Flexibility essential for successful deployment of sensor technology

Deploying sensors for smart city applications requires joined up thinking and a flexible approach, according to Cambridge-based CCS, which has developed a self-organising, small cell microwave backhaul solution.

The company recently shared some of its deployment experiences in ‘Making the urban small cell happen’, a white paper highlighting some of the challenges in an environment and sites that are often not ideal.

According to CCS, the biggest challenge — and cost — in urban small cell deployment is site acquisition and the associated planning approvals. In Cambridge, for instance, the process is complicated by the large number of listed buildings in the historic city centre, which makes it a ‘conservation area’ in planning terms.

When lampposts were ruled out for deployment of a small cell unit, the company had to find alternative sites which included CCTV poles. However, these are more challenging when it comes to LOS (line of sight) because the poles are shorter — six metres compared to eight-metre lampposts –- and fewer in number.

“Limited availability of sites in a challenging deployment environment means that a degree of experimentation is often necessary during the installation process with sites that have not been radio planned — which clearly has significant cost implications for larger deployments,” the white paper notes.

Planning consent is less complicated for some deployments. In China, the process of site acquisition for a deployment in Beijing consisted of a single two-hour meeting between CCS, the small cell vendor and a representative from the local municipality.

“We walked through the deployment area, pointing out which sites were required and approval was given at the end of the meeting,” CCS said. “Installation proceeded the next day.”

In an interview with TelecomTV, CCS chief executive Steve Greaves pointed out that smart city small cell deployment can sometimes come up against conflicting goals within the local authority.

“The council, for instance, often doesn’t have a homogeneous view. You’ve usually got some very focused ‘champions’ in a council that really ‘get it’. And then in other parts of the council they might be looking to what the government’s saying about smart cities and ‘bridging the digital divide’ and then you always have ‘planning’ which works in a subjective, reactive way about how new things fit in with existing building aesthetics.”

Greaves continued: “In terms of control, councils, far from wanting to own the smart city infrastructure generally want to move it out to private partnerships. That can lead to some strange scenarios where the council, which wants to move ahead with a project, finds that its own planning department is rejecting the plans of the contractor. So often, in city council situation, the overall story isn’t joined up. Motivations can be conflicting.”

The most important lesson from CCS’s small cell deployment experience to date is the need to be flexible, the company concludes. The key challenge for backhaul systems is how to deliver that flexibility quickly at low cost.

Sign up to our newsletter

Meet our experts