Milton Keynes is to become one of the first cities in the UK to establish a city-wide, open access internet of things (IoT) network after teaming up with a consortium made up of BT, base station builder Neul, and the Future Cities and Connected Digital Economies Catapults.
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The 18-month project, supported by the Open University, is intended to demonstrate the ability of a large-scale M2M infrastructure to cope with a large number of static and mobile sensors, and Milton Keynes Council hopes it will attract technology firms to the city to use it as a testing ground for new services and create an ecosystem of IoT development startups.
“We want to encourage anybody who has a good idea to come forward,” said Milton Keynes Council director of strategy, Geoff Snelson. “We are a very entrepreneurial council, and would rather be leading than following.”
Snelson explained that the Council had already been actively working alongside the Future Cities and Connected Digital Economy Catapults, and the Open University, to build a data hub for the city and found the amount of data thrown up by the project acted as a catalyst for developing IoT projects.
Milton Keynes’ status as a new and rapidly growing community meant it was ideally placed to be associated with more innovative technology projects than other councils might feel comfortable with, he added.
With technology supplied by BT and Cambridge-based Neul, which will install a network of its Weightless standard base stations to provide coverage across Milton Keynes, the council already has a couple of projects in mind.
One such use case will involve installing sensors in Milton Keynes’ public recycling bins to detect when the bin is full and save its trucks from making unnecessary trips. The council is already working with its waste and recycling contractor Serco to develop an application that will create dynamic routes, based on feedback from the bins, for its drivers, saving time, money and fuel.
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The other launch project, said Snelson, will involve networking Milton Keynes’ 20,000 surface car parking spaces to provide information on space availability for motorists, with potential to make the council’s car parking enforcement practices more efficient in the future.
“The individual sensors are quite expensive, so we need cases with enough to bring down the production costs, and we can start to create scale, and an environment where people can come and develop and trial their own services,” said Snelson.
“We see this exciting project as a means of establishing an open innovation environment to support the creation of M2M and IoT applications across a whole city,” said Alan Ward, head of corporate ICT practice at BT. “The project will showcase BT’s capability in managing network services for these applications which will be pivotal in making this initiative a success.”
“We’re excited to be announcing the first dedicated, city-wide network for the IoT here in the UK," added Neul CEO Stan Boland.
“Neul’s low-power, open-access, wide-area network solution provides the key to unlocking a vast variety of new applications, previously impossible or uneconomical with existing communications technologies."