Addressing the Network Challenges in Smart Cities

According to a July 2014 report from the United Nations, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. India, China and Nigera have been identified as areas where the largest urban growth will take place, with India projected to add 404 million urban dwellers by 2050.Given this scenario of massive industrialization and population growth, urban transformation in India is critical. With information and communications technologies (ICT) acting as the enabler of a smart living ecosystem, stakeholders should be prepared to address the challenges associated with the communications network. Well networked smart cities will be one of the recommendations for a better living.

The Rise of Smart Cities in India

Earlier this year, the government of India announced the Digital India initiative and its plans to develop 100 smart cities, which are described as “engines of growth” for the economy in the Smart Cities Mission statement.

As per the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Internet users in India stood at over 350 million in June 2015 and this number is expected to reach over 500 million by 2017.In a smart city, additional growth in machine-to-machine (M2M) traffic will also be driven by intelligent connected devices forming the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, which is estimated will grow at a CAGR over 28 percent during 2015 – 2020, according to “India Internet of Things (IoT) Market Forecast & Opportunities, 2020”.Keeping the growth trajectory in mind, the communications network infrastructure underpinning the smart network must be able to support high-bandwidth mobile data services as well as the explosive growth in M2M communications.

The Role of LTE in Smart Cities

With millions of connected devices and systems exchanging information in real time, communications infrastructure in smart cities is facing tremendous pressure. Traditional technologies are not able to support the volume, flow and variety of digital transformation. Long Term Evolution (LTE)has emerged as the preferred way of communication in smart cities because the high bandwidth capability of this technology allows Mobile Network Operators (MNOs)to integrate more services in a single device, hence improving the quality of service for end users.LTE and LTE-A address the limitations of 2G and 3G by delivering higher throughput and performance in terms of user capacity, coverage, latency, availability and synchronization. In fact, current LTE specifications are capable of offering theoretical downlink peak rates of at least 100 Mb/s, with future LTE releases offering rates up to 1 Gb/s. Thus, the success of smart cities will be determined by their ability to support a wide range of technology infrastructure capable of processing endless streams of data and integrate them seamlessly with multiple user points. The unique capability of LTE to support dynamic and scalable traffic management in a secure and cost-efficient manner makes it the smarter alternative to previous technologies.

Ryan Perera, country head, global field organization India, Ciena

Mobile Backhaul and Small Cells

In fact one of the main focus areas of telecom operators is improving indoor / in-building coverage. Demand for small cells will further pick up as and when smart city projects gain momentum. While LTE’s higher spectral efficiency allows operators to improve coverage and capacity, there is a limit to which it can be utilized. In fact, industry reports predict that there will be a fivefold increase in bandwidth usage between 2015 and 2018, creating additional challenges for mobile operators.

Considering the challenges arising out of spectrum shortage and its impact on ARPU, mobile operators are seeking ways to improve the mobile backhaul technology currently being used. Carrier Ethernet based solutions allow providers to scale the network quickly while also achieving the lowest cost per bit. Since LTE is IP-based, carrier Ethernet-based backhaul architecture has been identified as the best transport model for LTE. Layer 2 (L2) Carrier Ethernet is a better option compared to IP-routed Layer 3 (L3) solutions when considering factors like total cost of ownership (TCO) and stability. L2 can also provide point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, or multipoint connectivity. L3 IP/MPLS network solutions, on the other hand, are found to add operational complexity and increased cost to scale in L3-VPNs.A key benefit of using Carrier Ethernet is that it helps backhaul providers avoid costly over provisioning of the network, even as mobile operators demand multiple types of services including Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), cloud computing, and others over their LTE networks.

Operators around the world agree that networks supporting high-bandwidth mobile data services as well as M2M communications must be much denser than those currently in use, with base stations being placed closer to the user. Small cells are one of the most feasible solutions to meet this need by improving coverage and providing a more efficient method to connect smart, connected devices and sensors. Small cells are also being used to fill coverage gaps as well as augment the capacity in under-served areas. Small cells bring low-powered radios physically closer to end-users to strategically improve both capacity and coverage without the prohibitive costs of new macro cell base stations.

NFV, SDN and the Smart City Network

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) can also play an instrumental role in the roll out of smart cities by improving operator’s ability to deliver network functions. A simple case of NFV revolutionizing smart city networks can be explained with the example of a smart home gateway. Gateways deployed in smart homes are getting sophisticated due to multiple applications running on them from multiple operators and vendors. By taking the network functions out of the hardware and placing them on software running on commercial off-the-shelves servers, the architecture can be more easily adjusted as IoT requirements change. In a broader application scenario, software defined networks (SDN) can be implemented to replace the many purpose-built hardware centric solutions running on the city infrastructure and replace them with on-demand software solutions.

Additionally, SDN adds more agility through dynamic provisioning of network resources. Imagine a public event that draws huge crowds with tens of thousands of audience members taking photographs on their smart phones and sharing them with their contacts and via social media.  With SDN’s capabilities in real-time analytics, the network can be optimized to deliver more bandwidth, ensuring a better experience to users as they flood the network with more photos, videos and status updates. In this example the real-time analytics also helps civic authorities address potential issues immediately, such as in diverting traffic away from the congested areas,  and leveraging facial recognition technology to alert security officers about a possible threat based on the data received from surveillance and body cameras.

There is a widespread perception that virtualized networks are prone to security threats. Though certain security loopholes were discussed during the initial days of NFV/SDN, the scenario is altogether different now. Industry partnerships have helped deliver the best-of-breed security solutions to protect the virtualized environment. These virtual security appliances have evolved over the past couple of years, to an innovative model where security is delivered as part of SDN, provisioned and managed by the SDN control layer and paired with the applications. In short, virtual networks are far ahead of physical networks in terms of ensuring network-level security.

Takeaway

A key requirement in building a smart city is transforming the telecommunications network into a smart network that does more than just transport data at high speeds. Most stakeholders agree that ubiquitous broadband is prerequisite to a smart city, consisting of an underlying fiber optic network and wireless access in a converged architecture.  The launch of initiatives like Digital India and Smart Cities 100 by the Government of India has created enthusiasm for end users and great opportunity for telcos. However, considering the infrastructure challenges they face in the Indian telecom market, Indian operators need to evaluate new technologies and strategies that will allow them to help meet the goals set forth by these initiatives.

By Ryan Perera, India Country Manager, Ciena

[email protected]

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