But infrastructure is the beating heart of our urban environments. It’s the thing that connects us to people, places, and information. Without it, our cities couldn’t sustain us. And without finding ways to improve it, our future cities will struggle to function.
By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will join our global population, and this exponential growth threatens to overwhelm our existing infrastructures. Whether we realize it or not, we are on the verge of a sea change in city life, and to accommodate this change, future infrastructure project planning will need to be proactive rather than reactive.
What would it take to develop urban infrastructure that not only fixes problems but also prevents them? At Covestro, we believe innovative materials have the power to create 5G infrastructure that supports the next wave of urban citizens and improves cities' social, economic, and environmental sustainability.
Today’s 4G LTE networks underpin the majority of everyday life for urbanites. From scrolling through newsfeeds on the morning train commute to using digital maps to navigate new neighborhoods, urban dwellers have come to rely on these networks.
But increased connectivity is only the beginning. In the future, 5G networks, together with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), will disrupt society and become a foundational element of smart, sustainable infrastructure.
Today, IoT is already all around us, but what comes next is expected to massively expand that universe to include billions of connected pieces of infrastructure, driven by the 5G network.
Thanks to 5G, these connected urban objects – streetlights, parking meters, garbage bins, utilities – will be able to communicate at speeds 20 to 100 times faster than today, with ultra-low latency and maximum capacity.
By optimizing energy management, preventing traffic congestion, and reducing air contamination, these connected infrastructure systems are expected to improve cities' sustainability. Additionally, the development of smart infrastructure could also increase accessibility for public services like emergency vehicles and waste management.
But in order to achieve the speeds and reliability required to meet these next-generation goals, telecommunications carriers will have to deploy a host of new “small cell” transmitters inside and around buildings. Whereas most of today’s cellular data travels between obtrusive towers and antennas that may rise hundreds of feet in the air, compact polycarbonate packaging allows small cell transmitters to be reduced to the size of a football, without sacrificing performance.
Mounted on streetlights, utility poles, buildings, and other structures, these discreet small cells will help our connected urban infrastructure rapidly access computing and analytical capabilities to make real-time decisions about traffic control, energy consumption, and emergency response. The result? A safer, cleaner, and more sustainable urban environment for us all.
As the global population continues to grow, cities will need to shift from single function to multi-function urban infrastructure systems to support the needs of both urban dwellers and the environment. Past designs solved one problem – waste, public safety, or transportation – but the networked nature of our future cities will allow urban infrastructure to cross sectors and serve many interests.
One example is streetlights. Over the next few years, cities worldwide are expected to replace millions of aging light fixtures with LEDs. Some are mainly interested in switching from outdated technologies to ones that are more sustainable and can last for decades. But many others plan to take full advantage of LEDs’ electronics and integrate wireless communication and sensors. In fact, Navigant Research expects nearly 73 million smart streetlights to be installed around the world by 2026.
While the majority of today’s streetlamps only provide illumination, the development of tomorrow’s LED streetlights will provide a backbone for a range of other city applications, including public safety, traffic management, and weather monitoring.
San Diego, for example, is using streetlamps to deploy a citywide IoT network that optimizes traffic and better facilitates energy management. When completed, the network will include over 3,000 intelligent sensor nodes that transform LED streetlamps into connected devices.
Dozens of other cities are also pushing ahead, with hundreds of initiatives involving installations of smart LED streetlights already underway around the world. And as 5G networks begin emerge throughout our cities, smart streetlamps are expected to continue to provide additional new solutions to old challenges.