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The wireless industry is clearly investing in the “smart city” concept according to FierceWireless. Both Verizon and AT&T have teams dedicated to increasing dialogue between wireless players and city officials, with the goal of installing new technologies in metro areas that proponents say will make city life safer and more efficient.

Gartner, Inc. estimates that 1.6 billion connected things will be used by smart cities in 2016, an increase of 39 percent from 2015. “Smart commercial buildings will be the highest user of Internet of Things (IoT) until 2017, after which smart homes will take the lead with just over 1 billion connected things in 2018,” said Bettina Tratz-Ryan, research vice president at Gartner.

Commercial real estate benefits greatly from IoT implementation. IoT creates a unified view of facilities management as well as advanced service operations through the collection of data and insights from a multitude of sensors. “Especially in large sites, such as industrial zones, office parks, shopping malls, airports or seaports, IoT can help reduce the cost of energy, spatial management and building maintenance by up to 30 percent,” added Ms. Tratz-Ryan.

Many major cities are seeing the value of building smart city infrastructure from the outset or looking for ways to re-purpose structures already in place to utilize smart city elements. In December, workers began installing the first LinkNYC access points in New York. These New York hubs are designed as an update to the standard phone booth, using upgraded infrastructure to provide gigabit Wi-Fi access points. The full network will install more than 7,500 public hubs throughout the city, each replacing a pre-existing phone booth.

Next City suggests that you can add San Jose, California to the list of places seeking “smart city” status. To connect info-collecting sensors and devices, the city will become one of the first in the U.S. with a wireless network specifically designed to power IoT.

The move won’t just link up city utilities. San Jose will make the network available, low-cost or free, to local developers to dream up their own applications.

The network, dubbed Starfish, is from Bay Area-headquartered Silver Spring Networks (SSN). Twenty-two million devices worldwide are already under SSN’s network blanket, which features banking-level security.

“Now that we’ll have a better web of connectivity, we’ll be able to deploy more sensors and then use that data to refine our services,” said Teri Killgore, San Jose’s civic innovation manager. “One of the problems we have as a city, and I know many cities have this, is we simply don’t have the fiber infrastructure that you would need for all of these great ideas where your infrastructure could talk to itself or talk to other infrastructure or talk to your management systems more effectively.”

That’s where Starfish comes in. Basically, it’s a wireless network in which every smart device hooked up to it serves as a signal relayer. Whereas cellular networks can become overwhelmed and slow down when too many users try to access the same tower, Starfish-connected devices create a web of relayers and receivers, allowing for much higher reliability and faster speeds.

Starfish can also support multiple applications at once, or be re-purposed for different uses over time. Silver Spring Networks CEO Mike Bell says that means city agencies can justify the cost of installing the network on energy savings alone. When other uses present themselves — like traffic signal timing — the city can build them onto the same network.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: New York, Flickr)