The government’s ambitious urban renewal and retrofitting programme, Smart Cities Mission has proved to be a stimulant to the deployment of fibre-based backhaul. Before a city can be smart, it has to be networked, and to this end, fibre not only provides the necessary backhaul support for efficient functioning of smart city networks, but also enables efficient handling and transmission of the large amount of data generated from these networks and systems. That said, optical fibre cable (OFC) connectivity remains a core component of ICT infrastructure under the mission as it enables services such as Wi-Fi, video surveillance and security, smart urban infrastructure, smart mobility and management.
According to T.R. Dua, director general, TAIPA, “Government projects such as smart cities and the roll-out of emerging technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) call for connecting all mobile towers in the country with OFC. Optical fibre laying speed needs to increase nearly 3.6 times and there is a need to increase the fiberisation of towers from the present 34 per cent to at least 70 per cent.”
Role of OFC
A smart city is essentially called smart because it comprises various systems and software that run on algorithms and are able to function intelligently with minimal human intervention. OFC, with its virtually unlimited capacity, is the perfect backbone for the delivery of bandwidth-intensive applications in a smart city. It facilitates the installation of sensors, which are a critical component of intelligent solutions deployed in smart cities. In addition, OFC offers higher reliability and security in networks, supporting lower attenuation for transmission over long distances.
Recognising the fundamental role that OFC networks are going to play in the development of smart cities, several cities selected under the Smart Cities Mission have already started deploying citywide OFC networks while others have started working on ducting for OFC networks, OFC deployment for command and control centres and other OFC-related civil works.
OFC requirements in smart cities
OFC is ideal for accommodating smart city applications as fibre offers high bandwidth and low latency. There are several applications of OFC in a smart city, including smart grids for enhanced energy efficiency, enabling a smart health ecosystem, and efficient sensor networks to improve public services and infrastructure.
In smart cities, stakeholders are focused on building an intelligent transportation system. This ecosystem is built with smart poles, smart parking and high resolution cameras to efficiently manage traffic. OFC is used to tie together complex networks that control sensors such as traffic lights, message signs, cameras and other traffic system technologies. Its high speed and ultra-reliable networks running on fibre enable the required traffic data to be uploaded in a short span of time, thus allowing better assessment of traffic conditions.
To this end, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) has stressed the need to expedite the adoption of a National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) to reduce human interaction in the operations of public transit systems. With the tag line of One Nation One Card, the central government launched the NCMC in March 2019, to enable seamless travel on different transportation systems across the country, besides retail shopping. Further, in 2020, MoHUA embarked on the Integrated Sustainable Urban Transport Systems for Smart Cities project, in collaboration with GIZ, in three cities – Bhubaneswar, Kochi and Coimbatore. In May 2020, the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation invited tenders to introduce the NCMC to encourage cashless travel.
Surveillance and security
Smart cities are incorporating technologies such as integrated surveillance systems for safety and security through CCCs and immediate emergency response for disaster/crisis management. These high-tech surveillance cameras installed in smart cities are connected with OFC and have sensors that can sense suspicious activity, whose source can be detected through the OFC network.
Stakeholders in smart cities are focused on building smart infrastructure connected with IoT that can autonomously perform preset actions. Thus, with fibre optics, urban infrastructure can be connected to the city facilities and can be transformed into smart buildings.These buildings are equipped to provide centralised telecom services, security, climate control, and lighting systems. Thus, OFC is the best medium for smooth and rapid transmission of the data pertaining to telecom and IoT solutions embedded in smart buildings across these cities.
Public utility services
A smart city also involves making public services more efficient and digitally sound. Public utilities such as water, gas, electricity, health services, fire and police communications are looking at ways to be more ICT enabled. In this regard, a reliable high-speed fibre network can facilitate real time communications, making these utilities more interconnected and efficient. Besides, OFC can provide substantial support in the smart city’s vision of holistically improving its services as it can also monitor environmental indicators and track air and water quality, as well as modernise the infrastructure of utility services.
5G is an enabling technology for IoT, and as smart cities essentially rely on IoT to function, 5G and smart cities are inextricably linked. According to the TRAI, “A key requirement for 5G network roll-out is availability of a strong reliable backhaul, which is non-existent in India at present. Further, to support 5G requirement for latency reduction and speed from 100 Mbps to 20 Gbps, the fibre deployment in India needs to be increased from the current market of 16–18 million fibre km per year to at least 50 million fibre km per year. 5G will also require a multifold increase in small cell deployment, with each small cell having backhaul on fibre. The percentage of tower backhaul on fibre for operators will also need to be increased significantly from 20 per cent to 70-80 per cent.”
Going forward, the use of advanced technologies in smart cities will lead to a strong demand for OFC and fibre optic interconnectivity products. With its virtually unlimited capacity, OFC provides the perfect backbone for the delivery of high speed internet in a smart city. Besides, the successful implementation of new technologies such as 5G, IoT and AI is not possible without a strong fibre network and this presents a strong case for the deployment of a citywide OFC network.