Anibal Trejo - Fotolia

Fibre networks help Amsterdam to modernise historic canal infrastructure

Waternet is using dark fibre networks to create an integrated smart canal and road system in the city of Amsterdam

Like most western European countries, the Netherlands is becoming increasingly digital and is beginning to underpin public services such as street lighting and traffic control with a solid, reliable fibre network infrastructure in pursuit of a smarter, digital society.

The changing demands on such complex systems and facilities means the impact on modern infrastructure is increasing all over the country, from power and utilities to the transport sector.

To meet demands around transport in particular, the Dutch government, regions and industry have been working together on a programme called Better Utilisation to improve accessibility via water, road and rail.

Under the programme, congestion in the busiest urban areas of the Netherlands needs to be reduced by 20%, so together with local government, the Dutch ministry of transport will be investing €600 million in smart systems and networks over the next two years.

The programme's goal is to reduce door-to-door travel times during the rush hour in the busiest parts of the country by 10%. This requires that different systems, such as traffic control and roadside stations, communicate better with each other.

The field of public order and security is also placing more demands on the infrastructure. City centres and industrial areas depend increasingly on security cameras, and those images must be received in real time so that immediate action can be taken in an emergency.

This is also important for transport, which has to contend with large numbers of bridges and locks along major road and canal routes. Both are critical parts of the Netherlands' national infrastructure, and both contain many moving parts, so as soon as a problem arises, they must be stopped immediately.

Traditionally, this is done by an operator pressing an emergency stop button. But by creating an internet of things (IoT), this operation can be carried out centrally. To stop a bridge from opening remotely, rapid communication is needed, which is only possible with a fibre-optic connection.

Optimal flow

Waternet’s Central Object Control (COC) project is a good example of how the Dutch have set about modernising their unique national infrastructure.

The Waternet Foundation is responsible for the entire water cycle in and around Amsterdam. It wants to be able to control a number of bridges and locks in the city area by 2017.

This means 62 movable bridges and locks must be converted over the coming years so that they can be operated from a central control point.

Because all vehicles and vessels in the same ring network – which covers several waterways – are connected, the traffic flow will be optimally controlled both on the road and on the water.

Read more about smart cities

For road transport, this means trucks will encounter a minimal number of open bridges, while barges will have to wait for as short a time as possible before closed bridges are opened. Any delay will mean extra costs.

Delays can also cost lives when it comes to the emergency services. Waternet claims that by using its smart grid, an ambulance will be able to reach its destination without encountering traffic jams or open bridges, and will meet only green traffic lights.

Fibre network

The Waternet Foundation issued a number of tenders to put the COC project together. As well as equipment and infrastructure, it was also seeking a partner that could customise the bridges and locks and connect them to a digital network.

The tender for the infrastructure was won by Dutch fibre provider Eurofiber, which delivered a 190km network.

In consultation with the authorities involved, it examined whether it was possible to dig trenches to construct the new network or whether directional drilling was needed.

It was quickly established that there was relatively little need to dig because existing dark fibre in the ground could be used, so the cost of building the infrastructure could be kept low.

In fact, by connecting various objects to existing infrastructure, Eurofiber was able to ensure that only about 10% of the network was net new-build, and for the construction of that part, Eurofiber turned to certified contractor Schuuring.

Also, any new bridges and locks that need to be built in Waternet’s catchment area over the coming years will be designed to accommodate connection to the digital infrastructure.

Secure and redundant

The COC project comprises six dark fibre-optic rings that come together at a control centre and an alternative location to provide redundancy. This was considered an important prerequisite for the project because a malfunction or failure would have direct consequences for the flow of road and canal traffic.

Given the chaos that could result if hackers accessed a control centre and raised or lowered bridges at will, Waternet also took the security of the network connections into consideration.

The choice of a dark fibre solution was made with this in mind. By placing its own devices on the network, Waternet could make itself independent of one supplier, as well as configuring the network to be fully redundant by using a fibre ring connection, which can connect up to 20 objects.

By connecting a maximum number of objects on a network and providing a dedicated connection between them, network speed can be guaranteed, so that bridge machinery can respond immediately in an emergency.

And choosing a ring connection means that less cable will be needed, which is more cost-efficient and in itself is redundant. If there is a fault at one location on the network, the objects on the other side can still communicate with each other and with the control centre.

The COC project is set for completion in 2017, when it will have two control centres, one main and one alternative, from which to operate and manage the infrastructure.

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)