Analysts: AT&T leads rivals in smart city work
Public safety seen as 'anchor tenant'
by Martha DeGrasse
AT&T is the only mobile operator to make the top ten on the Smart Cities A List, published this month by Compass Intelligence. The company says its smart cities business grew naturally out of its larger internet of things business, as it evaluated opportunities presented by the convergence of low-cost sensors, ubiquitous connectivity, and cloud-based analytics.
Now AT&T has eight spotlight cities that it considers commercial laboratories for its IoT solutions, which monitor everything from water quality to traffic patterns to the structural integrity of bridges.
The hardware associated with AT&T digital infrastructure solution is a sensor node that the company describes as "a smartphone for municipalities." The node includes two cameras, environmental sensors and audio sensors, as well as a suite of native applications.
"More apps can be developed by entrepreneurs or large companies to pull data from there," said Mike Zeto, executive director for AT&T's smart cities business. Zeto said the sensor node can be attached to street lights or utility poles.
"The utilities are getting very engaged in smart cities now," Zeto said. "Utilities like to procure with capital and do capex purchases because they get a fixed rate of return on that, that's their business model. So they can go out and invest millions of dollars in these sensor nodes that can be deployed on their lighting infrastructure that they own and then they can charge the city a tariff, and then the city gets it deployed without capital upfront."
Public safety is also a cornerstone of AT&T smart city business, especially now that the carrier has won the government's $6.5 billion contract to deploy FirstNet, an LTE-based public safety network.
"Public safety is the anchor tenant for much of what we do," said Thaddeus Arroyo, AT&T's CEO for Business Solutions and International, speaking about smart cities at the World Economic Forum in Beijing. He said the combination of mobile broadband and smart city sensors will enable cities to be able to correlate emergency response calls to the incident areas and examine data from cameras and gunshot sensors to see what is really happening.
Smart city technology also has a role to play in keeping first responders safe. Arroyo said that when a police officer releases the snap on his or her gun holster, nearby officers can immediately be notified.
"Now those sensors are in what they wear, on their holsters and their guns, and for firefighters, as firefighters arrive at the scene, they can send up an equipped drone," Arroyo said. He expects firefighters and their command centers to be able to see inside burning buildings before they enter them.
"That's the benefit of a connected society, a connected city, and ... public safety as that anchor tenant for driving the next generation," he said.