Smart cities: how low bandwidth will revolutionize our everyday lives

The expert: Olivier Hersent is a graduate of the prestigious École Polytechnique in Paris and a recognized expert in telecommunications. In 1999 he founded a company called NetCentrex, which has become a market-leading voice over IP (VoIP) platform. After NetCentrex was taken over in 2006 he became technical director of Comverse and then established Actility in 2010. He is the author of several books on voice over IP, M2M, the Internet of Things and smart grids..

Can you explain what LoRa technology is?
Olivier Hersent: LoRa is a low-bandwidth, long-range radio communication technology that creates networks of connected devices on a varying scale, from a city, to a region or a country. Our company, Actility, works with major operators (telecommunications companies, water and energy suppliers) that roll out network management systems which use sensors and remotely controlled devices: smart thermostats, smoke detectors, meters, boilers, and so on.
I should point out that by 2020, it is estimated there will be between 50 and 100 billion connected devices. Most of them will be battery powered and they will have to be able to communicate via the Internet for at least 10 to 20 years. LoRa bandwidth at a few hundred bits per second is more than adequate for use by automated systems. In addition, the technology uses little power and is inexpensive to manufacture – a LoRa sensor costs just a few euros. The internal transmitting antennae are the size of a box of matches, while the external ones are the size of a child’s shoebox with a 1.5-metre mast. We have invested in this technology because it seems the most promising for the near future of the Internet of Things. This may seem surprising, but it could well be that in three years’ time, every developed country will have access to this “air-borne Internet”…
Also read: Will smart objects take on a “life” of their own?

The Internet of Things is creating a huge market for suppliers to offer private customers home automation services, which work by installing sensors for surveillance, protection and energy management. © Mark Moz CC BY 2.0
Are there already LoRa networks in France?
They are being built. Bouygues Telecom is currently rolling out a LoRa network. Orange, which has invested in our company, has not made its plans official yet. Some mass-market retailers are also tapping into this niche. In the short term, we should see two public networks coexist with sharing agreements.
LoRa networks will soon be available in 500 French municipalities
LoRa (long range) is a form of low-bandwidth, long-range two-directional radio technology, originally developed by the French company Cycleo (which has now been taken over by the North American company Semtech). It enables a very large number of connected devices to communicate simultaneously via a network that can be rolled out on the scale of a city or a country. These networks will be able to be controlled by private companies offering services (intruder detection, smoke detection, surveillance of goods, parcel tracking, etc.) or by public operators (smart electricity, water and gas meters, smoke and air pollution detectors, systems to manage public lighting and household waste, and so on). In June, French phone operator Bouygues Telecom became the first company to roll out a LoRa network in the country. It already covers part of Paris and the town of Issy-les-Moulineaux. It should be operational in 500 French municipalities, including major cities such as Lille, Lyon, Marseilles and Nice, by the end of the year.

How will connected devices change our everyday lives?
The connected devices we currently hear most about are for personal use. In this case, we’re talking about devices managed by manufacturers or operators, who use them to improve services or optimize operation of their networks (electricity, water, gas and so on). Take the example of smart thermostats. If an energy provider gives these to its private customers, it will be able to adjust the devices’ controls according to the level of charge in the electricity grid and therefore be able to introduce more renewable energy. This will make substantial savings in terms of the costs of managing network balancing, which relevant parties will be able to use to improve the value of the services they supply. So we are going to see the arrival of truly smart thermostats and other devices of this kind.

The smart electricity grid is one of many systems that can use a LoRa network. In the coming years, energy providers will make individual communicating meters and controlled thermostats widely available so that they can manage electricity demand accurately, predict overload and optimize the share of renewables in the energy mix. © Nayu Kim CC BY 2.0
What will the smart cities of the future look like?
Localization and tracking of goods will significantly improve protection against theft. It will be very difficult to lose an item when it’s connected. Security systems will also be much more efficient. A smoke detector will be able to alert firefighters directly in the event of a fire and water companies will be able to cut off your supply remotely in the event of a flood. City parking should also be much easier. This is already the case in Paris, which has a car-sharing service called Autolib with an app that displays all free parking spaces nearby. This is much more convenient for drivers and much greener, too, because they waste less fuel going round in circles looking for a space. The city of Paris itself will contribute to storing and distributing renewable green electricity. Within companies, cables in connected buildings will gradually be replaced with wireless sensors. Even your letterbox could become smart and alert you when you’ve got mail!
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