services include:


Smart Parking

Smart Parking experts claim, 30% of traffic and subsequent pollution is caused by drivers looking for parking. Equipped with a smart city hub, street light poles become prime location for monitoring the availability of parking spaces. Parking sensors, artificial intelligence and edge computing, working in tandem, can be utilized to provide real time data on parking availability in lots or streets. Smart parking applications can also be used to for metering or enforcing violations creating the potential to build new revenue streams and lower costs to the city.


Traffic Control

Data collected by optical sensor, radar, or infrared distance sensors can be used to count cars and estimate traffic flow on roads. Machine vision is designed to recognize and categorize specific shapes in order to perform analysis on the optical data collected by smart cameras. These video analytics can be manipulated to perform an enormous range of applications including people counting, traffic counting, wrong way driver detection, zone intrusion and more. Similar applications can be performed using radar detectors and infrared distance sensors. Smart cities commonly use video analytics to monitor and track real time traffic patterns. This data can be used to optimize signal timing or traffic patterns. Data driven traffic system optimization can significantly reduce the amount of time drivers spend in their car thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as wear and tear on public roadways. 


Public and Campus Safety

Cameras, microphones and other security devices become more effective when paired with analytics. Public safety applications use video and audio detection along with edge-based signal processing to identify suspicious or unlawful activity like zone intrusion, gunshots, glass-breaks, suspicious packages, wrong way drivers and more. Using smart city communication networks, security events are instantly communicated to the designated security center.


Environmental Monitoring

More than 2 billion people live in cities where the air quality is below the World Health Organizations guidelines. Smart environmental monitoring helps city officials stay informed when the air quality limits are exceeded. Improved access to power and robust communication networks in smart cities makes it possible for municipalities to continuously monitor environmental factors affordably and in real-time. Air quality  monitors can be deployed around high-risk areas, like industrial depots or construction sites, to generate early warning signals to protect residents and workers from hazardous conditions. Ambient air quality data can be used to develop community exposure studies, map pollution sources, validate environmental models and much more.   


Digital Signage

Digital signage can easily be deployed around smart cities thanks to improved access to power and robust communication networks. These signs can be used to improve way finding or to communicate emergency information like weather warnings or amber alerts. Additionally, advertisements displayed on digital signs can generate new revenue for smart cities. Digital signage transforms community engagement, enhances public safety and fosters economic development.


Waste Management

In smart cities, sensor equipped waste and recycling stations communicate real time capacity status to waste management crews. This smart approach to an age-old problem delivers actionable insights and enables operational efficiencies by informing drivers which stations require servicing and which do not. Data driven decision making and planning in waste management can reduce collections by 70-80%, subsequently reducing labor costs, vehicle wear and roadway congestion.



Intelligent streetlighting controllers reduce energy consumption and maintenance costs while increasing the quality of lighting services. Smart streetlight controllers are equipped with radios to remotely manage and communicate information about streetlight itself. Because streetlights in urban and suburban environments are so ubiquitous, adding radios to the top of each pole creates a robust mesh network. This communication network can be used to deploy a wide range of additional smart city applications. Additionally, cities that upgrade to LED streetlights save 50-60% on energy costs; controlling those lights with applications like dimming allow for another 10-20% of savings leading to a significant ROI within just 2-3 years.


Public Wi-Fi access

Internet infrastructure is crucial for cities to attract business investment and new residents. Public Wi-Fi access points can be deployed with or in LED streetlights. This approach ensures low costs and ubiquitous coverage by utilizing existing streetlight infrastructure. A widely available Wi-Fi network also enables smart city applications with greater communications requirements like video streaming for security purposes.



Where are Smart Cities?

Cities all over the world are deploying smart city applications to improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs. Places like London, Singapore, Toronto and Melbourne are regularly lauded as the world’s smartest cities. Large cities all over the world are increasingly adding technology and analytics to improve quality of life on their streets.

However, you don't need to be a global mega city to benefit from smart city applications. Small or medium sized cities everywhere are improving efficiencies by deploying many of the applications discussed above. Many cities across the United States are deploying smart initiatives and applications. In 2016, 77 cities across the country competed in the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Columbus, claimed the title and the $50 million in grant funding and has since emerged as a leader in the space. Columbus’s smart city initiative presents a holistic, yet technical, approach to the city’s biggest challenges. With a wide network of partners, the city is developing a smart city ecosystem that focuses on improving four elements to urban life: access to jobs, smart logistics, connected residents and sustainable transportation.  Since that Challenge, cities large and small across the the country have gone on to apply once novel technology to solve age-old problems like traffic congestion and parking monitoring.


How to Become a Smart City

A reliable communications network is essential to building a smart city. For this reason, smart and connected streetlighting upgrades are widely accepted by city planners and CIO's as the first step towards building a smart city. Smart Streetlighting refers to an LED light with a smart connected controller. The radio frequency enabled controllers provide a modular and scalable communications network from which countless other smart city applications can be deployed. Because LEDs are significantly more energy efficient than their traditional counterparts, smart streetlighting upgrades result in reduced energy and maintenance costs, as well as reduced carbon emissions. These financial benefits build a strong business case for the streetlight upgrades and in some cases savings on energy costs can be reinvested to deploy additional smart city applications.  


CIMCON Lighting has developed a set of principles cities should consider while developing their smart city road map:

  • Value Today - provide products and services to customers that deliver measurable value, including lower energy, repairs and maintenance costs, higher quality of services and ancillary benefits such as reduced crime and higher property values, and platforms to create connected city applications;
  • Network Independence – create solutions that work in multiple network environments;
  • Modular – protect today’s investments while building “plug & play” modules that are compatible with existing installations and provide new features and benefits;
  • Open Architecture/APIs - enable third-party, “best-in-class” solutions to join the street lighting network and take advantage of an extensive development community and wide variety of sensors and other devices; and.
  • Partner Ecosystem – utilize a go-to-market and development strategy that leverages key partner strengths.



How to Finance your Smart City Initiative

Many financing options exist for smart city projects, especially those that begin with smart and connected streetlight upgrades. Due to the energy cost savings achieved by upgrading traditional high intensity discharge streetlights to LED streetlights, retrofit projects are considered to be low risk investments. The savings realized from these projects can be used to fund other smart city applications or programs or used to quickly pay down debt. We're so convinced in the ROI of smart city projects, we offer our own financing plans with help from our partners. CIMCON's Smart Financing makes installing lighting controls and smart city solutions affordable and reduces pain points that can typically slow down capital projects.

Plenty of resources exist to help cities navigate the challenges of paying for smart city services. Deloitte's content on smart city funding strategies is a good place to start. 


Smart City Glossary and Acronym Guide

  • Application Programming Interface (APIs) – a tool within an operating system which enables developers to create unique software applications.
  • Artificial Intelligence  computer systems that can perform tasks previously considered to require human intelligence: visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, translation between spoken language, etc.
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO) – is the most senior executive in any enterprise, but most typically in a municipality, who works to support enterprise goals through computer systems and information technology. The CIO is a relatively new position in municipal government and is often the person responsible for leading smart city initiatives.
  • Cloud Computing  the use of a network of remote servers and share pools of computer system resources, hosted on the internet to manage and process data away from a local server or personal computer.
  • Dashboard  a information management tool that tracks, analyzes and displays insights from data.
  • Edge Computing  a distributed computing architecture in which data processing is performed on a network of devices or nodes know as edge or smart devices rather than taking place in a centralized location like a cloud or server.
  • Energy Service Company (ESCO) - a business which provides a range of energy solutions including retrofits, energy efficiency, energy infrastructure outsourcing, energy supply and risk management.
  • Hybrid Network - a networking approach that incorporates several different network technologies(NBIoT, RF Mesh, etc) to build a bespoke system uses technology best suited for different locations and situations throughout the network's coverage area. 
  • Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) – technology that stores, manipulates, communicates information electronically i.e., computers telephones and radios.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) – the network of physical devices that are connected to the internet and the communication that occurs between these objects and systems.
  • Machine Learning  an automated method of data analysis which builds models based on data inputs to perform further analysis. This is an area of artificial intelligence in that computer systems are learning from data, identifying patterns and making decisions with minimal human intervention.
  • Machine to Machine (M2M)  communications between devices, wired or wireless.
  • Machine Vision – technology and applications used to provide image-based analysis for a wide range of applications including people counting, wrong way driver detection and trespasser zone intrusion.
  • Mesh network – also known as a wireless mesh network or WMN is a communication network made of radio nodes. Mesh clients, mesh routers and gateways are all components to a WMN
  • Open Data – refers to data that is freely available to use and republish without restriction from patents or other mechanisms of control.

Want to Learn More? Visit our blog to see insights and expert opinions on the latest trends in the smart city space.

Ready to become a smart city? Email us at sales@cimconlighting.com today.

Written by: Liz Glivinski
Date: January 7, 2021

For more information on CIMCON Lighting products, contact sales@cimconlighting.com