The Living City: resilient connectivity of SMART infrastructure

The Living City resilient connectivity

29/08/2013 Written by: Paul Goff

Information technology systems deployed within the Living City are designed to provide local government and urban communities with a seamless SMART experience; computers and intelligent devices operating autonomously (and quietly) in the back ground of day to day life. Achieving this seamless experience is the continuity challenge that needs to be confronted by city leaders, urban planners and in some cases the community and individual citizens.

In the UK the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI)‎ provides advice and guidance on maintaining secure resilient infrastructure. Elsewhere in the world and in the wake of recent high-profile natural disasters, city planners are beginning to embrace resilience as the new norm particularly for data communications infrastructure deployed in urban environments.
Designing ICT and SMART city systems capable of ensuring resilient connectivity requires a step change in attitudes towards telecommunications infrastructure which needs to be acknowledged (officially) as the fourth critical utility. The extent of telecommunications infrastructure to be encompassed within a SMART city continuity plan should include (but not be limited to):

  • Fixed infrastructure – cabled (copper and optical fibre) metropolitan area and access networks
  • Cellular mobile infrastructure – base transceiver stations, masts, antenna
  • Fixed wireless infrastructure – wireless access points and wireless repeaters
  • City specific data communications – dedicated infrastructure and/or virtual private networks (VPN) providing a medium for city operating systems including intelligent transport, CCTV, utility plant management etc

Effective management of data centres and computer rooms (arguably the fifth critical utility) inside and outside the confines of the city is also vital, particularly with the emerging reliance of private and public organisations on cloud  services.

Uptime is a phrase used colloquially (and contractually) in the IT and telecommunications industries where it has always been acknowledged that no system is completely resilient to failure. With this in mind some organisations are beginning to develop proposals and systems that enable individuals and communities to continue to communicate and therefore function within the wider context of the city, even when disaster strikes. One such organisation, the Open Technology Institute, has developed an ad hoc, open networking platform called Commotion  which  empowers existing Wi-Fi enabled devices (e.g. laptops, smartphones, home wireless routers etc) to network directly and form a distributed (wireless mesh) communications infrastructure. Once deployed within the local community Commotion can even be used to mitigate day to day issues such as broadband poverty through shared internet connectivity as well as maintaining neighbourhood communications during a catastrophic event which may bring about the collapse of other ICT and communications infrastructure.

The physical security of SMART ICT infrastructure deployed within the Living City is every bit as important as the logical or cyber security issues discussed regularly in the media. Issues for telecommunication and computer rooms supporting SMART city systems include:

  • Management of access control via procedures and swipe cards, cameras activated by contact breaks or movement, environmental sensors monitoring temperature & humidity etc 
  • Resilience of supply to be maintained utilising a minimum of N+1 on all external connections e.g. power and telecommunication links
  • Ensuring these spaces are accessible remotely via web servers etc

Issues for street side enclosures and equipment cabinets located in the public realm include:

  • Implementation of operational procedures for authorising access
  • Deploying closures that are appropriately ingress rated for ambient conditions e.g. they should be capable of withstanding temperature fluctuations, ingress by water/ sand etc
  • Remotely monitoring contact breakers on doors which flag alarms in the city or operators control room

Issues for civil and cabled infrastructure deployed in the public realm include:

  • Protecting duct ways through implementing operational procedure for any invasive street works
  • Protecting underground telecommunication routes and plant through RFID tagging systems linked to GPS & GIS
  • Securing chamber lids with unique lifters and deploying secondary lockable security plates with high grade padlocks
  • Deploying chamber contact breakers with alarms monitored in the city/ operator’s control room
  • Implementing diversely routed and duplicated telecommunication routes where feasible
  • Installing cables capable of withstanding ambient environmental conditions e.g. water proof, rodent proof, armoured, impervious to temperature and chemical attack etc

The transmission of SMART city data across cabled and wireless media and associated interfaces should be monitored via network control centres where staff will watch for unusually high rates of dropped data packets along with quality of service issues. Infrastructure monitoring systems should flag accidental or malicious breaks in transmission e.g. disconnected drop and patch cables etc.

Finally the transition from copper cables, the legacy communications infrastructure deployed in most UK towns and cities, to optical fibre doesn’t provide automatic protection against malicious network hacking. Photonic transmission in communication networks still requires encryption to mitigate against the physical tapping of fibre optic cables where access to 1% of light will provide hackers with access to 100% of the data on that network…

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