Phil Beecher, president and CEO, Wi-SUN Alliance, and Takahiro Yamamoto, general manager, smart communications system department, IoT Platform Division, Solution Systems Business Group, OKI Electric Industry Co., Ltd. look at the development of smart infrastructure management.
Once a mere pipe dream, in recent years the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a part of everyday life. No longer is IoT simply associated with improving the usability of domestic devices, it is now helping to enhance living and working experiences in cities around the world.
Technology innovations and advancements have enabled a range of applications for managing critical infrastructure, including remote monitoring, structural integrity diagnostics and predictive maintenance.
These add to the growing wave of smart city applications coming in the next in the next few years. One report suggests that the global IoT in smart cities market is expected to grow from $130.6 billion in 2021 to $312.2 billion come 2026, and by as much as 19% per year during the forecast period.
Investment in intelligent infrastructure is evident around the world, with many progressive markets already well on the way to achieving smart city status.
OKI is supporting such a transformation first-hand in Japan, driven by several government-backed initiatives, including a policy aimed at extending the life of the country’s aged civil infrastructure. Here, cutting-edge IoT technology is being deployed in everything from bridges and tunnels to steel towers and artificial slopes, helping to make the maintenance and management more sophisticated and efficient.
The Japanese Government is also adopting technology to improve productivity within the civil engineering and construction space resulting from current skills shortages, with such innovations being grouped under the umbrella of ‘i-Construction’. Again, infrastructure monitoring is considered to be a crucial measure within this policy.
Exploring smart city IoT use cases
OKI has been supporting the deployment of IoT devices, helping to bolster the maintenance and management of Japan’s critical and ageing infrastructure in a number of ways. Examples include:
- Monitoring of pier inclination: To affirm usability and safety in the event of a disaster, such as a large flood.
- Cable tension monitoring of cable-stayed bridges: To monitor and assess cable condition, both throughout the product lifetime and as a result of stress, such as heavy traffic.
- Slope and embankment monitoring: To monitor and assess potential deterioration resulting from heavy rain or earthquakes.
- Monitoring of highway lighting columns: Used to identify loose fixings that may arise from vibrations, age or traffic accidents.
But these use cases only scratch the surface of the overall potential of IoT devices in powering smart city infrastructure.
Take something as simple as streetlights. With IoT, these functional lamps can be transformed into critical pillars of smart city operations, capable of supporting functions well beyond their traditional remit, such as being used to deploy additional sensors and devices, which can then be used to monitor traffic flow, parking, etc. Further, they can provide information on air quality and pollution, while additional sensors can be integrated to measure road temperatures.
Whatever the use cases, the one common theme of IoT in critical infrastructure is sensors. Yet for sensors to work safely, reliably and effectively, they require a secure and reliable network infrastructure with excellent of quality of service that will ensure they stay connected 24/7 to deliver optimal results.
Wi-SUN has been developed to support interoperability of devices for use by utilities, city developers and other service providers. Wi-SUN FAN (Field Area Networks) provides a communications infrastructure for very large-scale outdoor networks, allowing industrial devices such as smart meters and streetlights interconnect onto one common network.
This provides the foundations from which smart city infrastructure can be built up from, offering fast and efficient network deployment, which delivers scalability, security and connectivity benefits.
With critical infrastructure, there can be no compromise when it comes to safety and security. Wi-SUN FAN has adopted a security-by-design approach, making device authentication and encryption the central pillars of IoT security. By ensuring each device is uniquely identifiable with digital certificates, and therefore properly authenticated when joining a network, you can ensure no tampered devices are able to infiltrate your network.
Supporting remote sensors
Wi-SUN FAN also prioritises ease of use and scalability to remove the opportunity for complexity to hinder infrastructure deployments. The technology supports wireless communication among remote devices, such as those driven by batteries, ensuring that grid connections are not necessary. This allows for quick and scalable device deployment that enables users to collate key service-related information, such as consumption and distribution metrics much more frequently and easily.
Standardised technology to support multiple vendors
Further, Wi-SUN FAN is a standardised technology that enables multiple vendors and devices to leverage a single network deployment. This interoperability between third party products allows the network to be used for multiple applications, providing an opportunity to roll out additional smart city use cases and devices in the future.
Large-scale IoT networks will be critical to the success of smart infrastructure management, utilities and cities in the coming years. In order for them to operate safely, securely and reliably, technological foundations and considerations such as these are critical.