Robert C. Dye, Mayor of Farmers Branch, Texas recently spoke with David Reuter of nepsa solutions LLC, about his vision for a smart city and how collaboration is the only way to achieve real results.

“We began with the idea of exploring 5G and how it might improve our business community’s Internet connectivity,” Dye said. “We have a lot of dark spots and for a town with such a high concentration of commercial businesses, we must do a better job of making sure we can support their growing needs, with diverse solutions ranging from fiber connections to improved quality of life in terms of traffic congestion and public safety.”

“We’re a small city of around 28,600 and while we have different challenges than our much larger neighbor, Dallas, we’re still part of the greater DFW community. Technology solutions that work in large cities should be scalable to meet the needs of every community.”

“Our ideas and wishes came together after attending a Smart Cities conference in Austin, Texas,” said Dye, “when we saw what smart poles can accomplish with small cell and smart technology.” 

“Combined with the need to address Texas legislation SB-1004, regarding small cell nodes, the design of the smart pole from nepsa solutions got us thinking about possibilities well beyond mobile connectivity...”


Small cells are coming to your community

Small cells are low-powered cellular radio access nodes that work in conjunction with larger macro towers, to increase voice and data capacity in places where large groups of people gather, such as stadiums, universities and parks. 

The City of Farmers Branch, Texas is known as a “City in a Park” for its 28 parks in only 12 square miles, enjoyed by scores of citizens daily (each surely with their mobile devices in hand).

Small cell growth is being driven by the rapidly expanding digital economy. From self-driving cars, smart phone video streaming and the Internet of Things to robots, drones and smart LED lights, data usage is expanding at astronomical rates. 

Mobile video data will be the fastest-growing segment of traffic, expected to increase 870% from 2016 to 2021. This accelerated growth will be encouraged by wide usage of live video, AR and VR apps.1

Across the USA mobile network operators, like AT&T, are rapidly working to install small cell technology. According to a recent TrendForce report in IEEE, small cell deployment will reach 2,838,000 in 2018 with 4,329,000 units deployed in 2019, an annual growth rate of 52.5%!2


Not every small cell is small – or smart

This rapid growth in demand for data has its downsides as well. Too often the push to ‘build now’ outruns the need for thoughtful and deliberate planning.

Municipal leaders are challenged with providing citizens expanded connectivity, for the good of the community, while balancing the needs of public agencies and private landowners.

Small cell installations are expanding, in some cases with little regard to site selection or aesthetics. A small cell can take many forms, including radios and antennas simply ‘stuck’ on utility poles in the public’s right of way. 

Wires, boxes, cables and antennas of all shapes and sizes can create a community eyesore, leading to Not-In-My-Front-Yard ordinances and litigation, conjuring up the NIMBY fights that took place over the larger macro cell towers in the 1990s.


Making cities smarter – through education and infrastructure

With millions of small cell nodes projected, community acceptance of small cell infrastructure is key. Without acceptance, delays and costs mount for all parties involved.

“With the introduction of Texas SB-1004, which seeks to limit a city’s ability to effectively manage the small cell process, including how nodes look and where they would be placed,” said Mayor Dye; “we contacted nepsa, makers of a smart pole, to help us create design standards that put Farmers Branch first.”

“What started out as a discussion about aesthetics – since nepsa’s smart pole hides all the wiring, radios and antennas, entirely inside the pole – became an exciting conversation about smart city technology.”

“The nepsa team not only provided the small cell infrastructure, but they brought in an entire ecosystem of partners and stakeholders to help us create a pilot program, toward achieving our larger Smart City vision.”


Small cells in smart poles: The Farmers Branch pilot

“I’ve learned so much about the possibilities open to communities of all sizes. I recently attended a conference where I met with more than 40 potential smart city partners. We can pick and choose the technology that matters most to our community.”

“I really got excited about the traffic management tech,” said Dye, “since our Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) station is the next big development for us. It’s so critical to understand how to manage an asset like this, in a city where residents enjoy a high standard of living with easy transport to nearby Dallas and surrounding communities.”

“With some of the tech we’re testing, we can receive near real-time video and data on parking, traffic and congestion. It’s just the beginning of where we can grow.”


Testing over the summer of 2018

Starting in late May of 2018, in conjunction with the City of Farmers Branch, Texas, team members from nepsa solutions, AT&T, Ericsson and Current, powered by GE are piloting nepsa’s smart pole, the KitstiK™, with two installations in city parks.

AT&T Smart Cities Digital Infrastructure with Current, powered by GE’s CityIQ™ provides energy & data solutions that can make a city a more vibrant place to work, live and play. This Pilot program includes:

Small cell technology for AT&T featuring Ericsson radios

• Smart, more efficient LED lighting from GE

• Live video feed for safety and traffic analysis

• Measurement of near real-time speed, count, direction of travel, number of lanes provided

• Parking view API in connection with live video


Looking for results in the very near term

“With energy saving LED lights as just one part of the ecosystem,” said Mayor Dye, “we’re hoping to generate enough savings to help support and pay for other initiatives.” 

“We’re looking to the CityIQ™ node to help us to gather and mine our data to create more efficiencies, helping us to attract more restaurants, retail and amenities that our residents are wanting, as we grow and rebrand our city.”

“With this pilot, the nepsa team will help Farmers Branch become one of the first cities in North Texas to make a giant leap toward our becoming a progressive, forward-thinking city of the future.”

 

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