Q&A: How Calgary is using next-gen connectivity for water conservation, noise control, and more

Calgary, Alberta, CanadaCalgary, Alberta, Canada

The City of Calgary has deployed one of North America's first city-owned LoRaWAN-based networks, bringing the city low-power and long-range connectivity for initiatives including:

  • Devonian Gardens: Monitoring light, humidity, temperature, and water to conserve water and park resources
  • Shanganappi Golf Course: Tracking activity data to better serve customers and maximize revenues
  • Urban Alliance: Measuring noise levels to address issues and improve people’s quality of life

Calgary's LoRaWAN network is powered by Semtech’s LoRa technology, providing an efficient, flexible, and economical solution for Calgary to take advantage of data from connected sensors for the benefit of its citizens.

Evaluation Engineering recently spoke with Alistair Fulton, Semtech's vice president and general manager, to find out how the company's relationship with the City of Calgary formed, what the LoRaWAN network is enabling Calgary to do, the testing that went into making it all a success, and more. See our conversation below:

Evaluation Engineering: For those unfamiliar with this technology, what is a LoRaWAN network and how does it work?

Alistair Fulton—Semtech VP and General ManagerAlistair Fulton—Semtech VP and General ManagerAlistair Fulton: The LoRaWAN open specification is a low-power, wide-area networking (LPWAN) protocol based on LoRa Technology. Designed to wirelessly connect battery operated things to the Internet in regional, national or global networks, the LoRaWAN protocol leverages the unlicensed radio spectrum in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band. While Semtech provides the radio chips featuring LoRa Technology, the LoRa Alliance, a non-profit association and the fastest growing technology alliance with over 500 members, drives the standardization and global adoption of the LoRaWAN protocol. A LoRaWAN-based network works by connecting a sensor outfitted with LoRa Technology, to the Cloud through a LoRa gateway. The sensors can measure pretty much anything; successful examples include sensors for smart agriculture, or utility metering. Data from the sensors is sent to the Cloud where it can be evaluated by the end-user via third-party application.

EE: Can you elaborate on how Calgary is using the LoRa-WAN-based network and those initiatives mentioned below (Devonian Gardens, Shanganappi Golf Course, Urban Alliance). In a nutshell, what is the network allowing Calgary to do?

Fulton: Calgary has created an initiative called “Living Labs,” offering the City’s infrastructure and network to companies, researchers, and individuals allowing the testing of ideas in a real-world environment. This fosters growth and supports investment in the local economy. Collaboration on the network will lead to innovative use cases and increased efficiency for the city going forward. For example, the Devonian Gardens are a three-acre horticultural refuge on the top floor of Calgary’s CORE shopping center. The gardens represent a difficult use case as several exotic plant species have to thrive in this controlled indoor environment. The city utilized the LoRaWAN network and sensors to keep track of several factors affecting plant health, such as light, humidity and barometric pressure in real time. Shaganappi golf course equipped its fleet of carts with the sensors to monitor pace of play. If an abnormality is detected, course marshals can be dispatched to support golfers in need of assistance.

EE: How did this partnership between Semtech and Calgary come about? What was the timeline?

Fulton: The IT business unit at the City of Calgary was tasked with evaluating the IoT as a possible avenue to expand its communication blueprint and evolve into a “smart city.” After conducting extensive research starting in 2015, the City determined it would build its city-owned, secure and resilient infrastructure on Semtech’s LoRa Technology. Calgary envisions its network will be used by many of the city’s 32 business units to eventually connect thousands of sensors.

EE: Our audience is largely comprised of electronic testing engineers, and I can only assume that deploying a LoRa-WAN across a major city for 'smart city' initiatives must involve a tremendous amount of testing before it can be rolled out. What are some of those engineering/testing challenges involved in this process?

Fulton: In the past 20 years the City of Calgary has been dedicatedly building its city-owned underlying communication infrastructure, there are currently more than 500 km of fiber optic network across the city. With the strong foundational infrastructure in place, Calgary was able to build the first city-owned LoRaWAN-based network in Canada with minimal additional cost. The city engaged a leading LoRaWAN radio-equipment manufacturer (Tektelic) through a RFQ (Request for Quote) procurement process in 2016. With careful engineering and planning, three City-owned radio sites were selected and connected the LoRaWAN equipment using the existing city-owned fibre network. After a few weeks of configuration and testing, the LoRaWAN-based network started providing IoT wireless coverage for a large area of the Calgary municipal footprint. With the open to innovation and experimentation mindset, The City of Calgary also initiated a number of IoT research projects with the University of Calgary, including LoRaWAN-based network security and capacity analysis, and low-cost noise monitoring sensors. The LoRaWAN-based network is also used for testing a cutting-edge GPS-based solution for tracking City of Calgary vehicles and equipment.

EE: What is the potential for LoRa-WAN technology in terms of Smart Cities? How long do you think it will be until there is widespread adoption, and what key factors play into that?

Fulton: Everyday municipal operations can be made more efficient with LoRa Technology’s long range, low power, secure, and GPS-free geolocation features. Successful use cases connecting city services include: lighting, parking, waste removal, utilities, and more. Cities can optimize the use of IoT to save time and money. More and more cities are turning to LoRaWAN-based networks and LoRa Technology for their IoT solutions, a promising display that the technology and protocol are gaining momentum, and widespread adoption is a very real possibility in the near future.

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