Smart City Networks: A Shock from a Light-bulb

After a conversation with a real thought-leader in the Smart Cities movement, I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment.

Photo credits:, Malaysia

I, and others, had been wrestling with the question of which network – or combination of networks – would be best for a particular Smart City.

It’s a complex and fascinating question, to which a number of conditions apply –

  • What’s the geography of the Smart Community – widely dispersed, tightly packed?
  • Sprawling suburbs?
  • What are the first applications – Smart parking, bins, lighting, security?
  • What can be done with existing broadband and Wi-Fi?

And 5 other angles which I’d be happy to share with you.

I don’t get unfettered access to this thought-leader so I’m very selective with my questions.

(For those interested, the “Low-Powered WAN” network options include LoRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IOT, LTE cat M1 and possibly LTE “M2M”. Maybe Itron.)

In a number of places, some of the above options are available at a very affordable cost.

Even better news: in this particular location, they could partially use municipal Wi-Fi for a number of Smart City purposes – no new investment needed.

However, they did still have to fill a gap with one of the available LPWANs. I got to the point. I asked my contact which one he would lean towards.

I managed to paint an accurate picture in the first minutes of conversation. This Local Government is keen to get it right first time and not risk ratepayers’ funds in a re-build at a later date.

“The council is leaning towards this particular option. We are endorsing that.”

“What do you think?”

His answer knocked me over.

“It really doesn’t matter”.

I argued with this:

  • It matters if the supplier they choose goes out of business.
  • It matters if you’re investing taxpayers’ $.
  • Matters to the vendors.

He patiently talked me through it. And that’s when I had the lightbulb moment.

If you have a clear goal as a Smart City, then there may be a number of ways to reach that goal.

An analogy. When cities were putting in water-mains, it was vital that these were:

  • Made of materials that didn’t leak
  • Didn’t corrode
  • Placed where they wouldn’t be ruptured (eg a metre or more underground)
  • Could be accessed and maintained where necessary.

But, as long as the ‘solution’ ticked these boxes, in the long run it didn’t actually matter who the supplier(s) of the plumbing ‘network’ was/were.


Photo credits: Sydney Water

 The water, matters.

The plumbing, doesn’t really matter.

Data is the oil of the 21st Century, to deploy an analogy that has been over-used (and we’ll use again!)

However in this analogy, the city’s data is the ‘water’ and the network is the ‘plumbing’.

Although choosing the right network and the right carrier is important, it’s not nearly so important, or so complex – intellectually and every other way – as figuring how the right data is going to get to the right people.


About the author

steve macky

Steve Mackay is founder of Creator Tech and previous to that had an extensive career in Cisco Systems, based in Beijing then Hong Kong. Steve has spent the last 3 years learning about IoT and Smart Cities from Geof Heydon and others. He was the youngest Drapers Scholar at William and Mary College, the 2nd oldest University in USA; and also studied Town Planning with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

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