Smart City Study Finds Mission-Critical LTE Importance, LMR Sustainability
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 | Comments

A new study found that fulfilling the smart city promise will require integrating communications technology and increasing stakeholder engagement. Black & Veatch’s “2017 Strategic Directions: Smart City/Smart Utility Report” addresses the interlocking pieces of the smart city ecosystem and their effects on public safety, quality of life and sustainability.

Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents anticipate widespread adoption and implementation of smart city initiatives across the United States in the next six to 10 years. About three-quarters of municipalities and smart service provider respondents indicated that public private partnerships may be the most effective financing model.

Black & Veatch’s report is based on a survey of 741 participants across the municipal, utility and technology sectors.

The report said the nationwide public-safety broadband network being procured by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) could revolutionize public-safety communications altogether. Next-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) applications are helping increase efficiency for first responders and other agencies. The deployment of broadband LTE will eventually make it possible to transmit voice, data, pictures and video in real time. As these applications integrate with other “smart” efforts, public-safety professionals can more efficiently protect and deliver services to their communities. These communications modernizations should synchronize with other technological advancements that increase levels of service delivered to constituents.

More than half (55 percent) of survey respondents specified that the most preferred model to fund public-safety communications is government grants. The development and procurement of FirstNet could be shaping this outlook.

FirstNet is expected to increase interoperability and improve safety and security for first responders. These factors have been listed as the top drivers for cities or communities to adopt FirstNet after it is available.

However, 40 percent of respondents indicated they do not know anything about FirstNet. Possible theories for this lack of knowledge could stem from limited publicity directly from FirstNet, especially toward the federal/state/local government/municipality participants, of whom made up more than half (56 percent) of the participants who responded to the survey’s public-safety-related questions. When a contract team is officially awarded, it is anticipated that knowledge of the program will increase as agencies become better educated on implementation options. Further, as FirstNet’s efforts to build out begin and communities are increasingly affected, more exposure and widespread engagement should be expected.

Of the 2017 report respondents, 39 percent reported that they are using LTE applications, with many likely still in pilot phases. Respondents acknowledge that LMR systems will continue to be in operation for several more years, and then eventual retirement of LMR will continue at a slow pace because of factors that present barriers to migration, such as bureaucratic concerns, cultural resistance, financial challenges and technological limitations.

Of the communities already using LTE technology, the vast majority (73 percent) noted mapping as the top application implemented. Reliable geographic information system (GIS) mapping is critical for rapid incident response and dispatch. Other leading applications included work order management (47 percent) and database searches (40 percent).

To best reap the benefits of next-generation data applications, many systems will require updates or replacements. Organizations planning to make these investments listed high-speed data networks, system redundancy and interoperability as their top priorities. These features were also named the most critical elements of a resilient and reliant public-safety communications system. As public-safety functionality increases as a smart city initiative, efforts can tie into community resilience programs, listed by 32 percent of survey respondents as a major force driving the adoption of smarter technologies and data analytics.

Maintainability was listed as the third most critical element of a resilient and reliant public-safety communications system. Many agencies are already in the process of transitioning from a legacy system to a newer technology such as Project 25 (P25). Although LMR and LTE technology will continue to coexist for some time, many manufacturers do not support older LMR systems. Procuring a new LMR system can be an expensive and complex process, and this reality is reflected by survey responses that do not point to a clear industry standard for doing so.

Utilities are making strides in modernizing grid infrastructure. Exploring the integration of distributed energy resources (DER) will be key to master planning as more renewable energy makes its way onto the grid.

“Cities are poised to be the centers of technological deployment,” said Fred Ellermeier, vice president and managing director of Black & Veatch’s smart integrated infrastructure (SII) business. “Many are already driving advancements in intelligent transportation systems and initiatives. They are rapidly moving past pilot phases to use advanced data networks to improve resident experiences across municipal departments and services.”

While municipalities see the benefits of smart city initiatives and endorse long-term planning, the report found that they continue to have financial barriers to overcome. As a result, alternative strategies such as public private partnerships, generating tax revenue from increased economic development, monetizing data and leasing access to community-owned assets are becoming reality.

Utilities, with their vast communications networks and automated systems, are betting on digitization to deliver reliable and efficient service going forward. Increased network connectivity can help optimize smart grid deployments by allowing for proactive system monitoring.

The full Black & Veatch report is available for free download here.

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