Written by Mark Yarnall, Business Development Manager
The rise of advanced digital devices and communications tools — including the growth in electric vehicle (EV), e-commerce home delivery, and connected devices — are all contributing to the development of the “smart city.”
However, smart cities require engineered equipment and infrastructure to support such transformations. Advanced technologies, such as 5G and the Internet of things (IoT), which allows for a network of connected devices, means design engineers must address new city challenges, such as smart street lighting, EV charging stations, e-bike rentals, and others.
For some of these structures, there’s also a need to design secure enclosures to protect the equipment. These enclosures must effectively and seamlessly integrate into existing urban environments, while providing easy access to technical personnel and the general public.
Fortunately, there’s a range of best practices that can be followed when choosing engineered-access hardware to smart city equipment and infrastructure. This includes the role that usability, security, and longevity of this equipment play in the design process. Selecting the right hardware can enhance the value and accessibility of the equipment and technology.
How 5G is driving smart cities
One of the most significant smart-city drivers is the rapid deployment of a 5G communications infrastructure. 5G refers to the fifth-generation of wireless technology, offering high-bandwidth data transfer rates many times faster than previous platforms, significantly reducing latency, and providing greater connectivity and reliability.
5G cells are much smaller, with dimensions that make attaching them to walls and streetlamp poles (or integrating them into the poles) a typical installation method. In fact, there are designs that mount 5G network components on the underside of manhole covers.
There are a couple factors to consider as cities become “smarter.” For one, environmental hardening is critical to ensure the durability and reliability of hardware and components. For example, latches designed with compression can ensure that access panels are tightly sealed to protect against weather-related damage.
Additionally, as networking equipment and other valuable infrastructures are typically now positioned in plain site or closer to the end-user, the need for advanced physical security to protect this tech is crucial. From a smart industrial design perspective, incorporating access systems cleanly into enclosures so that they securely and seamlessly merge into infrastructures through the use of hidden hinges or elegantly designed latches is also important component.
Electronic access solutions (EAS) are also becoming more commonplace, offering enhanced physical security for 5G enclosures. An EAS has three main components: an access control or input device, an electromechanical lock, and a system for monitoring the status of the access point. It offer security with a range of price points and design features. The most basic form is a simple RFID credential, used by many telecom service providers and contractors.
The most secure access credential, which is gaining widespread use, supplies an electronic, time-based key via a mobile app on a technician’s smartphone. The technician actuates the electronic lock via a secure Bluetooth connection. An audit trail is established through cloud-based access controllers so that the network operator knows exactly who accessed the cell site, for how long, and what work was completed.
This type of secure, traceable access is vital for protecting and sustaining the growth of 5G systems. Electronic access control is cost-effective in the long run because it keeps this expensive equipment safe from harm and theft. It also represents one example of how engineered access technology can leverage the expansion of connectivity that is inherent to the vision for smart-city design.
Smart lighting transforms the streetlight
Connectivity, digital technology, and LEDs, are rapidly changing the basic streetlight. Municipalities worldwide are replacing traditional lighting fixtures with energy-saving LED fixtures. In the process, forward-looking cities are upgrading those lighting fixtures to provide a broader range of functionality beside just illuminating the roadside.
It’s predicted that smart LED fixtures might routinely track available parking spaces, monitor air quality, guide people on emergency evacuation routes, and capture traffic data to manage vehicle flow, reduce traffic jams, and improve the climate.
To this end, lighting manufacturers are also looking to provide more advanced poles and fixtures for streetlights. They’re already incorporating digital controllers so the lights can be dimmed or brightened to save energy. These systems also incorporate sensors and video cameras so municipalities can analyze traffic patterns and better manage public safety.
The upgraded fixtures require upgraded access hardware to protect the intelligent equipment that powers them. In the past, access hardware for lighting fixtures was typically simple and relatively low-cost, quarter-turn fasteners combined with hidden hinges — mainly for ease of access to replace worn-out bulbs. With the advent of LED lighting, that fixtures can now go years without needing to be re-opened for this purpose.
However, since the equipment is more advanced than a standard lighting fixture, latches with higher security features are necessary to protect the investment. For example, there are new rotary latch models offered by major access-hardware manufacturers that combine smaller dimensions with highly secure latching options. These latches can fit easily into smart lamp fixtures, as well as access panels in the base of street lamps.
They’re designed to be hidden, so as not to attract attention, yet are highly secure and provide the appropriate level of compression to keep out rain, ice, and snow. What’s more: they can be cost-effectively upgraded to include electronic locking features if the end-user municipality prefers to enhance the security of the fixture.
New fixtures for a smarter city
Two of the latest structures in the emerging cityscape are EV charging stations and automated parcel delivery terminals for e-commerce delivery and returns.
EV charging stations will eventually become as ubiquitous as the gasoline station, with similar requirements: the ability for an EV driver to access the charger, connect it to their vehicle and “pay at the pump.” As well as appearing next to the conventional gas pump at gas stations, EV charging stations are already located in mall parking lots, convenience stores, and streetscapes.
That creates a security risk: EV charging stations contain expensive electrical equipment and have direct links to communications networks, making them targets for thieves and hackers. Since they are in unsupervised locations, designers must carefully consider incorporating the same level of secure access hardware. This includes top-level electronic access solutions with audit trail capabilities, essentially providing the same level of protection that 5G enclosures require.
Unlike 5G enclosures, however, there’s a trend of designing EV charging stations to incorporate branding elements and distinctive visual designs so that vehicle operators can easily spot them. Electronic access solutions providers can help support this industrial design challenge with concealed locking mechanisms and hardware that best achieve marketing design goals.
The growth of intelligent parcel lockers is the result of many people — in city centers, but also other locations — who prefer to have their e-commerce packages left in a secure location rather than an apartment building lobby or the front steps of a townhouse. They also provide a convenient way to return products through the same logistics path.
This equipment requires a high level of security and audit trail tracking. However, in some cases, the designs of these lockers require extremely tight dimensions. Leading access hardware suppliers have been working with locker designers to create cost-effective latching systems that can incorporate electronic latching in limited spaces.
Choosing smart access hardware
The smart city of the future is not going to be built in a new region or environment — in almost all cases, the technology must be incorporated into our existing cityscapes. This is one of the most critical challenges design engineers face when creating enclosure designs and selecting access hardware to secure them.
A key source of support and creative solutions for these challenges is a proven access hardware supplier with extensive experience addressing functional and aesthetic challenges. They can often draw on existing portfolios and design concepts to help solve these critical engineering and design challenges.
Choosing a proven supplier can be the “smart” move to ensuring that the technology infrastructure enabling the benefits of the smart city is well protected, easily accessed, and intelligently woven into existing urban environments.