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Monday - November 1, 2021

The Scalability Advantages of Open Systems for Smart Cities

History is littered with examples of what not to do. While electronic health records were lauded as the future of healthcare – allowing for digital sharing of medical information, remote diagnostics, and tele-health – a lack of interoperability between platforms has left the industry with an expensive, Byzantine mess on its hands: many healthcare systems simply can’t communicate with one another.

To truly reap the rewards of the Internet of Things and digital transformation, interoperability needs to become a priority. This is particularly true for smart city technology.

Interoperability is at the Heart of Effective Smart City Technology

Cities increasingly rely on connected devices and services. Whether it’s to improve quality of life, tackle climate change, increase public safety or promote equality, it will be the technology embedded in cities that helps authorities build a better scalable city future.

To succeed, cities must be able to integrate many devices and applications on a robust network infrastructure, scale up and add new functionality, and crucially, share data. The more interconnected and integrated the network, the more this technology will be able to deliver on its promises, the more valuable the data obtained from it will be and ultimately, the smarter, more sustainable and resilient the city will be.

Unfortunately, vendor-locked proprietary technologies are stymying the progress of smart city projects. According to research by the open standards body uCIFI Alliance, 82 percent of smart city pilots fail due to a lack of maturity. The same study found that more than half of cities have a smart roadmap but only 16 percent have mature projects up and running. It is estimated that smart city projects using proprietary technology cost 30 percent more than those using open technology because of added complexity, duplicated implementation and maintenance costs and the need for expensive integration.

Put simply, a data model organizes and documents elements of the data, including how they are stored, accessed, and relate to each other. Proprietary data models for each IoT network become a barrier to interoperability and potentially locks a city in with a particular vendor or forces them to pay for expensive API integration.

How the Open Standard 6LoWPAN Fosters Data Sharing

6LoWPAN, or Internet Protocol version 6 over Low Power Wireless Personal Area Networks, is an open standard defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards body that allows multiple devices on networks to share information. As a result, it has the potential to be one of the most significant developments yet for smart cities. To succeed, smart cities need to put in place a scalable infrastructure capable of running applications from different suppliers with devices that communicate with each other.

6LoWPAN is an open-source protocol stack whose various component parts make it ideal for connecting multiple devices to an IP network and transmitting IPv6 data packets end-to-end across low-power wireless networks. Based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, it enables all nodes to communicate in a mesh network using IPv6, the newest internet protocol.

6LoWPAN stands in contrast to existing proprietary network architectures such as ZigBee and Bluetooth, which do not offer transparent end-to-end connectivity and have more complicated gateways when it comes to connecting to the internet and other IP-based networks. 6LoWPAN gets around this issue thanks to an “adaptation” layer within its stack that converts data bits into IPv6 packet format that can then be transmitted.

A Solution for Interoperability

Paradox Engineering has built its PE Smart Urban Network on open source standards such as 6LoWPAN. In doing so, it provides this necessary interoperability and gives cities the flexibility they need to address current challenges and “future proof” smart city projects so they can grow.

Interoperability and openness offer tremendous opportunity for growth, according to Gianni Minetti, CEO of Paradox Engineering.

Taking advantage of the same urban network and mashing up different data streams, universities, start-ups and local businesses can design their own innovative services, sharing innovation and stimulating mutual development,” he said.

Information Is the New Asset Class

Open innovation will allow cities to go further than saving money: it will allow them to use the data they collect.

Smart cities cannot be limited to connecting devices and automating services; they are about data becoming tangible value for the benefit of all,” said Minetti. “Information is the new asset class for cities and it’s time to turn investments aimed at cost-savings into opportunities for sustainable, inclusive growth, engaging citizens and local stakeholders in open innovation cases.

Jim Fiorentino
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