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Ubicquia Raises $30M for Smart Streetlights, Expansion

Four months after the acquisition of a competitor, the Florida-based smart streetlight company has raised money to invest in new products and betting on a bright future for 5G and smart city technology.

San Diego smart streetlight
City of San Diego
In between an acquisition earlier this year and new product launches planned for the fourth quarter, the smart streetlight company Ubicquia has announced $30 million in new fundraising.

According to a news release on the company’s website, the money came from Florida-based Fuel Venture Capital and other prior investors, and will go toward new products and increasing manufacturing capacity.

Founded in 2014 and based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Ubicquia makes interconnected systems of sensors that plug into streetlights, consisting of both hardware and software. Among other things, the company’s products can control streetlights, record video or other data, deliver public Wi-Fi, monitor light poles for repairs, and give city staff or utility providers a back-end software-as-a-service to analyze incoming data from those sensors to make decisions about light schedules, traffic, public safety and other issues.

In May, Ubicquia acquired CityIQ, a subsidiary of GE Current that made a smart city platform for traffic efficiency and public safety. Ubicquia CEO Ian Aaron said at the time that CityIQ’s expertise and technology would be incorporated into a product later this year, and he told Government Technology today that it’s due in the fourth quarter. He said it’s Qualcomm-based, compatible with the most recent generation of Wi-Fi (WiFi 6), and equipped with DOCSIS backhaul, meaning it can link the core network to a variety of other subnetworks including the city’s own fiber, leased fiber or a cable operator’s network. By the first quarter of 2021, he said Ubicquia will release a new version of the product, which has already been pre-sold to some local governments, adding a neural AI processor, two 4K cameras and four microphones.

With the acquisition of CityIQ, Ubicquia claims deployment in more than 100 cities in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia and Chile.

Investors’ interest in Ubicquia comes at a moment when some cities are looking for data-driven ways to cut costs, as COVID-19 has simultaneously raised the stakes for delivering digital services and threatened budget cuts in the coming fiscal year. Aaron said the time is ripe for giving cities cost-effective ways to deliver public Wi-Fi and build networks of sensors for gathering data, particularly if it involves the kind of smart city hardware that can accommodate future innovations.

“In many disenfranchised areas, especially today with COVID, some cities are subsidizing mobile Wi-Fi hot spots, and there’s a real cost to the cities in order to do that,” he said. “Many of these subsidies are going away next year, in the March-June timeframe, so the cities are really scrambling for more permanent solutions.”

Beyond public Wi-Fi, Aaron sees a place for Ubicquia’s smart streetlight tech in the inexorable movement toward 5G, a burgeoning wireless technology in which the U.S. aims to be a leader. He said some of the barriers to 5G adoption at scale are logistical — for example, finding the right site to deploy, or getting the permitting approved — which gives an edge to products that can leverage existing infrastructure.

“Why streetlights? Well, you have a streetlight every 50 meters, so as far as sites for small cells, you have 67 million sites in the U.S. All those streetlights have persistent power, because you need power for small cells. They all have close proximity to fiber, because they’re on the street, typically where the fiber is going, or at the intersections where there’s already fiber from traffic cameras and others. And that photocell socket that we plug into is universal,” Aaron said. “So it’s a product that can plug in anywhere and work with the carriers to help accelerate 5G deployment, versus having to go through long permitting processes with utilities and cities to try to get attachment rights on utility poles, where you have to bring additional power, and you have to get the fiber to, et cetera.”

With growing interest has also come skepticism, in places, at the prospect of local governments creating massive networks of interconnected cameras and sensors. For example, Ubicquia’s data collection in San Diego was put on hold this summer when organized pushback from citizens helped persuade the city's Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods Committee to draft new ordinances regarding surveillance in the city.

Aaron said some people have blown the issue out of proportion, because cameras are commonplace, their locations are decided by the city’s parking division and they’ve helped solve crimes. He said the San Diego Police Department doesn’t see what the cameras record unless they’re investigating a nearby violent crime, in which case they publish a monthly log of what videos they pulled, why, and whether they were helpful in solving the crime.

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.