Cash-Strapped Cities Turn Smart Street Lighting into Profits

Written By: Jerry Fireman
  • 1/27/2016

Ever since the City of Los Angeles installed the first electric street light in 1876, lighting has been an important public service but also a cost drain and a maintenance nightmare for cities around the world. Cities today bear the cost of purchasing, installing and powering street lighting as well as detecting outages that may cause public safety hazards and deploying resources to make repairs.

Today, Los Angeles has about 215,000 streetlights including 400 different models scattered across 7,500 miles of roadway. Crews scour the streets at night to detect outages and the city fields 40,000 calls per year from residents reporting problems. Technical solutions are available to address these problems but it would require substantial capital investment and Los Angeles, like most cities, is marshalling its resources to address more pressing issues such as education, crime and homelessness.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is providing a solution to these problems. Royal Philips, which makes energy efficient light emitting diode (LED) lighting solutions, has teamed up with communications technology provider Ericsson to provide an IoT-connected street lighting system for Los Angeles. Philips is providing this technology infrastructure buildout through a public private partnership with the City of Los Angeles. Funding for the streetlights will be generated by leasing out wireless technology in the poles to wireless providers. A study conducted by The Climate Group in 12 of the world’s largest cities shows that LED street lighting can generate energy savings of 50 to 70 percent with an additional 10 percent savings coming when the lights are connected to be dimmed or turned off per conditions. Workers at headquarters can monitor each light with a browser-based application which substantially reduces maintenance expenses.

The IoT-based street lighting system has three main components: The pole houses Ericsson Zero Site small cell wireless technology that supports cellular radio access from 2G to 4G and unlicensed technologies like Wi-Fi and is connected by a fiber link to the core network. The LED fixture detects problems with the LEDs and automatically generates an event notification through the city’s existing service request system. A connected node on top of the fixture passes through information on the location of the affected LED, its type and specs, and the nature of the issue that previously would require an on-site investigation, substantially reducing the leadtime and cost of service.

As wireless data demand rises, wireless networks are limited by their allotted spectrum of frequencies which can only handle limited users from each cell. This problem could be solved by adding extra wireless spectrum but it is in short supply and available only at very high licensing costs. Another way around the problem is to get more use out of the current spectrum by adding more cells, each of which can theoretically handle the same number of users as the existing cells. The deployment of large numbers of small cells is currently thought to be the most promising approach to expanding the capacity of the existing wireless network. Increasing the number of cells, however, presents a number of challenges including finding unobtrusive sites to locate the cells and providing backhaul connections leading to the core network. The new SmartPole technology provides a possible solution by turning every streetlight into a cell.

The streetlight-based cells will generate revenues by being leased to wireless providers. The City of Los Angeles will receive $1200 per year for each SmartPole. The installation of 100 IoT-connected streetlights is currently in process in Los Angeles. Philips and the city plan to expand the network to 600 streetlights by 2018. Philips, under a tech development pilot program, is also installing 50 SmartPoles in The City of San Jose.

Philips CityTouch connector node system will provide connectivity for the smart lighting system. Using mobile chip technology embedded into each fixture, the streetlights identify themselves and network instantly. When a new LED lighting fixture is installed, it automatically appears on the control screen map at the right location with its technical parameters integrated into the system. This smart plug and play approach reduces the time of commissioning from days to minutes and eliminates on-site commissioning completely.

CityTouch gives the Bureau of Street Lighting a clear picture of the entire city’s lighting system at its fingertips, with map-based visualization, charts and diagrams. The LED lighting can also be over-illuminated when needed such as if a traffic accident or crime is reported and first responders are heading to the scene. The combination of LED technology and management software will enable the Bureau to better manage its assets, while Angelinos benefit from the increased uptime, with safer, well-lit streets.

“Smart cities like Los Angeles and San Jose share a commitment to safety, sustainability and connectivity, so we are pleased to be an integral part of this innovative project that delivers all these benefits in one sleek solution that complements their streetscape,” said Arun Bansal, Senior Vice President and Head of Business Unit Radio, Ericsson. 

Image by c.lucian on Flickr (CC by 2.0)

  • Connected Devices
  • Industrial Internet of Things

About the Author

Jerry Fireman

I am a technology writer who specializes in writing about the Internet of Things (IoT), computer aided design (CAD), computer aided engineering (CAE), electronic engineering, pharmaceutical research and manufacturing, test and measurement, process management and a variety of other topics.