We are day two into exhibiting at the Smart Summit event in London’s Olympia where we are promoting the message that streetlights have so much more to offer to cities, towns or villages. Today, streetlights are viewed purely as a cost – a budget that has to be allocated to keep the lights powered during the night (or at least most of the time – see my previous post here) and to cover the ongoing maintenance costs for lights that have broken or been damaged. This budget is not insignificant and with continuing budget squeezes at local government level, many are looking to upgrade their lights to save money – a capital investment today that will reap benefits in lower operating costs in years to come.

What is not necessarily happening is recognising that our streetlight infrastructure is an incredible asset to be utilised. If I was to say to you that I wanted to build out a wireless mesh network across a town and that it would require mains power cables to be buried in the ground and 5-10m antenna erected at 30m intervals along every road and footpath, I would be laughed out of the budget review. But that is exactly what every town, village or city already has and we should be making the most of it.

One of the challenges with these upgrade programs is that the costs of deployment – installation and testing – are considerable, with men or women in vans ripping out old lanterns and putting in new ones. However, although some authorities are looking at connecting the lights together for control and management, it is rare that they are looking to use the lights as a connectivity capability for other devices and this is a poor use of public funds. Of course, I would say that as I have a vested interest but we are not the only people promoting the use of streetlights as an Internet of Things (IoT) backbone and I would like to see all public tenders for lighting upgrades to mandate that the new equipment MUST create a network for future use cases. After all, if we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds/dollars on new lanterns and an additional circa 30% on top for deployment, shouldn’t we be insisting that such a large investment be capable of adding more value?

One way we may be able to change the perception of streetlights from that of a burden to councils and municipalities, to a strategic asset, is to do just that – make it a strategic asset. Take it out of the highways group where it currently resides and move it into a group that has an umbrella view of the authorities service obligations, where it can be utilised; by the environmental department to monitor and ultimately, reduce air pollution, by the traffic department to reduce congestion, by social services to protect the elderly or persons at risk and by the highways team to monitor road conditions and gulley/drain health.

By treating our streetlight infrastructure as the valuable asset that it is, we can significantly reduce the cost of a whole host of government funded services and turn a public liability into an asset of future possibilities.