Getting ready for the IoT
UAE telecoms operator du is developing the communications infrastructure that will support the Internet of Things and enable Dubai’s smart city plans
As urban centres around the world announce their ambitions to become smart cities, one important factor in making these plans a reality is often overlooked. Without a suitable telecommunications infrastructure, there can be no smart city. Creating the infrastructure to connect all the required components of a smart city solution — sensors, cameras, applications, devices and so on — has become a priority for telecoms operators who are involved in smart projects.
For UAE telecoms operator du, there is a clear role to play in enabling Dubai’s smart city plans. Marwan Abdulla Bin Dalmook SVP, Managed Services and Smart City/ Smart Gov Initiative Lead, du, explained: “The basis of any smart city infrastructure today is communication. Starting with the basics, you need the right infrastructure to enable all the communication, to enable all kinds of applications to work on top of that infrastructure.”
Since its foundation at the end of 2005, the operator has consistently worked to deploy new communications capabilities for fixed and mobile, Bin Dalmook said, such as fibre to the home, 2G, 3G, HSPA, LTE, LTE Advanced and so on, all of which have enabled business and government to deliver new services and applications running over high speed networks.
“The move from e-government to m-government, that would never have happened if we did not have the right infrastructure to allow that innovation. All the smartphones were ready, it just required the right bandwidth, the right communications,” he added.
du is already an important part of Dubai’s smart city initiative, as the official WiFi partner. As such, the operator has installed free public WiFi at over 200 prominent locations in Dubai, with a total of 300 hotspots planned for Abu Dhabi and Dubai combined. The hotspots offer free, high bandwidth connection to government websites and applications, to enable residents and visitors to access government services, and free low bandwidth service for all other websites. A premium service is also available for a fee.
The operator is also working with many other smart city stakeholders on different projects, but its main area of focus at present is how to address the specific infrastructure requirements of the Internet of Things (IoT).
“When we start looking at the challenges, it is always about the distance, the low frequency of packets, the size of the packets, plus the life of the battery that needs to be used in these kind of sensors,” Bin Dalmook said.
The issues with IoT devices such as sensors come down to these few factors, he explained. Because a very large number of sensors will have to be deployed, often in fixed positions, for example to monitor parking spaces, they need to have a long enough battery life so that they do not have to be replaced regularly. Sensors will also need to send small packets of data on a very frequent basis, to provide the data back to central control, creating a very large volume of traffic to manage.
Today’s telecoms infrastructure is geared to high bandwidth communication, but this has a high power consumption, which would rapidly drain the battery of any standalone sensor. In addition the cost of putting a SIM card in a sensor would be too expensive to make a valid use case. This means IoT infrastructure must be capable of low bandwidth, low power transmission, but this raises issues because these technologies are not usually capable of transmitting over a long distance.
The telecoms industry is still developing the standards for IoT solutions that will address these communications issues. du is working closely with partners, including Cisco and Huawei to develop the right solutions, but for now, the operator is pushing ahead with trial deployments of new technologies, which can be amended or updated once standards are ratified. This will ensure that Dubai is in the best position, to advance rapidly and to enable government partners to start understanding what services and solutions they can develop based on IoT.