Telcos Take On Smart Cities

AT&T is positioning to become a leader in the creation of smart cities in the US.
Published: Thu 07 Apr 2016

As smart meters and smart grid have gained ground the mobile telecommunications providers have shown increasing interest in the sector. At the same time, with their burgeoning role as data carriers as personal mobility has grown and the networks have evolved with increasing capacities and speeds, they have become better positioned for it.

Smart metering has resulted in exponential growth in data flows between the meters and utilities and increasingly third party service providers. And modern smart grid applications are increasingly demanding real-time (or near real-time) communications capability.

The next phase in this evolution is the Internet of Things and smart cities with up to 50 billion connected devices anticipated within the next 5 years. The ensuing scale of data ensures that the telcos will be an essential player in this market and the question many seem to be asking is where to position themselves? For example, Deutsche Telekom has identified the smart home as offering key business opportunities. [Engerati-Doing Business in the Smart Home Market] In Australia Telstra plans to enter the solar and battery storage and home energy services markets. [Engerati-Australian Telco Seizes Opportunities in the Energy Market] In Germany Telefónica and Vodafone have adapted solutions for that smart meter market, and are involved in other projects elsewhere. [Engerati-Telcos Eye German Energy Market]

Framework for smart cities

For AT&T the future seems to be in smart cities. AT&T was an early entrant to the energy market and as far back as 2008 was partnering with companies including Itron and Elster to deliver their AMI solutions over its high speed cellular network.

Today, the AT&T network manages data from 16.5 million smart meters in the US.

Subsequently AT&T has added streetlighting and water systems management to its portfolio. Now, based on these experiences the company is building what it calls a holistic framework to support cities to transition to smart cities. Additional areas addressed in the framework are infrastructure, citizen engagement, transportation and public safety.

The framework is based on connectivity, which is AT&T’s core business, and includes platforms, which is the support technology, and vertically integrated solutions, i.e. the offerings that would be deployed in the smart city and for which an alliance of leading technology providers has been formed.

To date alliance partners include Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, Hitachi, IBM, Intel and Qualcomm Technologies, and the first energy company to join, Atlanta-based Southern Company.

AT&T’s basis for the framework is that more value can be gained through an approach of deploying several solutions simultaneously rather than the siloed approach that many cities tend to be adopting to their smart city strategies.

“Our holistic strategy can help cities save money, conserve energy, improve quality of life and further engage with their citizens,” states Mike Zeto, general manager of Smart Cities, AT&T IoT Solutions, in a company statement.

Spotlight cities to deploy smart city solutions

The framework is being launched in a number of selected ‘spotlight cities’, where it is envisaged to deploy from three to five of the vertically integrated solutions within defined areas. The data gathered from these should then open the way to scaling up the solutions to larger areas, potentially city-wide and in the longer term even region or state-wide.

The selected spotlight cities to launch the framework include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Montgomery County (Maryland) and Chapel Hill (North Carolina), as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology, which as a campus has similarities with cities in terms of service delivery.

Supporting the IoT

The momentum behind the Internet of Things, and by extension smart cities, is well underway. According to a recent AT&T white paper, ‘What you need to know about IoT’, 85% of global organizations are considering or exploring an IoT strategy.

Although conceptually straightforward, the IoT obviously comes with numerous challenges. A survey last year of the developer community by AT&T and IDC found that 9% found developing IoT applications very challenging and almost 54% found it somewhat challenging. The primary obstacle was found to be a shortage of skilled IoT developers. And the reason for that is that training for IoT development is limited and technical information is less than readily accessible.

AT&T is clearly firmly committed to the IoT revolution and it is one of the areas earmarked for a share of the company’s US$10 billion investment in the delivery of solutions for its businesses during 2016. Other IoT areas AT&T is focusing on include the connected car and fleet management in the transportation arena and the global supply chain.

Further reading

AT&T: What you need to know about IoT