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Why Calgary's betting on low-power technology to realize its smart city vision

Submitted by doug.peeples on December 6, 2018

Calgary, Alberta already has a track record for innovation, thanks to its commitment to a long-term vision for a communication infrastructure that connects as many assets as possible to improve city services. And that commitment is yielding significant results. In partnership with the University of Calgary, Council Lead Partner Semtech and others, the city is embarking on a broad array of IoT-based smart city initiatives made possible by planning, preparation and a low-power wide area network (LoRaWAN) capable of supporting those initiatives efficiently and relatively inexpensively. The story below outlines the details — and strategies other cities may want to adapt and adopt. — Doug Peeples

One of Calgary's key strategies for the City Network of Things platform it envisioned was that it would not only be used by the city's business units but also would be offered to business partners and others who would use it as a test bed to create new technologies to allow them to grow and become more successful.

Another strategy was preparation. The city's IT business unit began working with all 32 of the city's business units in 2015 and eventually selected Semtech's LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology. And because the city had been investing in underlying communications infrastructure such as radio towers and a fiber network since 2000, the cost of building the LoRaWAN network was relatively low. Calgary is the first Canadian city to build and operate its own LoRaWAN network.

And yet another strategy was a high degree of collaboration. For example, a local company provided the equipment needed for network deployment and the city and the University of Calgary have an extensive research partnership referred to as The Urban Alliance. The university also participated in the initial LoRaWAN evalation.

The network's IoT sensors and other devices offer several advantages for transmitting and sharing data. They use batteries which eliminates the need for running electricity to them, last for years and require little maintenance, which keeps operating costs low. They also provide reliable coverage and include built-in security. And, as city IT manager Sylvain Mayer said in a Semtech white paper on the project, "More importantly, LoRaWAN is an open-standard technology which will provide us with flexibility and better control of the system."

Smart city initiatives
The technology is being put to the test in a variety of smart city pilots. And there is a lot of variety:

  • A three-acre indoor botanical garden occupies the top floor of a downtown Calgary shopping center. It includes rare and exotics plants and trees and the primary concern is to ensure they have a healthy growing environment. Sensors monitor light, water, air and soil conditions.
  • Calgary's recreation department is testing IoT sensors, software and LoRaWAN in conjunction with the city's IT staff to evaluate if there's a cost-effective way to monitor the pace of play on a city golf course with sensors. The sensors could provide data that would allow the city to make adjustments to improve the golfing experience and other purposes.
  • The Urban Alliance also is creating a network of low-cost acoustic sensors to improve noise monitoring. In the future, the project will include classifying sounds (such as trains, construction, gunshots) and identifying their location to help the city improve noise management and enforcement.

The projects are expected to continue as pilots until sometime next year.