Dutch lighting meets Swedish telecom in a plan to blanket cities with both light and cellular signals -- in a service model at no initial cost to the cities.
Mobile data is exploding, expected to grow an order of magnitude in the next five years, and the way cellular towers have been designed and deployed in the past just won't keep up. So mobile operators are "densifying": placing many more small transceivers closer together where people gather and want bandwidth -- that is, in cities.
The Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson and the Netherlands-based lighting manufacturer Philips have been working together for a year on the concept they are calling "Zero Site," ever since their CEOs met at the World Economic Forum in Davos. They introduced and are demonstrating Zero Site at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.
The idea is to provide cities with connected, energy-saving LED lighting and at the same time mount Ericsson's small transceivers atop light poles, all delivered with fiber backhaul in a "lighting-as-a-service" package. The cities pay for the system out of energy savings, and can rent the transceivers out to mobile carriers that use Ericsson's equipment on the back end. That's most of them, by the way: Ericsson is the number one supplier of LTE mobile equipment in the largest 100 cities, with two or three carriers using its gear in most of them. Over half of LTE data flows through Ericsson's equipment.
Blanketing the city
The small cells on light poles would probably serve 3G, LTE, and WiFi technology, according to Fierce Wireless. Installations would begin at high-traffic locations such as light poles near bus stops.
If the idea of city-wide wireless served from microcells rings a vague bell, you may be remembering a company called Metricom. In the 1990s they evolved a plan to rent space on light poles in order to provide high-speed Internet service -- at a time when DSL was king, cable was just getting started, and fiber was nowhere. The Achilles heel of the Metricom business model was that the company needed to negotiate city-by-city to secure space on light poles. The Philips-Ericsson plan neatly sidesteps this difficulty. (Metricom did eventually open service in several cities and peaked at over 50,000 subscribers before going bankrupt in 2001.)
Members of this community are well acquainted with the advantages of LED lighting for city street lights. For Zero Site, Philips is claiming to offer energy savings of 50% to 70% over traditional lighting sources, rising to 80% when the lights are centrally managed. Philips, no stranger to lighting-as-a-service, could work with financial institutions to structure deals so that cities realized some cash flow from the energy and maintenance savings, even while enjoying enhanced lighting and improved telecoms for no cash out of pocket.
GigaOm, linked above, raises the question of the advisability of cities locking themselves, and their carriers, into using one vendor's telecom equipment for the next 20 or 30 years. (The idea of committing to a single lighting vendor for such a period doesn't raise the same level of concern, apparently.) Ericsson's CEO told GigaOm not to worry about it; it is early days and multi-carrier interoperability can be tackled at a later date.
What do you think of the Philips-Ericsson plan?
— Keith Dawson , Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting