David Trossell, CEO and CTO of Bridgeworks, explores why smart cities require WAN data acceleration and how it can prevent smart cities from becoming dumb cities by being held back by latency
Building smart cities involves the integration of data from organisations across the private, public and non-profit sectors to improve almost of everything we do – including the promotion of mobility services, such as car sharing and integrated public transport. Data will emerge from a wide variety of sources, and in the age of the connected and soon-to-be autonomous car, even street lights and traffic signals will become increasingly smarter.
So attractive is the prospect of smart cities, which Grand Review Research predicts will be worth around $2.57 trillion by 2025, that the British government wishes to make the UK a smart city leader. In her March 2018 speech at the GREAT Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong, Exports Minister Baroness Rona Fairhead examined how the country can help to improve the world's urban environments.
She said: “It’s very clear that city living presents unique opportunities and challenges. People who live in them are healthier and wealthier than those who don’t. And smart cities - the melding we have now of that digital technology and data science to improve our urban environment - is what we’ll need to harness those opportunities. We in Britain are genuine believers in the power of smart cities. We’re early adopters: Manchester’s MediaCityUK is, as I would call it, a 40-acre sandbox, testing in miniature what the smart cities of the future might look like. We’ve supported our belief with significant funding - we recently created a £1.7 billion Transforming Cities Fund. Importantly, we understand that smart cities don’t just need funding - they need data. London now releases 700 separate types of datasets to help developers and entrepreneurs create solutions to London’s problems.”
KNect 365 also writes in its report on Exploring <em>The Smarter City, The Top 5 Smart Cities Case Studies</em>: “IHS predicts that over two billion smart city device shipments will be made by 2030 and, between 2016 and 2017 alone, the number of smart city projects launched grew by 64 per cent year-on-year. The research firm says that during 2017, the majority of smart city project rollouts were pilot schemes or partial projects, but more extensive rollouts are expected in the coming years, spurred on by the introduction of NB-IoT and LTE Cat-M1 IoT network deployments.”
Data at the heart
So, data will be at the heart of the smart cities of the future, and without it they’d be dumb cities. However, it will bring with it data analysis, data storage, data archiving, privacy and disaster recovery challenges. Sending increasing volumes of data over a network won’t necessarily make anything smarter if latency has its way. To resolve latency, most people will say that it can be reduced with edge computing, with WAN optimisation, with SD-WAN technology or by buying larger pipes to increase bandwidth. The trouble is that these technologies won’t answer how data can be accelerated over a wide area network (WAN), while mitigating the disruptive impact of latency and packet loss.
Higher network bandwidths or even edge computing won’t answer how data can be accelerated over a wide area network, while mitigating latency and packet loss. Smart cities therefore require WAN data acceleration to allow them maximise data flows, while mitigating the effects of latency and packet loss.
Whilst much of the day-to-day digital traffic will be bitty and small, the real value of data in smart cities will come from using historic data to perform webscale analytics and analysis. This can only come from using the cloud. Moving these massive volumes of data will not be a trivial matter. Without WAN data acceleration techniques, it’s going to be impossible to move this data securely and speedily.
Edge computing is currently used for managing local, low latency and small data transfers. It can also be used as an effective method of providing high levels of service to such IoT devices, such as autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles. However, when it comes to moving detailed and amalgamated data, from the edge back to the cloud for storage or further analysis, distance of data transfer and latency create major performance issues.
The usual reaction is to provide a high bandwidth link back to the cloud, but this results in no perceivable improvement of performance. Why is this? The internet protocol (TCP/IP) allows you to send a block of data up to a certain size before it asks for confirmation that the data got there. If the distance between the two points is sufficient, then this takes a tenth of a second (London to New York). With latency, you can only transmit ten times a second. If the bandwidth is increased by a factor of ten, but the latency and the block size remain the same, and the throughput remains the same. Therefore, nothing is achieved that’ll increase network performance.
Low-cost SD-WAN at the edge is a pervasive argument against costly leased and MPLS lines for the connected city and, although SD-WANs provide a level of data optimisation, the techniques used for it is ineffective with compressed and encrypted data. To improve inter-edge data flows between edge nodes and data flow to and from the cloud over SD-WANs, WAN data acceleration is currently the only technology that can provide full line speed capability. It uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to accelerate data, even if that data is being moved over large distances. With AI and machine learning, this technique can mitigate the impact of latency and packet loss.
This means the inherent issues affecting smart cities involve connecting all the possible services considered to be part of the smart city infrastructure. As these services spread to encompass every aspect of the citizens interaction with healthcare, government, transport, education and social support, the key feature is not only the efficient communication but also the security of this information at rest and in-flight. Take a look at the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations and how this data is concerned with the individual. How it’s used is another matter that should be enshrined in law if the populace is to embrace this technology.
Smart City Grid
However, the thought of smart cities as standalone entities limits the true possibility of this technology. Joining Smart Cities (SmC) together in a Smart City Grid may bring many more possibilities. In fact, as it was once thought that the city stopped at its governmental boundary, the digital boundary should also then be defined within it. This limits the efficiencies the SmC can bring. With all this data flying around, it’s going to place a huge burden on the network infrastructure - not only the cabled infrastructure, but also the cellular infrastructure. The pressure on the network increases when autonomous vehicles and smart forms of transportation are factored in.
Yet, while these are issues that need to be tackled to ensure the free-flow of data, Baroness Fairhead is right to comment in her speech: “Urbanisation is one of the most important trends in the world today. We need to see this trend as an opportunity, not a threat. But it’s only by making our cities smart, understanding how we can apply that technology that we can take full advantage. In Britain we’re already taking advantage - and our technology companies, consultancies, architects and planners can help you to do just that, too. But we should always remember that smart cities aren’t about making our cities ‘fit for the future’ - they’re about making the future fit, for the future of our citizens.”In my view, that means something has to be done to mitigate the effects of latency and packet loss, otherwise the future will seem like a laggard; a threat to smart cities, rather than an enabler of the many opportunities that smart cities present.
The preoccupation of most cities is on managing their public and private transport systems because this is one of the major cost centres. It also has the impact of not only ensuring a working transportation infrastructure, for which without a city cannot function financially, but also to reduce pollution. Whilst in the short term it’s expected that the data will be used for instantaneous control over such things as traffic congestion, over the longer term this could be put to use in an artificial intelligence situation for a “more intelligent forward thinking” control of traffic congestion and pollution.
With smart cities being in their infancy, MIT Professor Carlo Ratti says: "There’s not one single city doing everything right, but there are many doing great things. Singapore is doing well in the field of mobility, Copenhagen in sustainability, and Boston is great with its citizen participation.”
While this may be the case, there is an opportunity now to build a smarter infrastructure that uses WAN data acceleration to ensure that each smart city doesn’t fall over as a result of the spectres of latency and packet loss, which could grind them to a halt.
Governments worldwide therefore need to consider how to prevent this from happening, allowing everyone to benefit from what they predict will be our smart city future. The trouble is that all too many governments go straight to the big information communications technology vendors. While they will inevitably have a role in shaping the future of smart cities, governments should also look to smaller vendors where they’ll find innovative solutions to age-old problems. This includes how smart cities will implement solutions to prevent latency and packet loss from haemorrhaging smart cities. It’s therefore time for fresh thinking with a solution such as PORTrockIT.