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Could street lighting be the platform for smart city LPWANs?


via Flickr © B4bees (CC BY 2.0)

The IoT spotlight has been on the crop of new Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) designed to operate in the ISM band and to compete - eventually - with cellular-based IoT networks, once these get standardised and appear.

But LPWAN networks have been around for 20 years or more and one of the companies which has already established itself in the crucial ‘smart city’ segment with an LPWAN solution is UK-based Telensa, which claims to be the leading street light network provider with thousands of street lights already under management.

With the current surge of interest around IoT, M2M and Smart City projects, Telensa is looking forward to a distinct uptick in sales for its solution and to that end has just completed an $18 million round and plans to use the cash to up-staff  for a concerted global sales and support effort.

According to CEO Will Gibson, the USP is that Telensa already has a robust, functioning system which is proving its worth already, while his competitors are still limbering up with “pilot applications in search of a business case,” and LPWA networks “waiting for a critical mass of devices”.

Gibson argues that rather trying to engineer a critical mass business model, Telensa has gone for the slow build and in so doing has been able to prove that its solution works technically and can be used in applications to generate savings and add value at a “commercial scale.”

Telensa smart city control technology is already the world’s most widely deployed smart streetlight solution, he claims, with over 50 city and regional networks deployed in 8 countries and a project footprint covering over 1 million streetlights. In the UK alone, Gibson tells me that Telensa is already responsible for 1 in 10 UK streetlights.

The radio technology presents a classic LPWAN profile featuring low-cost, long range and long battery life (up to seven years in its case) where batteries are needed (obviously street lighting provides its own power).

Gibson claims the Telensa system is notable for its two way communications capabilities - an area some of his competitors aren’t as well positioned, he claims.

The potential demand for LPWAN is agreed to be huge (pick your own numbers in terms of devices - always in the billions of course), and the known unknown is what sort of applications are going to catch fire in what order.  For Telensa street lighting is a clear platform, which is proved to pay for itself. The trick then is to add other ‘smart city’ applications to the network to gain further value. The trick will be to identify what these are and develop for them.

“It’s difficult to tell what is going to work,” says Will, “and each application has to wash its own face financially. We think parking management is going to be important and there is interest in air quality and traffic monitoring. But the thing is, most of these projects don’t involve new money and cities are not necessarily flush with cash to spend.”

So far, he says, many of the pilots and test applications are more like vanity projects and are often reliant on grants. What works is being able to prove a business case with real financial payback.

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