James Dennis, chief technology officer, Wireless Logic thells Smart infrastructure Magazine about embracing the data potential of connected devices for smart infrastructure.

As consumers, we are happier than ever with the notion of the ‘quantified self’. We track, measure and monitor many aspects of our lives – heart rate, blood pressure, fitness levels and more. Wearables are now fully normalised, as are connected devices in our homes. Enterprise has undergone a similar mindset shift to embrace the data potential of connected devices without human interaction, with cellular internet of things (IoT) connectivity enabling solutions for smart infrastructure.

The number of IoT devices in the UK is set to grow to over 150 million in 2024, according to GOV.UK, and consumer wearables and white goods make up over 40% of IoT connections. As we ourselves have become more connected, so too has our built environment. Connectivity here has contributed to smart buildings and cities; at a wider sector level it plays an important role in new energy infrastructure.

All of which means we can now gather a huge amount of information about our environments, to positively impact air quality, energy efficiency and more.

The smart building digital transformation

By one estimate, the smart building market size is expected to reach $570 billion by 2030, a growth of over 25% 2022-2030. It is driven by the business need to minimise costs, improve safety and reduce environmental impact. Innovation in connected devices, big data and connectivity for the IoT supports these aims.

In buildings, three main factors accelerate the adoption of smart applications. Firstly, operational efficiency for cost effective building management. Predictive maintenance serves this goal. It is made possible by collecting data on the condition of equipment. Armed with this knowledge, building and infrastructure managers can optimise site visits to make the most efficient use of in-person appointments.

Health, safety and security is a second factor. Here, smart applications can monitor air quality to regulate air purification. They can support security features including access control and CCTV and safety through communications systems for lifts. The Covid-19 pandemic introduced a new building priority, that of managing the flow of people within indoor spaces. Connected technologies, such as thermal imaging cameras and occupancy monitoring systems, had a role to play in supporting social distancing aims.

Lastly, environmental goals and the need to minimise the impact buildings have on the environment contribute to the drive towards smart solutions. Data from connected devices provides valued insight into how to minimise energy wastage and optimise energy systems.

Opportunities as cities get smart

It now goes almost without saying that as new infrastructure is added and existing infrastructure is updated, it is connected in ways it may not have been before. This means that streetlights can be monitored and dimmed when they are not needed to minimise energy wastage and light pollution. Sensors can detect, for example, water leaks so that these can be actioned swiftly to reduce the cost and impact of water wastage. Traffic flows can be monitored to reduce congestion and inform urban planning.

Electric vehicles (EVs) contribute to environmental goals by reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Smart infrastructure that sits behind EV charge points enables the load they place on the network to be monitored. Connected devices also equip service providers to manage the installed EV charge point network through performance data that can indicate maintenance issues that need addressing. This level of insight helps towards building and maintaining drivers’ confidence in being able to charge their vehicles.

The goal of smart infrastructure, whether this is for our buildings or cities, must be improvements over unconnected solutions. These gains should enhance quality of life, optimise safety, help us meet environmental goals, maximise efficient operation or reduce costs or waste. In many cases, they will deliver on multiple aims simultaneously.

How cellular connectivity enables smart infrastructure

Cellular IoT connectivity underpins the growth in connected devices. It is flexible, scalable and can support rapid implementations of connected devices. It is suited to local, national and international deployments and can provide over the air (OTA) network provision for smoother rollouts, as well as the capability to switch network provider in-life if required.

Secure transmission of IoT data is a priority. All smart infrastructure generates potentially sensitive data where interception or data loss could lead to operational and reputational damage. Technical security for cellular connectivity is achieved through a range of capabilities including encrypted virtual private networks (VPNs), secure private access point names (APNs) and automated anomaly detection so that IoT solution providers and managers can defend, detect and react in the face of constantly evolving cyber threats.

Smart infrastructure deployments are often large scale. To reduce the administrative burden, a managed IoT service connectivity provider can consolidate connected solutions to give insight into, and control over, complete IoT deployments.

Our environment is transforming through smart connected technology that has a significant impact on our infrastructure. Cellular IoT is helping local authorities, building owners and engineers and IoT solutions providers connect devices to gain insight into performance, usage and other data. This insight, enabled through greater levels of connectivity, supports the evolution of our buildings, cities and more as we embrace the potential of smart infrastructure.