Upon realizing the potential devices and solutions within mobile connectivity, cellular service conglomerate AT&T became the first provider to form a dedicated smart cities business, and hasn’t looked back. Recognizing the capabilities of building a strong IoT foundation, AT&T has become an industry leader in North America from a mobile connection perspective. Major cities throughout the United States have struggled with issues like bridging the digital divide, creating and maintaining safer environments, along with improving urban mobility.
“AT&T has held 60-80 year relationships with several cities and municipalities across North America,” said Michael Zeto, General Manager and Executive Director of AT&T Smart City Projects. “The company (AT&T) being where it was positioned, realized it could utilize its knowledge to help solve problems for cities working with them versus just being a vendor.”
This led AT&T to developing their smart cities framework, an announcement they first made two years ago. A facet of that framework was connectivity, ranging from fiber and Wi-Fi, to LTE.
“The premise of the framework was simple – help cities break down silos, bring right players to the table with innovative mindsets, and find out ways to engage in the innovation ecosystems within these cities,” said Zeto.
AT&T followed up on its promise, and developed applicable devices to smart city vicinities like their digital infrastructure, offering a sensor node that uses cameras to monitor safety, parking, along with environmental sensors for tracking air and audio quality.
“Think of those sensors as an iPhone of municipalities,” Zeto remarked when asked to inquire further. “It’s essentially a set of applications that were (or could be) built, using local tech ecosystems that extract value from the data coming through its sensors.”
AT&T has collaborated with some of the country’s largest metropoles like Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Portland, and Miami Dade County (which consists of 30 cities) along with smaller communities and counties like Chapel Hill and Montgomery County. AT&T’s involvement in the tech ecosystems of these communities has created jobs, driven economic development, and added value as is was breaking down longstanding city hall silos.
Among the most challenging issues these smart city endeavors have presented to AT&T included traffic and transportation, lighting (or vertical asset-related), and water.
“Outside of public transit and traffic (with much funding coming from the federal government), the next areas of opportunity where trends appear to be going will be anything light-related or that involves street lighting,” said Zeto when asked about the challenges presented and evolution of technological trends.
Keeping ahead of the game, AT&T developed a laminar agnostic sensor that operates 30 feet in the air to capture data, which ranges from environmental (air quality, temperature humidity, pollutants), audio (gunshots, noise pollution), to data from cameras for public safety and monitoring pedestrian vehicle movement.
“This data is important for cities. Something simple like counting how many people walking through an intersection can enable urban transportation departments to calculate average speeds and predict accidents,” Zeto said. “Data from monitoring vehicle movement can serve as a catalyst in traffic easement and parking, which is used for cities to generate revenue.”
The degree of diversity and innovation AT&T has demonstrated in their smart cities projects and digital infrastructure offerings may just mark the beginning of what cities are capable of utilizing with this technology and data it collects. We should start seeing more types of breakthroughs in smart technology that continues to benefit the lives and routines of urban populations, with companies like AT&T leading the way.