How Global, Cloud-Based Cellular Location Will Boost Smart Cities
For smart cities to live up to their reputation, “smart” technology for sustainable growth is essential in all aspects of people’s daily routine, including transport, energy, infrastructure, and the environment.
One of the core ingredients for a city to become “smart” is the gathering of data through thousands of sensors embedded in connected devices. Insights are gained from the data, which are then utilized to improve efficiencies in city services, maximize the efficient allocation of resources, automate decision making and provide data trends to address greater challenges in the long term and boost the overall quality of citizen life.
Here, we want to focus on two components of the smart city system: smart meters and embedded environmental sensors (EES). The former provides data that helps utilities to automate the billing process as well as better monitor the health of the electric grid, water, and gas supply. The latter gathers data that is used for a myriad of use cases including: traffic management, waste disposal, water level/flood monitoring, pollution and land management as well as monitoring the structural integrity of infrastructure like buildings, bridges, and tunnels. Both these technologies are essential to the overall efficiency of any smart city. But, as with all data collection, it is the context of this data that is most valuable, which the power of location makes up the fundamental pillar of.
The Challenge: GPS Doesn’t Always Cut It
Smart meters are usually connected to the grid or cloud via cellular to transmit data. Most utility smart meters are positioned inside buildings, so the address and location are typically known. However, other meters located outside in roadside cabinets, under manhole covers on the road or pavement are more difficult to position. This is even more prevalent with EES that are placed in fields, alongside waterways, highways or under bridges. Knowing the location of these devices becomes even more important, especially if a sensor is indicating a leak or a fault.
Given these devices are inherently stationary, and many of them powered by battery, it is necessary to leverage a location technology that is efficient for use cases particularly in which a company only needs to derive location infrequently – for example, the once a week, month or even year when a specific event occurs.
GPS was designed for navigation and is also used in devices to track vehicles or assets that are on the move. The issue, however, is that GPS is power-hungry and not efficient in battery-powered devices that only need location sparsely, or when the device needs to be in situ for five to ten years. Intelligent meters simply don’t move much and rarely need to be checked, so it’s hard to justify turning out pockets for expensive coverage. More importantly, many of these smart meters and EES are positioned where there is no line of sight to a satellite, such as inside buildings, in basements or under manhole covers – rendering GPS useless.
The Solution: Cloud-Based Cellular Location for Smart Cities
Taking advantage of existing 4G/5G infrastructure for low-power, indoor and outdoor cellular positioning is a logical alternative. Companies can reduce the bill of materials of the device by avoiding the addition of extra radio chipsets and operationally, achieve significantly greater power efficiency with more universal coverage for asset tracking.
But not all cellular location technology is the same. Cell-ID can provide an accuracy range of several hundred meters to several kilometers, making this a less than ideal option for locating EES devices. Enhanced Cell-ID delivers an accuracy improvement, but still may not be sufficient. Cloud-based cellular location, such as the technology patented by Polte, can provide the highest form of cellular positioning accuracy on the market, while maintaining high power efficiency, low cost and ubiquitous coverage. Better yet, devices powered by cloud-based cellular location benefit from immediate OTA (Over the Air) updates and enhancements, given that computations are performed in the cloud rather than on the device itself.
Take, for instance, the use of a small device on a waste bin that is used by the public in a less trafficked area. Sending the truck to empty the bin only when it is nearly full rather than on a more consistent schedule is a more efficient use of resources. Thus, knowing exactly which waste bin needs to be emptied and where it is located brings more relevance to the data. Devices on these bins would have to be battery-powered, equipped with a sustainable battery life and precise location technology. In this use case, cloud-based cellular location is the most suitable option.
In another use case, a sensor placed on a bridge to monitor its integrity through measuring vibration and concrete-moisture content can send data when limits are breached. Therefore, knowing specifically which bridge (and which part of the bridge) will be crucial in order to quickly rectify the issue and ensure safety for those that cross it. As in the previous case, cloud-based cellular location will deliver the best ROI for the battery-powered sensor.
For a third common smart city use case, smart water meters, companies can now match up drivers and vehicles easily to meter locations. As meter readings move toward OTA updates, accurate cellular location is critical for truck rolls.
That being said, in use cases in which GPS is the preferred technology due to potential accuracy constraints or environments, devices can still be hybridized with cloud-based cellular location to deliver greater savings on cost and power, with heightened visibility in gap areas. For example, small utility vehicles or mobile equipment owned by the city may be parked in garages or underground. Or, in dense urban areas where buildings act like canyons, the GPS device will not be able to lock onto a satellite. Combining cloud-based cellular location with GPS provides the full visibility of the vehicle when GPS cannot be used.
The blossoming of 5G rollouts in smart cities around the world will only amplify the argument for more prevalent cloud-based cellular location, offering even greater accuracy, as well as accuracy down to the sub-meter level in cases where private networks are used.
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