Gautam Billa, Senior Director, pre-sales and system engineering, Ciena India

Communication networks are at the heart of smart cities, and 5G can deliver such ultra high-speed, low latency and high capacity networks required for a smart city. In an interview with, Gautam Billa, senior director, pre-sales and system engineering, Ciena India, talks about the role of 5G in accelerating smart city growth…

How can service providers help lay the groundwork to support smart cities?

The implementation strategy for smart cities has to consider what we have in a city today versus what we would like to see in the next 24-36 months. The initiatives could include retrofitting or redevelopment of the existing infrastructure or greenfield development of a specific area in the city.

The strategy also covers the pan-city implementation of smart solutions – e- governance, smart metering, CCTV surveillance and emergency response systems, traffic management systems, garbage sensors for automated waste collection, to name a few. This requires implementing an extensive system of sensors, video cameras, mobile devices and digital infrastructure in the city. In fact, the most common aspect of all the smart solutions proposed for smart cities is a common command and control centre.

Telecom service providers have an important role to play given their ubiquitous coverage, and high-speed low-latency networks, which connect hundreds and thousands of sensors and devices. A high speed, scalable network that is able to adapt to the evolving needs of users is crucial to the success of any smart city initiative. Service providers will also play a key role in developing micro edge data centres that are part of a larger hybrid multi-cloud environment.

How will the launch of 5G technology help in accelerating the growth of smart cities in India?

A strong digital ecosystem lays the foundation for smart city infrastructure. While we could leverage smart city applications with the existing 4G networks, 5G along with IoT, edge compute and advancements in AI and ML technologies will mark a quantum leap in terms of what can be achieved with smart city applications. 5G networks bring in scale, both in terms of the number of devices (managing millions of sensors), and the bandwidth required to deliver use cases like high quality entertainment, 24×7 surveillance and latency specific applications that may need computing closer to the edge.

5G networks offer the ability to avoid disruption and meet the various requirements for latency, bandwidth, and reliability for different services, and all on the same physical network. We call this network slicing. 5G allows significant performance enhancements and provides service providers the ability to virtually partition, or slice the network to guarantee the required performance for various priority applications. Network slices can be customised for each case on the basis of metrics such as capacity, latency, security, duration, reliability and geographic coverage. For smart cities, this is important as the devices involved could directly or indirectly have an impact on individual lives.

Take, for example, a first responder network that is equipped with advanced communication tools to help coordinate fast and effective rescues during emergencies. If a disaster strikes and the city’s inhabitants all jump onto social media to send texts, pictures and videos at the same time, the mobile network operators will still be able to guarantee connectivity to emergency responders by assigning them the highest priority access to the 5G mobile network.

What role will Ciena play in facilitating smart city development in the 5G era?

Ciena has been working very closely with service providers in India for the past 15 years. India is our second largest R&D centre and a global hub for almost all key functional areas of the company. We have built some of the largest core and metro optical fibre networks in the country. We certainly plan to expand our coverage and portfolio to a wider spectrum of solutions that will help drive scale, programmability and automation in the 5G era. Ciena’s Adaptive Network strategy brings together a combination of multi-vendor programmable physical and virtual network devices, machine-learning based real-time analytics, software-based control and automation, which enable the vision of a self-healing and self-optimising network to meet the demands of smart city applications.

What is the outlook for the telecom sector?

In the coming years, we expect to see an accelerated pace of digitalisation and a growing reliance on connectivity. The government’s investment in Digital India and the Smart Cities Mission will only further the opportunities for service providers. With a network that can adapt, service providers can deliver on their promise of a fast and reliable platform for the digital economy.