City officials: Is 5G headed to your town? Here are 7 ways to prep.

By: Jonathan Davis

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To understand the importance of 5G to cities and city services, consider the impact it could have on just one individual in the police department. Currently, many officers have a connected laptop in their patrol car, a body-worn camera that is constantly uploading footage, and vehicle dash cameras that use GPS to measure and record speed, acceleration and the number of hard brakes an officer makes in a patrol car. They also have mobile radios that can defer to a network connection in remote areas. Every officer, of course, also carries a mobile phone. That’s five data-heavy connected devices per officer.

Assuming your city employs 500 patrol officers, your police department alone is connecting 2,500 devices to a network, each demanding reliable data connectivity.

Device demand like this from IoT (or Internet of Things) has been increasing for years across all city departments, such as school districts, districts for fire protection, sanitary sewer service, public transportation, public parks and forests, and water resource management. It’s up to network engineers to ensure that the city is prepared to support that demand, so it’s critical that public officials get them involved early, often and across more channels than they may think. Without regular discussions between all city departments and IT, each of those individual entities may look to solve their own connectivity challenges and upgrades, making significant investments that may not be 5G ready or possibly don’t fit the city’s overall design for connectivity and security. 

As a senior network engineer for a large municipality, I’m considering ways to adapt for more connectivity needs like this across all of our departments. The fire department, police department, emergency response and the radio shop (the group responsible for handheld mobile radios and towers used by emergency services) will all have quickly changing connectivity requirements over the next several years. It’s important that we head them off with collaborative conversations and planning.

As your city is starting to plan for the transition to 5G and integrate more smart cities technologies, the IT department can help lead these conversations. Consider a few suggestions to get the conversation started:

  1. Get all of the stakeholders within each sector around the same table. For example, in the emergency services sector, bring together all the support staff for fire, police, 911 services and the radio shop.

  2. Establish common use cases with a goal of simplifying connectivity across departments and devices. In the connected police car example, look for where that design could be repeated in an ambulance or fire truck when 5G is available for those devices.

  3. Is a new hire needed? Municipalities should vet all significant infrastructure projects for connectivity qualifications. That includes the usual IT-related proposals but should also extend into every department. Hire or train someone to vet the connectivity projects at a high level. The associate should be familiar with the varied connected technologies, such as 5G and LoRaWAN, and have an understanding of how to use the resulting data. They should set standards and expectations, providing vision and direction for future initiatives across the city.

  4. While talking with vendors, have clear conversations around what kind of connectivity they expect or require, and ensure that they’re not charging for their own internet transport. For example, if a department is negotiating a purchase of a video camera recorder for buses for the first time, they need to be sure they’re not negotiating for a cellular connected device with included service contract but for a device that works within the city’s existing connectivity and support models, whether cellular, Wi-Fi or LAN connected.

  5. Replace equipment for projects or refresh cycles, with new equipment that supports 5G standards, including mmWave. Those standards will support high throughput, which is especially important when sharing data connections.

  6. Develop a standard security model to help all devices remain connected to internal systems through safe and secure methods.

  7. Finally, when discussing future demands with departments, be sure to first fully understand what their current challenges and solutions are today. You will likely be surprised by how many internet-connected devices are already in use.

The hardest part will be getting all of the necessary stakeholders involved, because everyone is used to doing things their own way. The person often charged with making purchases, like a video camera for a bus, isn’t well versed in connectivity. That’s a challenge for cities even now in the current 4G LTE landscape. But, while cities are still exploring 5G deployment, we have a chance to do it differently—build it right and make for a seamless transition into the future.

About the author:

Jonathan Davis is a Senior Wireless Network Engineer with over 20 years of experience in IT. He works for a large municipality. He is a co-founder of The Wi-Fi Awards and Certified Wireless Network Expert #366—the highest level certification in the CWNP program, demonstrating the most advanced skills in the Wi-Fi market.

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