Smart City. We hear this term often but what does it mean? Every city and community may define it differently depending on their priorities. From streetlight sensors and smart pedestrian or cycling lanes to improve traffic and pedestrian safety, to smart poles designed to include things like gunshot detection, weather alerts or other security monitoring, to city-wide wifi, small cell deployment and integrated technologies to ensure recovery after a disaster—smart cities are redefining municipal infrastructure, local economies, and services offered to citizens.
On this week’s Fiber for Breakfast—a live video series hosted by the Fiber Broadband Association—two smart city experts discussed how cities are implementing technologies and applications to become “smart” but also highlighted the need for an underlying strong fiber infrastructure to get there. Raimundo Rudolfo, director of information technology and chief innovation officer at the city of Coral Gables, Fla., and Peter Murray, executive director of Dense Networks, said smart cities pave the way for cities capturing technology to improve safety, public health and economic development.
“We are connecting all the services we provide for our citizens,” Rudolfo said. “The idea is to have a robust, high-speed network that can support everything but is also able to survive things like hurricanes or other natural disasters.”
Coral Gables, Fla., a community just south of Miami, has built a fiber backbone that powers its downtown and beyond. This network powers things like smart streetlights, public wifi, and pedestrian and traffic sensors. But it also allows for fiber builds to businesses and homes by using both city-owned and leased fiber.
It’s allowed the city to create a smart city ecosystem powered by high-speed communication—one that survived Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“It supports everything we do,” Rudolfo said.
Murray said the city is an example of what happens when a municipality embraces fiber for the betterment of its citizens. He said connectivity allows a variety of things to happen. Not only can a community boast high-speed internet—an attractive feature to future residents and businesses—those networks can host services that make the city run more efficiently.
Fiber networks can measure things like traffic flow, parking congestion in public-owned lots, gunshot detectors, water levels and more. It allows public officials to preemptively address problems in a variety of departments.
“Fiber is the underlying technology that enables everything to happen,” he said. “With the roll out of 5G, smart cells, city fiber—we need this technology to support it.”
What can be difficult about a smart city, though, is ensuring it gets the right support. For Coral Gables, the relationship with the city and surrounding communities has been integral in making it a success. Rudolfo said before any type of building is updated or installed in the city, there are plans to outfit it with fiber. Having that coordination allows the network to grow naturally.
“Any opportunity we have on a construction project or a capital project—any building project, we introduce the smart component into it,” he said. “Every time there’s a new build in the city, we check and see if there’s an opportunity for fiber.”
Having leadership that supports fiber also makes it easier to fund fiber projects. Murray said cities that have elected officials who understand the importance of fiber are more likely to advocate for it, find funding and support partnerships with outside entities to make it happen.
“One of the biggest variables is having steady leadership in the city so these projects aren’t just a whim of one leader and then go away,” he said.
But for cities that are interested in building out a fiber infrastructure, they should know they don’t have to go it alone. As connectivity becomes a bigger issue both on the state and federal level, there’s more funding available for cities looking to become “smart.”
“It’s not just a one-off where a city acts alone,” he said. “There’s collaboration with other partners, and there’s money from both state and federal grants. Think collaboration, think creative financing when you deal with getting that infrastructure put in place.”
For cities that do invest, Rudolfo said it is an investment worthwhile. Having a strong network has made the city more cohesive, both from a functional and growth perspective. What’s most important, though, is that having a strong backbone has allowed Coral Gables to stay online through not only a hurricane, but a global pandemic.
“Fiber is not going anywhere,” he said. “We have to invest in fiber infrastructure for communities to close the digital divide. It’s vital. It’s as vital as electricity or water.”
Join us for the next Fiber for Breakfast live video series on July 1 at 10 a.m. ET. The topic: Fiber and the Smart Grid, Energy Efficiency & Monitoring.