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Monday - August 30, 2021

Guiding Smart Node Technology to Its Full Potential

Most of us today grew up with neighborhood streetlights that popped on with a welcoming glow at dusk. These traditional lighting systems were the ancestors of today’s smart nodes, or smart streetlight technology. While older versions were standalone, today’s smart nodes communicate in a network.

Over the past decade, smart nodes have emerged as a key component not only of street lighting, but of smart city plans. While the technology is widely used to save energy, connected lighting’s full potential remains unrealized.

Smart Nodes Trends

Beginning in the early 2000s, LED streetlight retrofits became a tool for community leaders to reduce electricity spending. Since then, LED adoption has soared to almost 50 percent for street lighting in the U.S. A study conducted by Johnson Controls projected that smart streetlight technology in North America will grow to $1.3 billion by 2026. Large-scale smart node projects exclusively aimed at energy savings can provide an additional 10 to 20 percent reduction on electricity and maintenance costs.

The Smart Nodes Marketplace

Today, there are 79 smart node manufacturers worldwide offering products ranging from $35 to $200 per node. In addition, these manufacturers typically provide network gateways and central management software to manage and monitor the network and nodes.

Some of the more common features of these smart nodes include flexible scheduling, power metering, Web-based monitoring and remote control, preventative maintenance (diagnostic and reporting) and dimming and adaptive lighting using photocells, GPS, vibration/tilt sensors, dimming control and backup real-time clock (RTC).

Narrow Uses Cases Constrain Smart Node Growth

Across the country, the narrow use case of energy savings when installing networked nodes has slowed potential return on investment (ROI) that could be expected from using the technology to its potential, leading to a slower pace of adoption.

VENNFROG believes the future of smart nodes is not only in energy savings but in their power to change urban environments. Connected lighting allows for real-time control over lighting and streamlined infrastructure maintenance, which can save on labor costs. It can be harnessed to dramatically improve the efficiency and safety of first responder personnel, making urban spaces safer. For this reason, when looking at the ROI of nodes, a wider analysis should be conducted.

Challenges to the Smart Node Industry

There are several barriers to the widespread adoption of connected lighting technologies, including an obscured return on investment, the complexity of configuration of the systems, and a lack of interoperability. Achieving optimal connectivity takes time and effort. Oftentimes, there is a lack of consistency among outdoor systems, or the user interfaces are poorly designed.

Experimental smart streetlight installations have underscored the importance of choosing the right technology. Before committing to a particular technology, city planners should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed digital infrastructure and understand the tradeoffs that may be involved when not considering the many benefits street light networking can provide.

A thorough cost-benefit analysis should encompass a broad range of features, such as bandwidth, range, resilience, latency, etc. In some areas, for instance, pole density might be too low to support a mesh network and may require additional capital investment, including network gateways or even new poles. Bandwidth is also a critical factor, particularly when projecting the use of smart nodes onto a wider Internet of Things (IoT) strategy that may place far greater demands on the network in the future.

Connected city networks provide many advantages using real-time monitoring and data-driven management of urban services. How can these smart node networks be used to help lower the cost of a city’s emergency response services? Find out more in the next article.

Jim Fiorentino
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