Wireless smart street poles will make Silicon Valley better connected, smarter, healthier (and better lit)

© Chordant

© Chordant

  • New street fitments come embedded with built-in Gigabit-speed mmWave wireless for 5G networks
  • Also: LED lighting options, cameras, Wi-Fi, audio speakers and charging points for electric vehicles 
  • Easier and cheaper to deploy and lower power consumption requirements 
  • But, great potential to help enable truly dystopian surveillance societies and police states around the world

Where you are depends on what you call various items of street furniture and fittings. In the UK we have lamp-posts on pavements and (still, in some places) "telegraph poles" alongside railway lines. In North America where sky-obscuring festoons of overhead cabling and steel scaffolding that support ugly oil-filled transformers remain very much the norm, they are held aloft above the sidewalks on metal or wooden light-poles or just plain "poles". Now though, in some parts of the US, (mainly in big towns and cities) sleek and elegant "smart light poles" are being adopted and, as might be expected, leading the way in deploying them are townships and cities in Silicon Valley, California.

Two companies, Siklu and Schréder, are siting what are claimed to be the first "Wireless Smart Poles" in San Jose at the southern end of Silicon Valley and in other trendy high tech townships along US 101. The smart poles, which are stylish and remarkably unobtrusive by comparison to the commonplace cluttered and undeniably unattractive dumb poles (plug ugly in more ways than one) that despoil many a US urban environment, come with Gigabit-speed mmWave wireless connectivity built in. The smart poles also feature Wi-Fi access points and HD cameras to help make smart cities a reality rather than pipe dreams (see what I did there?).

Siklu makes fixed 5G millimetre wave solutions for Gigabit Wireless Access (GWA), Smart City and security networks, while Schréder is one of the world's largest manufacturers of outdoor lighting systems. Schréder's best known product is the SHUFFLE light pole, which is made with rotatable and interchangeable modules that integrate various LED lighting options, cameras, Wi-Fi, charging points for electric vehicles, audio speakers and small cells for 4G and 5G networks. The latest new module is the "SHUFFLE Wireless Backhaul" and after deployment in and around the Valley, it is hoped that, in due course, the SHUFFLE will be off to Buffalo (and other points east) as America's smart cities expand and proliferate. 

Gigabit wireless connectivity comes courtesy of Siklu's "MultiHaul" Radio technology which operates in the licence-free 60GHz band and provides slightly less than 2 Gbps of capacity. However, the smart poles can be either daisy-chained together or configured in a point-to-point topology to greatly increase available capacity. For example, in a point-to-point configuration a single SHUFFLE smart pole equipped with Base Unit can connect up to eight others. Schréder says with a flexible fibre or even a copper interface to a POP combined solution reduces power consumption and makes deployment of next-generation Smart City services easier and cheaper to deploy. What's more, with the Siklu/Schréder solution, municipalities do not need to remove and replace every existing light pole (although it would be much more aesthetically easy on the eye were they to do so) because the SHUFFLE's Wi-Fi and camera capabilities can be installed here and there in an extant streetlight system.

All this and potential new revenue stream too 

Smart street poles are regarded as integral to any plan for any Smart City anywhere on Earth. After all they are everywhere, there are billions of them and they are all connected to power grids. Thus smart street poles have the potential to be adapted to provide the dense wireless infrastructure vital pportunities follow quickly on behind. The reality is that Smart poles can provide a potential revenue stream for cash-strapped (and cash-rich) municipalities. As well as offering emergency messaging, digital signage also presents opportunities for targeted advertising campaigns. (There go the aesthetics. That didn't last long!). Tracking data, including pedestrian movement and street traffic, can and no doubt will be monetised for private commercial development and gain.

Earlier this year a report from US-headquartered research house Navigant concluded that Smart pole deployments will enjoy a 50 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from now through until at least 2028. The report says, "By providing connection to the electricity grid and a physical location along streets, smart poles are increasingly being used to host mobile broadband small cells and public wi-fi access points, as well as other smart city technologies such as smart lighting systems and multi-purpose sensor arrays (for air quality, traffic count, and gunshot detection). Gunshot detection!! If you didn't already realise it at first glance those two words are a 'dead' giveaway that Navigant is referring to Smart Pole installation in the United States rather than anywhere else.

It's the same old story, many new technologies can be, and usually are, a boon to humanity but also have the potential to help realise dystopian nightmares that would make George Orwell''s "1984" seem upbeat and optimistic.  

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