Sprint looks beyond Kansas City for future smart city deployments

Sprint (NYSE: S) is considering partnerships with other cities on smart city deployments similar to the one it has struck with Kansas City, Mo., according to Sprint CTO Stephen Bye. However, Bye declined to say which other cities Sprint might choose to partner with for deployments.

Bye

Meanwhile, Sprint's partners in Kansas City, beyond Cisco Systems, are gearing up for the deployment near the carrier's headquarters in Overland Park, Kan. They include construction and engineering firm Black & Veatch and Sensity, a company that makes and manages smart sensors for lighting and other applications.

So far, wireless carriers have not been directly involved in smart city deployments in the U.S. Bye suggested that for Sprint, at least, Kansas City is a prelude to something larger.

"This, to us, is a strong partnership," Bye told FierceWireless in an interview. "I see it as a model that we're talking to other cities about as well."

Bye said he did not want to announce any further deployments before they are ready, but noted that there are "a number of progressive cities" that are looking at what Kansas City Mayor Sly James and his team have done, and are thinking along similar lines but perhaps for different needs. "We're talking to some of them, and we hope that they'll progress to something equivalent to what we have here," he said.

In Kansas City Sprint will deploy hardware from Cisco to construct, own and manage the intelligent Wi-Fi network as part of a smart city deployment covering a 2.2-mile Kansas City streetcar line through downtown,

The project is expected to cost more than $15 million over the next decade. The city is investing $3.7 million in public funds, Sprint is spending around $7 million and Cisco is going to pony up $5 million. The service is expected to be operational when the streetcar opens to the public, probably on or before March 1, 2016, and if the system works well, it could be expanded beyond downtown.

The network will also support smart city applications that deliver maps and information, as well as help manage parking, traffic, city lighting, water and waste management. Additionally, Sprint said that its subsidiary Pinsight Media+ will operate the data analytics and advertising platform and will e-enable commerce.

"I do think what's important is it really is an ecosystem," Bye said. "It takes multiple parties to make this work."

Bye noted that Sprint is "certainly not in the business of building a vertically-integrated application to manage lighting and street lights. There are people who do that better than we do. What we do well is provide connectivity and an infrastructure that enables people to do that."

One of Sprint's partners is Black & Veatch, which is also based in Overland Park. The 100-year-old engineering and construction firm supports oil and gas projects, wastewater management, telecoms and also has clients in the federal government. The company is also working with Tesla on electric charging infrastructure for Teslas's cars in California, Connecticut and New York. Several years ago, the firm started a smart cities-focused division that cuts across all of the vertical industries Black & Veatch supports. The unit supports applications for transportation, energy grids, smart parking and lighting, roadways and more.  

Fred Ellermeier, vice president of smart integrated infrastructure at Black & Veatch, said in Kansas City "the plan is to be an integral part of the delivery of the solutions." So far, the conversations have been looking at smart city solutions from a strategic standpoint and high level, he said.

Black & Veatch works closely with Cisco but Cisco needed a systems integrator for the project, which is the role Ellermeier's firm will serve. Black & Veatch is also going to bring its expertise in water systems, watershed management and other areas and is working with Cisco and the city's water department on projects like advanced leak detection in pipelines.

The deployment schedule of the smart city systems has not been set yet, Ellermeier said, but will proceed in phases that will extend past the opening of the street car line.

Another partner is Sensity, which was founded in 2012 and is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. The firm decided that smart LEDs were the perfect infrastructure to embed sensors that could collect data for use in smart city applications, since many cities are moving to LED lighting. Sean Harrington, Sensity's senior vice president of marketing and business development, said the company also realized that it would need to partner with companies like Cisco and others to develop the applications.

Sensity has an application platform that exposes the data its sensors are collecting and analyzing through a set of APIs. Harrington said that lets application developers "go far beyond lighting control" and develop apps for security, smart parking traffic analytics and people counting for retail stores.

Sensity will deploy smart lighting in Kansas City. 

Sensity is deploying 125 core nodes and 125 video nodes as part of the Kansas City deployment and Harrington said there are prototype or reference design applications that Sensity will enable directly via its partnership with Cisco. However, he said that Sensity will work with local developers to create apps. One potential use case could be using video cameras in lights to identify open parking spots, and then having an app tell citizens where the spots are and letting them pay for the spot, which cuts down on emission from cars. Another could let cities dynamically price parking based on demand. Another could store security camera footage locally in cameras embedded in street lights and only send back data when it is requested.

Kevin McGinnis, vice president at Pinsight, noted that the company is "a hometown team" with its headquarters in downtown Kansas City, in the streetcar line's footprint. Part of the company's role will be to deliver the free public Wi-Fi portal, which could also promote local apps, businesses and services. The firm will also enable local companies to promote targeted advertising and offers based on factors like customer location profiles and foot traffic.

"One aspect of this is the citizens," McGinnis said. "How do you leverage the intelligence you will get from citizen behavior and how do you deliver value back to the people?"

Bye said Sprint's network and its partnerships will enable a wide range of smart city applications. "I don't want to presume that we have all of the answers as to what will emerge," Bye said. "I think it's just exciting to sort of say, we're a part of this to help put a platform in place that unlocks that innovation."

Related articles:
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Sprint makes Wi-Fi the 'fourth layer' of its network with new Boingo deal, small cell push and Wi-Fi router
Sprint expected to help provide free Wi-Fi network for smart city project in Kansas City
Intel, Qualcomm execs see role as technology providers in smart cities
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