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4 October 2019

Telensa’s Urban IQ platform aims for smart city unity

Telensa has announced a new smart city focused integration platform, designed to bring third parties into its own connected streetlighting and sensing ecosystem – to the benefit of its customers. The openness is refreshing, and much needed in the IoT, and with a raft of early partners, Telensa is increasing the cumulative value of its offering to existing and future customers.

The initial partners are Aeroqual, CA Traffic, Eagl, Farsite Communications, Gill, Intouch, Libelium, and Vaisala – all on the smaller end of the corporate scale, but most addressing a pretty specialist need for cities. As no to cities are the same, there needs to be immense flexibility in the offering, if you want to meet the customer’s needs – otherwise, a smart city deployment is going to feel like compromise after compromise.

Billing this as a future-proof open solution, the gist of the offering is that Telensa can integrate hardware and services from its partners into the streetlights themselves and the supporting platform. Because a city’s needs will change over time, a core part of the offering is that it can support new additions, should the scope of a smart city project change.

To this end, Urban IQ consists of three main components – the Sensor Hub hardware, the cloud-based Dashboard, and the third-party sensors. The Sensor Hub can be mounted anywhere on the streetlight pole itself, and doesn’t require the luminaire to be altered from the factory. Notably, it can support LTE Cat-NB, as well as Telensa’s own proprietary ultra-narrowband (UNB) protocol.

The hub then allows other companies to design sensors that can be added to the mix, as well as acting as the local gateway for nearby sensors that might be installed at street-level. Telensa highlights waste bins and drains as likely candidates, and as time goes on, all manner of potential devices could be brought into the mix.

The hub itself is a nondescript white box with two prominent antennae, measuring 280mm by 180mm by 60mm, powered by a dual-core Arm processor. In terms of I/O, it includes PoE (power over ethernet), RS232 or RS485 serial connectors, Bluetooth, WiFi, and an optional IEEE 802.15.4 radio – which could provide Zigbee or other variants. A GPS unit provides location, surprisingly important in static applications, and the package seems quite rugged – rated for operation in -40°C to +60°C (-40°F to +140°F).

The cloud element, the Dashboard, is built on Microsoft’s Power BI and hosted in Azure, due to its widespread support among the systems integrators that are going to drive so much of the work needed in the smart city sector. As for the sensors available now, Telensa says that its partners can provide air quality, environmental, waste, drainage, road quality and gunshot detection.

Telensa founder and CCO Will Gibson said “we have been working with cities for over a decade to make their streetlights smart, and with the introduction of Urban IQ we are providing a cost-effective way to use their smart lighting infrastructure to add multiple smart city sensors. We are excited to be working with cities to provide the flexibility needed to achieve their smart city ambitions.”

Telensa has had a productive year, passing 1.7mn connected lights. In October 2018, it announced a partnership with FarSite, to use Telensa’s UNB to backhaul rubbish bin fill levels. At MWC 2019, the company unveiled its participation in the Urban Data Project, in a partnership with its hometown of Cambridge and using its new City Data Guardian platform offering.

Also announced was the Multi-Sensor Pod, which makes use of Qualcomm’s AI silicon to help sift data and cut backhaul requirements. A collaboration partnership with Samsung SDS followed in May, and a spate of deals in the APAC region swelled the number of total end-points served.

Collectively, the moves paint an encouraging picture, and the new Urban IQ platform should help expand things further. Telensa is competing against all manner of approaches, perhaps most significantly the Wi-SUN based offering from Itron (which acquired Silver Spring Networks to get into this market).

But on a global scale, the smart city market remains as fractured as ever. If we were at the point where Telensa held a majority of the market, we might argue that the new open platform approach might be enough to bring the industry round and blow the doors open for a new era of collaboration. As it stands, there are so many cities and counties that have yet to adopt any smart city technologies, never mind being at a point where the benefits of interoperability collaborations factor into the decision-making process.

On the one hand, this is good news for all the businesses looking to make a living in the smart city marketplace. We are still leagues away from saturation and the race to bottom, and there are still good profit margins to be enjoyed. In addition, it is one of the few markets in the IoT realm that won’t be taken over by just a couple of major players, due to the complexity and continuous evolution of the final product. Specialists are going to be needed at all times, and due to the labyrinthine options and objectives, the systems integrators have plenty of room to coexist.