Smart poles are emerging as the core components of smart city infrastructure worldwide. These poles are a new feature on the urban landscape, leveraging sensor and communication technologies to create an intelligent environment.

Smart poles are connected to centralised command and control centres, which help monitor other smart solutions installed in cities. These poles comprise in-built surveillance systems that are connected with the city’s security department. They help the authorities in resolving multiple urban issues. In addition to this, faults in poles can be identified remotely, thus eliminating the need for physical examination of each pole. Smart poles can be easily modified to meet the bandwidth requirements of new and evolving technologies like 5G.

According to Navigant Research, annual smart pole deployments are expected to increase from 600 in 2019 to 22,000 by 2028, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 50 per cent. This represents a huge revenue generating opportunity for towercos, which have barely scratched the surface in terms of tapping the smart pole opportunity.

Benefits of smart poles

By hosting mobile broadband small cells, public Wi-Fi access points, smart lighting systems and multipurpose sensor arrays for monitoring air quality and traffic congestion, these smart poles help build smarter cities.

Enhancing city operations

The installation of smart poles offers numerous benefits to city planners and governments. They enable constant smart pole traffic monitoring, providing municipalities with valuable data that can improve traffic flows, guide maintenance decisions and facilitate emergency crew deployment. The adoption of smart poles for reducing traffic jams and preventing accidents is driving the market. Smart poles with cameras can observe road conditions. Another key function is driving energy efficiency as these poles have remotely controllable LED street lights. By replacing traditional sodium lamps with energy efficient LED lamps in smart poles, running costs can be reduced by up to 60 per cent.

Reducing emergency response time

With internet of things (IoT) connectivity and smart pole technology, emergency services and first responders have a powerful smart detection tool that can help them close the emergency response gap.

Environmental factors

City-wide emission reduction is the long-term solution to the problem of urban air pollution. To this end, smart poles can help identify high pollution areas. Smart pole sensors monitor several environmental factors and display the information to help citizens limit their exposure to air pollution. This also enables city planners to make effective decisions by using the gathered data.

Data monetisation opportunities

Smart poles also present a potential revenue stream for cities. Besides delivering vital emergency messages, the mounted displays provide opportunities for tailored marketing campaigns. Further, tracking pedestrian movement and street traffic can be monetised for private commercial development and other city planning applications. The telecom infrastructure supplied by smart poles can be licensed to multiple carriers looking to utilise quick connection speeds.

Opportunity for towercos

Towercos participating in the Smart Cities Mission have started collaborating with city administrations to convert existing street elements such as street poles, light poles and traffic lights into smart poles. Another advantage for towercos is that they can easily obtain right-of-way (RoW) permissions for the installation of smart city infrastructure, which enables them to roll out telecom infrastructure such as fibre at a faster time-to-market.

Global market

The global smart pole market has gained remarkable momentum in recent years. According to a report by Genesis, the global smart pole market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.34 per cent from $6.03 billion in 2017 to $15.74 billion by 2023. In the coming years, countries including China, Japan and India are projected to grow strongly.

As per industry reports, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to grow at a remarkable rate on the back of government initiatives in countries such as China, India, Japan and Australia. They are actively promoting the replacement of traditional poles with smart pole systems in order to reduce the load of energy consumption of street lights by 40 per cent.

 

Japan

In June 2020, the Tokyo metropolitan government signed an agreement with the Sumitomo Corporation to trial multi-functional 5G smart poles. To this end, NEC will install two types of smart poles in the Nishi-shinjuku area of Tokyo by the end of June 2020. One smart pole model incorporates LED lighting and 5G base stations for multiple telecommunication carriers, while the second includes LED lighting, a 5G shared antenna system for joint use by multiple telcos, Wi-Fi, digital signage and pedestrian traffic flow analysis cameras.

US

In May 2020, Las Vegas expanded its smart city roll-out to include high-definition optical and audio sensors at 14 locations across the city. The project was undertaken by Japanese group NTT. This has enabled the city to now run smart city apps in citizen broadband radio service  spectrum through wireless infrastructure part of its smart light poles. The government has also partnered with network operator artificial intelligence (AT)&T and IoT provider Ubicquia to trial a new smart street lighting solution that makes use of existing lighting infrastructure.

Portugal

In May 2020, the Algarve government announced that it is soon going to deploy smart poles around the city to determine the occupancy and related safe distance on beach areas. The smart pole will be enabled with smart lighting, AI and sensors and will help authorities and public access occupancy of an entire beach or specific areas. This will facilitate peoples to choose an area of beach that is less densely populated.

China

In a bid to efficiently utilise renewable energy and resolve the issues in electric vehicle (EV) charging, a smart hybrid pole system was proposed by researchers of Tongji University, Shanghai and China, which was integrated with renewable energy. In 2020, 435,000 charging points are expected to be built in Beijing to meet the requirement for 600,000 EVs. For reducing expenses street lighting poles with an EV charging system are being preferred.

Deployment status in India

In Vadodara, Indus Towers has collaborated with Vadodara Smart City Development Limited for the installation of 220 smart poles. These poles will be connected through fibre and integrated with the command and control centre. Further, in Karnataka, Indus Towers is deploying smart poles powered by Wi-Fi, which can offer Wi-Fi services across an area of around 300 metres. In addition, the company collaborated with the New Delhi Municipal Council to commission a total of 72 smart poles, of which 55 have already been installed. Meanwhile, Bharti Infratel has entered into a partnership with Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation Limited (BSCDCL) to install 400 smart poles in Bhopal. The project is being implemented in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode by BSCDCL in collaboration with Bharti Infratel, Ericsson and HPL Electric and Power Limited. Recently, in February 2020, Dehradun Smart City Limited, India, collaborated with Indus Towers to install 60 smart poles and 70 smart towers and lay an underground fibre network spanning 100 km in PPP mode. The smart poles will be equipped with Wi-Fi access points, LED lighting solutions and CCTV cameras.

The way forward

The major factor restraining the growth of the market is the high upfront cost compared to traditional poles. Smart poles run using green energy, which requires a high initial investment and constant maintenance in harsh weather conditions.

Challenges notwithstanding, the smart pole opportunity is only bound to become bigger in the coming years owing to increasing demand for energy efficient pole lighting systems, government initiatives for smart cities, and the role of smart poles in preventing traffic jams and accidents.

By Shikha Swaroop