Eight months after first announcing plans for a "Smart Cities" pilot project in downtown Boston, Verizon is now installing road sensors, cameras and connected lighting at the Beantown intersection of Mass Ave and Beacon Street. It's the start of the first active phase of the Smart Cities trial and comes just as the telco is also launching its first new Fios neighborhoods in the Boston region.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) signed a wide-ranging agreement with the city of Boston back in April to replace old copper wiring with new fiber. According to Boston CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge, one in five households still doesn't have broadband access in the city today, and that's in large part due to aging infrastructure. The goal of the deal, however, which includes an investment of more than $300 million over six years, is not only for Verizon to deliver new wireline residential and business services, but also for the company to lay a foundation for future wireless services, including those built on 5G technology. (See Verizon Hails Boston Fios Launch but Eyes 5G.)
At the time the agreement was signed, Verizon's Wireline Network President Bob Mudge said, "This transformation isn't just about advanced new fiber-optic technology -- it's about the innovative services this platform will allow people to create and use, today and in the future." And that's where the Smart Cities part of the larger Boston strategy comes into play.
Verizon executives are calling their new Smart Cities installation a "hyper-instrumented intersection." With at least 40 sensors at the location plus multiple cameras, a lighting control solution and broadband connectivity, it's a pilot that's not meant to scale. However, it will provide massive amounts of location-specific data, some of which will start being collected within the next few weeks.
For Boston, the experiment will help the city understand how to make its streets safer and more efficient. For Verizon, it will help provide insight into how the telco should plan network builds in the future, and also what types of services it should develop to monetize those investments over the long term.
As far as connectivity goes, Verizon says it has already deployed 160 miles of new fiber in Boston since the spring. Much of that fiber will be used for direct broadband sales to homes and businesses, but ultimately it will also be necessary for backhauling wireless connections, including those that will carry data collected from local sensors and other connected devices up to the cloud.
Among the sensors being installed this week, for example, are magnetometers and micro radar devices that will use Zigbee to communicate to nearby traffic cabinets. The traffic cabinets, meanwhile, have their own cellular wireless connections that link to the Internet and will be used to transfer sensor information from the intersection of Mass Ave and Beacon Street to a centralized database.
There are lots of different types of data that Verizon is collecting for the city; information like how many times bicycles move outside of bicycle lanes, how often a vehicle operates illegally in the intersection and how often cars or trucks double park and cause extra congestion in the area. In the future, Verizon also plans to be able to track information such as the potential for accidents based on near misses and how people respond when emergency vehicles approach the area. The complexity of the data and analysis will vary from simple vehicle count totals reported from the magnetometers to more involved assessments of when certain behavior, which is recorded on local cameras, falls outside normal parameters.
Verizon's Intelligent Video solution is responsible for the video recording part. The solution includes mounted cameras, a custom connectivity cabinet and both client and cloud-based software. Footage from the cameras will be streamed to the cabinet, where up to 8 terabytes of data are set to be stored locally and analyzed on site. When the system recognizes a change in normal patterns -- such as when a car moves somewhere it shouldn't -- then the system will stream the relevant footage to the cloud for further study.
Eventually, smart city implementations will also be able to combine data from a single location with data from vehicles in motion. The future contains no shortage of possibilities for networking urban environments and for developing new solutions aimed at improving how cities operate.
The combination of revenue opportunities from wired, wireless and smart city services in the Boston project is a financially attractive prospect for Verizon, which means the company is likely to try to merge future infrastructure and software application projects in similar ways.
As Verizon's Mudge explained at the Informa Smart Cities Summit this week, "On a standalone basis, the old model of fiber, perhaps for TV and data for the consumer space, it was a good business model, but it was not a compelling business case. Yet when we went back and we looked at the investment pieces for what else could happen with the right fiber investment, and we thought about more applications, additional revenue streams that came with that investment, that's what has allowed us now to be a leader and move forward in Boston."
On the infrastructure side, Verizon should gain insight from the Boston rollout into more efficient ways to combine wired and wireless technology, including perhaps how best to deploy small cells to extend broadband coverage. On the application side, Verizon has a chance to learn how to optimize not only individual solutions, but also its web-based ThingSpace platform for Internet of Things development. The telco can use the data from Boston to compare to other ThingSpace implementations and other city-based trials being conducted across the country. (See How ThingSpace Will Make Money for Verizon.)
One thing Verizon won't do is try to replicate its hyper-instrumented intersection throughout the US. That's simply not economically feasible. However, eventually smart city deployments will have to become more broadly sustainable, and what Verizon learns from its Boston trial could help make that happen.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading