Ubicquia solutions transform streetlights into broadband networks to support myriad uses

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Florida-based Ubicquia this week announced that it has added the Ubimetro small-cell product to its portfolio of versatile streetlight-based broadband-routing solutions and that it has become a new member of the AT&T Smart Cities Strategic Alliance.

Ubicquia is best known in the wireless industry for its Ubicell router, which is a “Dixie-cup” sized unit that can be plugged into the NEMA electrical socket that traditionally has been used to support the photocell atop a standard streetlight, according to Ubicquia CEO Ian Aaron. Sold at a price comparable to a typical streetlight controller, the Ubicell supports advanced light control and includes wireless connectivity that enables mesh networking and the opportunity to add modules for myriad types of broadband-wireless connectivity.

“You can’t have a smart city without being a connected city,” Aaron said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “When you plug in a Ubicell, our unit has mesh, Wi-Fi. Bluetooth and Bluetooth beaconing in the base unit. So, if you want to connect an air-quality sensor via Wi-Fi, or if you want to connect a Wi-Fi camera, we’ve designed it to help cities connect third-party devices very easily.

“On our standard unit, you can have real-time analysis of the way your poles are moving in the winds—or if they’ve tilted because of a storm. So, they have the ability to manage their infrastructure without having to roll trucks out on the streets.”

During the last nine months, Ubicquia has deployed solutions with municipalities and wireless carriers in the U.S., Mexico, South America, Italy and Kazakhstan, and “the response has been great,” Aaron said.

“This is one of things we’ve seen: IoT and smart cities have been in pilots for the past five years,” he said. “The way we’ve designed our products, we’re trying to take it out of the pilot phase and allow people—at a low cost and at high density—to be able to now start deploying these services more broadly.

Ubicquia also is developing a versatile portfolio of small modular units for the Ubicell that provide many kinds of wireless connectivity that can be customized to meet the needs of a municipality or commercial network operator, Aaron said.

“Our unit also has a little plug-in module, so at a very low cost—a fraction of the cost of Ruckus and Cisco—you can put in a plug-in module and turn every single streetlight into a Qualcomm-based 802.11ac Wi-Fi access point,” Aaron said. “So, for cities that want to do things like public Wi-Fi, they can do it at a fraction of the cost and literally have it be plug and play, versus having to get attachment rights, get power to the devices and deal with backhaul. [With Ubicell,] they can do it in a much more efficient and elegant way.”

Ubicquia’s latest module is the Ubimetro, which is a small cell that leverages Qualcomm’s FSM-based architecture to support technologies like LAA and V-RAN that are expected to be the foundation of ultra-dense 5G networks, according to a company press release. In addition, the Ubimetro lets the network operator utilize a wide variety of backhaul options: Ethernet, power-line communications (PLC), fiber or wireless mesh.

“Our whole goal is that, when you plug into the top of the streetlight, we want to be able to give people flexibility as to how they’re going to connect to the network,” Aaron said.

“What’s nice about what we do is that you may start with the wireless and—based on traffic—you can justify saying, ‘Now, we need to go fiber,’ whereas—not understanding the architecture yet and the requirements—having to run the fiber and dig up the streets is a tough decision [when deploying the network initially]. We give them the ability to plug-and-play easily and quickly launch in the wireless. And then, where they want to have more backhaul, they can upgrade to anything from Ethernet, fiber or PLC.”

Because they are plugged into the top of a streetlight, Ubicquia’s solutions have access to persistent power, and the weather-proof casing is IP-66 and IP-67 rated, Aaron said. The plug-and-play nature of the solutions make networks easy to deploy. In addition, the small form factor means Ubicquia’s solution is not an eyesore, so there should be less resistance to deployment from the planning commission or other local regulatory body, Aaron said.

“When our unit is on top of a streetlight, you can’t even see it from underneath the streetlight,” he said. “The beautiful thing about this is that you’re not making the streetlight or the pole unattractive by putting boxes on it and antennas hanging all over it.”

The combination about these characteristics greatly enhances the ability for quicker deployments of the ultra-dense cell-site network configurations needed to make the 5G-driven vision for the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities a reality, Aaron said.

“Normally, the mobile operator tries to get attachment rights, so they can get access to the pole. Then, they have to get power. Then, they have to get backhaul,” Aaron said. “What this really allows for—on the business side—a flexible model, whether the city want to provide the access for the mobile operator, or the city could provide it as a service to the mobile operator.”

For the wireless carrier, the streetlight-based approach used by Ubicquia typically means that there are enough access points available to serve the needs of all wireless providers in a manner that they like, Aaron said.

“The important thing about this product is that it is dedicated host, because this is really what the mobile operators want,” Aaron said. “The tower companies do neutral host, where they have one piece of equipment, and they share it across Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. [With Ubimetro,] let’s say you have an intersection with four streetlights. You could have one as AT&T, one as Sprint, one as T-Mobile, and one as Verizon.

“The great thing about this is that operators want to manage their own network—Sprint has their deal with Hulu, T-Mobile has their deal with NetFlix, and AT&T has DirecTV Now. Everybody wants to start building and managing their own network, and that is what we provide the ability to do. Because streetlights are so prevalent, it’s very easy to architect a solution for AT&T to use every fifth pole or every 10th pole. And there’s plenty of poles, so AT&T can own their own network, Verizon can own their own network, and the same goes for T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.”

With its new relationship with AT&T—the nationwide contractor for FirstNet’s nationwide public-safety broadband network—Ubicquia is having discussions with the carrier about integrating a chipset that allows operations on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet, Aaron said.

“We think there are a lot of interesting opportunities within what AT&T and [Ubicquia are] doing together in smart cities, but also how we could play a bigger role as FirstNet infrastructure starts building out,” he said.

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