The beginnings of a smart city

A historic town with a go-ahead city authority and a mixed industrial and business base is trialling several Smart City applications.

Journalists visiting Romania this week to get an update on 5G Fixed Wireless Access trials in Floresti, were also given the opportunity to see Smart City trials taking place about 100km away in Alba Iulia, again with Orange Romania’s support.

Alba Iulia is a historic “second capital” of Romania. It combines extensive Roman remains (mostly still buried) with impressive Austro-Hungarian era forts, cathedrals and buildings. It is also the birthplace of a united Romanian government, formed 100 years ago, and has an evocative Romanian patriotic history.

The City is making significant investments to restore and re-present much of this heritage, to become a more significant tourist destination. There is also a mix of local industry, including car component plants and some technology innovation, some centred around the University.

As such, it is a location that presents several opportunities for “Smart City” technologies. Orange Romania is one of the partners involved in running a number of Smart City trials. Here’s a rundown of what the City, with Orange and other partners, is testing. 

Connected transport

15 buses have been connected with WiFi access points that backhaul over Orange’s LTE-A network (the city has carrier aggregation supported). Bus passengers can log on to the WiFi for free by answering a survey question. These have ranged from opinions about garbage collection in the city to views on lighting and air quality. The most popular survey had 2,000 responses.

The buses are tracked via GPS, with an analytics dashboard showing bus location, the number of connected users and survey responses. 

Air Quality monitoring

The same 15 buses also carry air quality sensors. These report a number of metrics in real time to a dashboard, tracking parameters such as CO2 and diesel particulate levels, as well as noise levels. The City can see when and where levels are too high. The City has made this data open, and citizens can, if they want, access the data themselves.

Nicolaie Moldovan, City Manager, said the open data was part of a wider ambition to make all the city data open – on things like demographics, water quality, energy consumption in public institutions and so on. “Anything that can be put in will be put in. We want to be the first administration in Romania with a public open data platform.”

Ultra specific location technology

200 Bluetooth beacons have been installed at locations across the centre of the City. A visitor is prompted to download an app (often by a QR code on tourist signage). The app will then deliver location-specific information alerts when that user is within reach of a specific beacon. The aim is shortly to extend to 400 beacons in public spaces. There is also an AR app in the pipeline, again utilising the beacons. 

Smart Lighting

100 LED streetlights have been equipped with modules connecting them to a management and reporting platform. The modules connect over a LoRaWan network provided by Romanian company FlashNet. The lights can be monitored for maintenance issues, can be dimmed according to time of day and population levels to optimise energy costs. Orange also has plans to trial LTE-M IoT in the area.

City Analytics and sustainability

The open Orange WiFi network in public buildings and places (such as city squares) gives visitor traffic analytics. The City, via Orange’s membership of a Horizon2020 project on Smart Urban areas, is gathering data to comply with the ISO37120 standard for city sustainability

A slice of the future

Orange Romania is a partner of the EU projects SliceNet and Matilda, which seek to define a network slicing architecture, and look at defining an app that would give access to how specific slices might be consumed. City employees said Alba Iulia is considering accessing a “Smart City” slice (or presumably slices, given the different usage profiles) from any future 5G network, and would certainly put its hand up to be a trial site for 5G in the country.

Comments:

Alba Iulia is a relatively small city, and most of these trials are at a nascent stage. But the trials show the potential of WiFi, 4G and IoT connectivity as foundational to the attempts of a City government to transform the way it interacts with its citizens, businesses and visitors.

With so much talk of Smart Cities, edge based analytics, localised services and so on, it is instructive to see the efforts that go into providing even small scale implementations like this. Expansion will take money, which will mean coming up with some creative revenue paths and partnerships, with perhaps an added opportunity to part-finance opex from savings gained. The benefits – cleaner air, more efficient transport, more tourism, education, easier interaction with government – are apparent. But Smart City platforms will take funding, and the sources of that are less so.

Alba Iulia smart city slideshow

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