Citywide lighting infrastructure gives cities and mobile network operators (MNOs) a wealth of opportunities to improve urban connectivity and build smarter communities. To seize these opportunities, it takes clear vision, good planning, and the right partnership approach.

Connectivity is critical to virtually every aspect of life and business today. However, most cities’ telecommunications infrastructure isn’t built to handle ever-increasing population or building density and the growing need for wireless communications. Much of the infrastructure is underground, difficult to expand and not well-suited for wireless, and there are too few pre-existing vertical assets designed to support communications. Leveraging lighting infrastructure is an effective way to solve these issues and deliver seamless wireless coverage to every endpoint.

A well-lit path to smarter communities

Smart community infrastructure relies on five major components — which are effectively supported by a smart lighting system:

  1. A small cell network: 5G small cells on streetscape assets enable mobile networks to support the massive data demands of dense urban areas. This is where smart lighting really can shine. Utilising existing city assets such as lamp posts, traffic lights, train station signage and bus shelters means less need for street level excavations. Digging up the ground to lay new fibre is hugely disruptive and comes with a massive environmental footprint — around four tonnes of CO2 emissions per kilometre of fibre. Driving a utility truck along the road to replace standard streetlamp luminaires with wireless-enabled ones has a much smaller impact and the actual installation takes about 10 minutes per pole. Essentially, the same time it takes to change a light bulb.
  2. A city-wide fibre backbone: Underground fibre which comes above ground to street asset nodes removes the need for network infrastructure to compete for vertical real-estate. In cities with existing underground transit networks, tunnels make an effective starting point for the deployment of the fibre and can be done with limited disruption to travel schedules. Using existing tunnels is the primary avenue to provide connectivity across London as part of BAI’s partnership to provide coverage on the London Underground. We will equip the existing tunnel network with 220 kilometres of fibre-optic cable covering the whole Underground system. Coming above ground at 137 stations to provide points of presence and connect street assets throughout the city.
  3. High-speed mobile coverage that is future ready: Modern neutral host network technology can deliver uninterrupted cellular mobile coverage, which is compatible with all MNOs and signals from 2G to 5G and beyond. This helps overcome legacy issues in dense, urban environments, which often suffer from significant signal degradation. Mostly because of interference from a high number of radio signals and from the blocking effect of buildings and other large structures. The ease of install for small cells on lighting assets continues into their upgrade and maintenance. With the fibre meeting the asset above ground, network managers do not need to excavate to upgrade or replace wireless equipment. Ensuring that smart lighting networks can remain active and relevant for 6G and beyond. This has the additional benefit of allowing cities and private businesses to install additional Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices when new applications became available.
  4. An upgraded Wi-Fi network: Existing Wi-Fi networks need to be upgraded, integrated, and maintained well to ensure high-quality service throughout the system. Also backfilling coverage for people with devices which do not support modern wireless standards. Public Wi-Fi networks which sit along lighting infrastructure mean that cities can ensure they can connect all citizens and visitors regardless of their personal carrier relationships.
  5. Emergency services network (ESN): Deployed well, a smart community network also includes dedicated infrastructure for emergency services, giving them reliable communications between control rooms and field personnel. The same crowding of networks used by the public impacts the efficacy for first-responder communications. In emergency situations, this can put lives at risk. Smart lighting networks can facilitate ESNs and remove the burden of critical operations from public networks.

Once these pieces are in place, lighting assets, as a component of the whole, can deliver even more value. Connected sensors and cameras on lampposts, traffic lights and other assets can help monitor and manage real-time conditions throughout the city. Relaying and analysing data on pedestrian activity, traffic congestion, environmental factors and more.

Expert partners are the key to success

Having the right partners is critical to the success of these kinds of infrastructure improvements. Connectivity ecosystems are becoming increasingly complex, and most owners of lighting infrastructure need expert partners to capitalise on the opportunity.

BAI’s strategic partnership with multinational lighting company Signify enables us to bring exactly that kind of expertise to the largest and most complex infrastructure projects. This includes our work with Transport for London where Signify’s portfolio of innovative smart lighting technologies, paired with our own experience as a neutral host for large-scale communications infrastructure, will enable us to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Creating a revolutionary new kind of network built on the iconic London Underground system.

With this bold initiative, London is taking the lead on becoming a truly smart city with benefits for its residents, businesses and visitors. With courage, planning and the right partners, cities like London are driving toward this new future and supplying models for others to follow, delivering 5G connectivity to all. And it all starts by using and enhancing existing lighting infrastructures.

Check out our recent podcast to learn more about our partnership with Signify and how we’re transforming the way we deliver connectivity throughout a city with smart lighting technology.

Get more of the smart lighting story in our podcast with Khalid Aziz, Signify’s Senior Vice President of Global Ventures and Business Leader in Smart Connectivity Solutions.