Streetlights bring a bright future for smart cities

Falling costs and improvements in quality are driving the uptake of LED lighting as cities replace and upgrade existing street lighting systems. Case studies around the world have shown that replacing a legacy street lighting system with LEDs can reduce a city’s energy bill by half.

Installing LED lighting is only the first step however. Cities are realising that upgrading streetlights also provides an excellent opportunity to integrate those same streetlights with networking and intelligent controls that can provide further savings. In turn, this network can provide a ubiquitous platform for current and future smart city applications that can save money, enhance public safety, improve sustainability, and much more.

Connecting the city for the future

As cities look to deploy more sophisticated street lighting systems and to use the street lighting network as a platform for other applications, they face decisions about the technology and investment choices they need to make.

The technology to sense movement or darkness and trigger a light has existed for many years.  This functionality places little demand on the communication network, and reliability and cost often drive the technology decisions.

It is however more difficult to control lighting in a way that is en masse and scalable. Advanced lighting management introduces a much broader range of control features such as energy and power management, turning lights on and off, and providing responsive lighting when and where it is needed most for public safety, all of which require faster response and greater security.

The use of the right Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology can facilitate and enhance the vision of the public forum. Smart lighting is one of the key anchor use cases that can underpin a value proposition for a city to build out the digital infrastructure needed for a wide variety of applications.

Not all LPWANs are created equal

The interoperable nature of the LoRaWAN protocol makes it easy to fit a smart lighting solution into a larger smart city network of applications which can monitor everything from traffic, air quality, and parking, to weather emergencies.

Cities that are planning smart lighting networks also need to get very familiar with the term ‘multicast’. The average city has hundreds or thousands of streetlights, and the multicast capability of LoRaWAN enables a single source to control multiple end points with a single transmission, for example to switch groups of lights on or off, adjust lighting colour, dim and even flicker.  This is essential to keep traffic in the communication network manageable and ensure the city’s lighting solution is scalable.

Carrier-grade LoRaWAN networks like NNNCo’s are designed and built to establish multicast groups with a network server that is able to transmit to many end points. The data that comes back from these devices enables cities to refine the use cases, again using multicast to manage groups of devices and reconfigure them remotely.

A smart city network needs quality design and management

For large volumes of lights to be managed effectively it is imperative that the network is designed and managed to meet the highest levels of resilience and stability and reduce the risk of control failures. Varying power quality, device density, and installation factors come into play when designing a network which is to be used for the management of devices that can impact public safety.

The importance of data sovereignty and security

Data sovereignty is essential when dealing with anything that may affect what is essentially a public service – the provision of street lighting. Cities need to be careful about where and how data is transmitted, how it is stored and where it resides and the prospect of malicious intent with regard to lighting control should be considered and mitigated.

A number of data security steps should also be taken to safeguard data and ensure it cannot be accessed ‘mid flight’. These include using 256bit AES encryption with dynamic key exchange for all devices to join and send traffic across the network.   Backhaul transmission using private networks and IP Security is also core to ensuring data security.

Cities should ensure their network provider takes data security and sovereignty very seriously, maintaining the highest levels of data protection for the city. The provider’s ecosystem of suppliers and partners must also be carefully managed to ensure data is protected and importantly is accessible to the right people at the right time.

The final frontier – seamless data management

The management and distribution of data is imperative to provide a secure and resilient service to manage lighting. Imagine a situation where the wrong data structure or an incorrect access arrangement restrict access to an important service such as lighting.

Data structures are essential in the management of all use cases for IoT and none more than lighting. The establishment of group attributes, access control and seamless integration to existing systems is essential to the viability of the business case around light control and management. NNNCo’s data layer, the N2N-DL platform discussed in our last blog, solves these data complexities for cities.

The future’s bright alright

In a world that depends on ubiquitous access to power and connectivity, the street lighting network is a valuable asset. In addition to improving the efficiency and value of city services, that network can also become a source of new revenue for the city.

Think of smart lighting as an important anchor use case for the city. Large numbers of lights under management can provide a true cost benefit to the community and enable many other city-wide applications that not only reduce cost but deliver wider public benefits.

If you’d like to find out more about NNNCo’s Data Platform, download our N2N-DL paper at