Smart streetlights, traffic signals, public Wi-Fi and other connected devices common to so many urban areas need communications infrastructure for support. The city of Atlanta is looking to gather vendor input about what this infrastructure should look like through an RFP, set to close in mid-April.
Kirk Talbott, executive director of the Smart City Program, said the goal is not to make the larger project prescriptive; rather, the goal is to leave it as open-ended as the process will allow “so that the market can tell us what really makes sense from an infrastructure standpoint.”
The city has some 90 smart city projects in various stages of development, and they all require some form of infrastructure — ranging from communications technology to electrical power. The city is asking the private sector for direction related to implementing the needed infrastructure to support these projects, all driven by a $250 million infrastructure bond.
“For many of these innovation projects, there is some amount of infrastructure that’s required, be it cellular, or even power in some cases, fiber communications, and data to collect the results. And in most cases when we did a project, we would build out the infrastructure necessary for that one project,” Talbott explained.
When city officials began looking at the portfolio of projects, they realized the infrastructure was a fairly common theme.
“There was a pattern to the types of infrastructure that we kept requiring,” said Talbott.
“And so the real intent of the RFP is to find the most efficient way to build out that infrastructure and support both the 90 projects we have in flight right now, and future projects we anticipate,” he added.
The RFP deadline was originally scheduled to close at the end of March but has been extended until April 13.
According to Talbott, some of the portfolio projects require “heavy infrastructure,” while others are lighter in their infrastructure requirements. For example, transportation projects that involve artificial intelligence, accounting pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles, as well as back-office needs, require a substantial amount of infrastructure to be effective.
“We have work on the sustainability side in terms of renewable power generation, better recycling outcomes, better waste management,” Talbott continued. “We’ve got projects on the public safety side in which we’re doing better crime correlations, so that we’re using machine learning. We’re looking at patterns across crimes as they are reported so that we can see the patterns sooner.”
Fiber-optic networks will likely play a role in the types of proposals Atlanta receives, given the data communications needs of so many of the smart city projects. However, the overall scope of the network is still an open question.
"What we didn’t want to say is, ‘put in precisely 237 miles of fiber.’ And someone says, ‘well you know, if you put in 300 [miles], then we could do this other thing,’” said Talbott.
“We do have some fiber. It’s not small and it’s not large. We have a medium amount of fiber in the city, but there are always gaps in a fiber network,” he added.
Increasingly, cities are seeing the need to lead on infrastructure investments like fiber. San Francisco recently announced a plan for a citywide — and city-owned — fiber network, as part of its effort to close the city’s “digital divide,” but also support faster communications for residents, businesses and San Francisco’s smart city projects.
“To me, the internet is our 21st-century utility,” San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell told the Smart Cities Connect Conference in Kansas City, Mo., last month, comparing the project to large urban water and sewer infrastructure projects more than 100 years ago.
This RFP is far from Atlanta’s first foray into smart city projects. The city includes a living lab dedicated to testing Internet of Things (IoT) technology along North Avenue, while also hosting events like the MetroLab Annual Summit.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.