Communications Network – the Heart of Safe and Smart Cities

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890 (NXP)‘Safe City’ is quickly becoming ‘Smart City’, especially when the majority of city projects are based less on technology and more on infrastructure such as Control Centers, low-voltage-systems, and city-wide communications networks including poles and fixtures. The unique system mostly involves a sensor in the street (generally commodity cameras) and the C4I applications at the control center along with units on the streets. There is a twist towards an IT oriented “Safe City” system, but that’s only the beginning as applied to relevant cities where ‘phase one’ (‘simple’ safe city – sensors, communication networks, control centers, tactical units) are already deployed and operational.

The most recent and maybe most advanced “Safe City” in Israel is the city of Rishon Lezion, which uses a system built to operate 1250 cameras around the city. The cameras are three mega-pixel cameras enabling even license plate recognition from every single camera.

Perhaps it would be better to focus on the communication’s portion of the project.In Rishon-Lezion, the project is run under the management of Mr. Moti Nitzan (a former Police Commander) the head of Rishon Lezion Security Company.  The set up process was a very structured one beginning with the operational requirements required and proceeding through the operational concept determining the technology that fit best.  Following the approval of the overall technology design by the Project manager, Mr. Shabtai Benyamin , a tender for consultancy was published  in which the communication portion was separated from the C4I section. The communication portion was won by “R. Falco Ltd.”, managed by LTC (Ret.) Felix Roas.

The project was developed in three phases – Pilot program, phase A and phase B. The pilot stage program was designed to prove the technology concept as well as technologies before implementing them city-wide.

Felix Roas and Tzafrir Tzour Communication consultants
Felix Roas and Tzafrir Tzour
Communication consultants

The Communication consultants, Felix Roas and Tzafrir Tzour, checked out the various technologies for communication deployment, focusing on external Wi-Fi, as well as buying transmissions from the local communication provider (Bezeq). Wi-Fi was determined to cost less with no on-going user costs and fast deployment but it suffered from major frequency problems and QoS “in the air”. Exisitng transmissions were much more reliable but much more expensive in the long run.

Felix and Tzafrir, who both gained experience in the IDF’s Military Signal core, adopted the slogan ‘Safe City – Secure Communications’.   However, they were reluctant to choose the ‘open’ in the air Wi-Fi solution, but knew that the costs were crucial to the overall project.

123 (2) (NXP)The solution they chose in the end was both simple and innovative, as they decided to build a new fiber-optic network for the city. The network would incorporate micro-trenching technology making it much cheaper and quicker to deploy while providing a savings of 75% over the original estimate for traditional technologies and methods.

The concept behind micro-trenching involved the creation of a narrow 15 mm wide and 400 mm deep ‘channel’ in the road, inserting a cassette containing seven cables.  Each cable was designed and built to hold up to 72 fiber optic threads, or a single power cord.

A ‘channeling’ machine, working at the side of the road (without stopping traffic!) was able to lay up to 500 m a day. The average pace in the Rishon Lezion project was 300 m per day.

Once the cost of the project was manageable and in reach and the speed of deployment was determined, the option of reaching every camera with a fiber in an IP based network became possible.  With the communications network deployed, the backbone owned by the municipality, it became possible for the municipality to benefit from rental income from the “pipes” (Municipality are not allowed to sell communication services).  In addition the municipality was able to save additional costs by transferring other systems deployed in the city such as traffic light control, public announcements, duress buttons, and city-wide free wi-fi into the new network.

An impressive communication’s room was built in the control center aggregating the entire system over a Juniper based IP network.  The system enables the projects decision makers to monitor and control the entire city even using RoIP (Radio over IP) Interoperability capabilities produced by Tech-mer.  A backup site for the control center is planned as a part of the next phase of the project.

Photo Credit: Tritech Ltd.
Photo Credit: Tritech Ltd.

The Layer-2 IP network begins with a rugged 1 GBit switch in the surveillance sites designed to meet difficult environmental requirements, moves on to 40 GBit switches in the aggregation junction and is topped off with 40 Gbit switching in the control center.

456 (NXP)As far as cyber and information assurances are concerned, a physical security method was chosen, achieving a completely closed and independent network. There is a plan for the future, to possibly allow the public to connect over the internet to some of the cameras (e.g. street-lights and traffic control).  In planning for this possibility and others a massive Juniper SRX1400 Firewall was installed in the control center.  That function is not yet operational as it may cause major ‘cyber’ head-aches if applied.

Among the major lessons that have  been learned so far:

  1. It was best to learn from the experiences of other cities as was done before the Rishon-Lezion project was started.
  2. Sufficient time was allocated for the different phases of the project.  Don’t be too “efficient” on the MS-Project.  Perform the same chain of activities as was performed here.  Define: operational requirements, operational concepts, overall engineering concepts, and detailed design.
  3. Make sure all sections and divisions of the municipality become familiar with the project’s goals and timelines.  Provide the right instructions to ensure cooperation.
  4. Don’t be afraid to check and test new technologies because it may result in a game changing situation in the future.