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Smart streetlights enable connected city experience

Posted: 13 Jan 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Philips? smart streetlight? smart city? Internet of Things? LTE?

If everything goes well, smart cities will soon see the proliferation of another kind of 'smart technology.' Bill McShane sells smart streetlights. His company, Philips, calls them "the connected city experience."

It's a growing business and a signpost pointing to the future of smart cities and the emerging Internet of Things (IoT). The innovative product is regarded as simple, complex, nearly invisible and maybe someday omnipresent.

Smart streetlights are essentially poles packed with LEDs, small cell LTE base stations, an optional control system for the lights and a smart meter to monitor the poles' power use. So far McShane has about 150 of them being deployed in Los Angeles and San Jose. He believes over the next three years he potentially could sell thousands of them in towns all across America.

The product has multiple customers and vendors. And though it has no roadmap, it invites many thoughts about its potential. The cellular-only poles arrive at a time when cities are also expanding metro WiFi networks and thinking broadly about future sensor nets of various kinds

Smart poles

San Jose is deploying 50 smart poles such as this one near the Fairmont Hotel. (Image: Philips)

Philips' LED lighting group came up with the idea for smart streetlights and owns the product. The Dutch company struck a global deal with Ericsson to act as the subcontractor for the LTE base stations inside them. Other companies supply the optional smart meters some cities such as San Jose require.

Cellular carriers are the primary customers, specifying and paying Ericsson for the base stations and determining where they will be placed. They also pay Philips, which negotiates the deals with city government and pays the city both an installation fee and a small ongoing lease.

L.A., for example, charges Philips about $10,000 to install the poles and $40 a year to lease each site. San Jose will let Philips collect fees from the cellular carrier for ten years, after which the city will presumably collect any fees from operators.

A big but challenging business

Bill McShane

Bill McShane

Philips helps cities create a simplified permitting process for the poles sometimes owned and serviced by different entities. "We work to get everyone in the same room, which is an interesting challenge, but when they all get there and we talk about the project it becomes a powerful proposition," he said.

In the end, everyone makes money, McShane said. "It's a triple win for residents, businesses and the city," he said.

It's not an easy business with different players and rules in every town. For example, San Jose drafted 48-page streetlight design guide in February 2011, just for its conversion to LEDs. It's full of tables and math on issues regarding light levels and qualities, referencing national and international standards.

McShane's colleagues have pilot projects for poles around the world. Florida's electric utility and the city of Copenhagen are among others testing the concept, according to market watcher Navigant Research (London) that pegs the number of LED streetlights worldwide at more than 13 million growing to 116 million by 2023.

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