Headlines Interviews

Integrated, Smarter Network Solutions for Smart Cities

The Smart Cities Mission of the Government is a bold, new initiative, where robust IT connectivity and digitalization, good governance, especially e-Governance, would play critical role in the smooth delivery, access and integration of a host of services. Sterlite Technologies is at the forefront in ensuring an end-to-end approach for fast and future-proof smarter network rollout with seamless system integration.

In June 2015, Prime Minister officially launched three mega urban schemes viz., Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Housing for All in urban area setting in motion the process of urban transformation to enable better living and drive economic growth. All these three schemes are aimed at urban planning and providing urban infrastructure in sync with present and future needs. Smart Cities Mission is meant to set examples that can be replicated both within and outside the smart city, catalysing the creation of similar smart cities in various regions and parts of the country.

The concept of smart cities varies from country to country. However, in the approach of the Smart Cities Mission, the objective is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions including but not limited to robust IT connectivity and digitalization, good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation. Wire & Cable India recently interviewed Mr. K. S. Rao, Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer, Sterlite Technologies to get updated on how his company is engaged in realizing the objectives set by the mission through its expertise in designing, building and managing smarter networks through its end-to-end portfolio of optical communication products, software systems, and network integration services. Excerpts:

Wire & Cable India: Tell us how you look at Smart Cities and how this mission of the Government of India will change the urban landscape qualitatively.

K. S. Rao: With increasing urbanisation and economic development, urban areas are likely to contribute nearly 75 percent to India’s GDP by 2030 from 63 percent at present. As we pick up the pace to be at par with global standards of living, it is imperative to ensure holistic improvement of these key engines of growth. Our long-term vision is to ensure a well-structured smart city with smart applications leading to a sustainable and transformative change in the living experience of its citizens.

The government has built the smart city plan around critical pillars such as smart governance, smart environment, smart transportation, smart IT & communications, smart health and smart education. Successful adoption and implementation of these pillars will improve efficiency, unlock economic potential, reduce costs, open doors to new business and services, and improve the living conditions of its citizens.

WCI: What opportunities are there for a company like Sterlite Tech in the Smart Cities Mission? Please elaborate the key infrastructural elements where you see yourself instrumental.

KSR: Sterlite Tech is well-poised to apply its range of expertise in designing, building and managing smarter networks through its end-to-end portfolio of optical communication products, software systems, and network integration services. We are committed to create a high-quality digital infrastructure on which a smart city can be built.

Sterlite Tech has built capabilities to capture this opportunity across multiple dimensions such as solution design, network deployment, project management, and supply chain. All these initiatives, combined with Sterlite Tech’s local manufacturing facilities, R&D and experience in working closely with the government with a strong partner ecosystem, are key to our vision of creating smart, efficient cities.

With our end-to-end capabilities, we are playing a critical role by not just implementing a fiberised network, but also providing smarter network solutions. From aspects like centralised command and control centre, smart communications, smart transport, e-governance to digitalised access to utilities, e-healthcare, e-surveillance, we have the competency to address all these key infrastructural elements.

WCI: Tell us something about Sterlite Tech’s Smart City Solution Suite, which was recently showcased at 2nd India Smart City Expo 2016. Also, underline how it takes care of key strategic parameters under Smart City Mission.

KSR: The Smart City Solution Suite is an end-to-end approach for fast and future-proof smarter network rollout with seamless system integration. It is highly customisable and can be applied to address specific requirements of urban and rural bodies for area-based development and pan-city initiatives. It is a unique offering that features complete program management, project execution and network integration from infrastructure management to network applications.

There are various elements and core offerings in the solutions suite which addresses different requirements of a smart city. The state-of-the-art Command and Control Centre (CCC) is where the entire city’s information will be collected, viewed and analysed through an integrated video wall. Thereafter, we have smart communications which will entail Wi-Fi hotspots and optical fibre based systems for better communication.

Smart transport solutions will facilitate Automatic Vehicle Location System (AVLS) for automated transport monitoring. The e-governance will enhance the efficiency of the government programs to reach the people through smart citizen engagement platforms. Then smart water and solid management waste is where the sensors will communicate to the waste management authority to provide real time information such as to help the authorities work more efficiently.

Smart utilities solutions will enable to monitor and control the electric grids using intelligent feedback. The smart surveillance will help to improve city monitoring and leverage existing resources to enable security services with greater efficiency. The helpline/emergency is the most important pillar that will feature an automatic call distribution system, facilitating the authorities with the caller details for faster actions. Lastly, smart environment will ensure air quality control and water quality control.

WCI: The Govt in January 2016 released a list of 20 smart cities out of the 98 shortlisted for the ‘Smart Cities Mission’; these 20 cities will be the first to receive funds. Are you doing something in this first batch of smart cities?

KSR: Gandhinagar Smart City project was our first order win under government’s smart city programme. This project is being executed by our telecom software division – Elitecore. It entails creation of a Wi-Fi city with about 400-500 access points and applications like smart parking, setting up 200+ CCTV cameras and a state-of-the-art central control room from where not just traffic, but also utilities like street lighting, public address system, etc. can be managed.

Following this, we have also won the phase ІІ of Jaipur Smart City project. As part of the project, we are setting up Wi-Fi hotspots and information kiosks to provide connectivity within the city. The project also includes setting up video surveillance for public sector, and entails building multiple smart cities attribute into one. We are also taking care of the command control setup that will upgrade the existing smart city functions.

Very recently, we have won the Ahmedabad Smart City project, where our role is to deploy an optical fibre backhaul infrastructure to interconnect Ahmedabad’s BRTS corridor to the main data centre and disaster recovery site through passive network integration.

WCI: The concept of these smart cities are based on smart solutions in all walks of life, viz. water supply, electricity supply, urban mobility, e-Governance, IT connectivity and digitization, etc. Tell us your own paradigm or thoughts as to how to move step-wise to ensure all of the above with least bottlenecks.

KSR: Systems like surveillance cameras and information kiosks are the basic needs of any city. However, a smart city means much more than just surveillance and providing information to its citizens. It is more about changing the overall living experiences of the citizens.

Foresight and good planning are the strong pillars of a smart city, from an infrastructural perspective. It needs to be built in a sustainable manner to serve future needs – technologically as well as capacity-wise. Hence, we strongly recommend an optical fibre network for all smart cities. Aimed at better networking and interconnecting of all the elements in the system like smart street lights and sensors, and provide digital information to the control command centre. These figures and statistics can be ultimately examined and used for planning the infrastructure of a smart city.

WCI: Smart city is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. There are many technological platforms involved, including but not limited to automated sensor networks and data centres. Don’t you think the synergy among all these platforms would be a big issue to deliver smooth smart solutions in all important fields?

KSR: Diverse systems will have to be integrated to deliver the diverse service needs of a smart city. This could be really challenging and hence, it would be of prime importance to integrate these systems. The centralised command and control centre integrates surveillance systems, sensor feeds, public safety network, disaster management, etc. of different stakeholders and provides a single dashboard on a video wall. This would further form an important part of the City Operation Centre.

The enterprise management system would form an important part of the Network Operation Centre. It would be required to manage the FCAPS of all the network elements deployed in the network.

Then, there is IoT Platform that would be required to integrate all the vertical applications on a horizontal platform. The entire sensor which uses cases will get integrated by the IoT Platform.

Lastly, there is SIEM where all security-related events and incidents would be collated and correlated by the SIEM. This would form an important part of the Security Operation Centre. All these systems have their own play in integrating various elements. This could be challenging but the use of open standards and open interfaces using open APIs will ease out the integration effort.

WCI: There are three area based models to go for smart cities, viz. retrofitting, redevelopment, and Greenfield. The first two pertains to the improvements in the existing areas. What according to you will be the issues if you are given some projects in these areas to align it as per smart cities requirements?

KSR: Based on our actual smart city implementation experience, various issues have been observed. Firstly, the issue of ROW permission and coordination with multiple agencies, where a single window of clearance would help in the delivering smart cities faster, as various solutions are envisaged to make cities smart. Each of these solutions may lie in the purview of different department jurisdiction. Getting ROW permission from multiple departments requires lot of efforts and leads to cost and timeline overrun.

Then another issue is the integration with legacy systems. Cities may face challenge in integrating the new systems with the legacy ones as they may not have open interfaces and may not support flexible integration avenues leading to disjoint systems.

Also, there are O&M issues or sharing of assets between two different EPC companies. Cases where O&M is being done by two different companies, owing to two or more different phases of a project being awarded to two different EPC companies, could lead to issues of SLA ownership as some products may be in use by both the bidders for asset sharing.

Another important issue may be the solution architecture keeping future expansions in mind. The architecture of the cities should be well-thought out so that projects can be implemented in phases and each phase builds upon the assets employed in previous phases.

In addition to these, the use of open standards for inter-op is also a challenge. The world is moving towards open source and standards, so that technology silos are not created. For this to happen, systems should be built to conform to open standards. This will help ease custom integration efforts, shorten project timelines and optimise cost while preserving technology roadmap. Lastly, there was an issue with DC-DR/Tier-III DC architecture. In this case, cities have to debate whether to build their own data centre or use public clouds while the decision is highly projected and user case specific, overall in long term investing in private data centre is highly economical, agile, and secure.