The smart pole network planned in Otaniemi revolutionises data collection and utilisation

6.6.2023 12.34Updated: 14.6.2023 14.34
The smart pole network designed in Otaniemi will offer various possibilities for smoother everyday life in the future.

Traditionally, a street light pole provides light, but in the future, it will also provide intelligence. In a study commissioned by the City of Espoo and conducted in collaboration with Sitowise Ltd, a plan and cost estimate were prepared for the construction of a smart pole network in Otaniemi.

The study, which was conducted as part of The Implementation Pathway for Environments that Accelerate Sustainable Growth (KETO) project, aimed to develop plans for digital infrastructure in Otaniemi. Additionally to the City of Espoo, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University, Nokia Ltd participated in the study. 

Intelligence and light  

A smart pole is a general term for a street light pole that integrates various sensors, base stations, lights, and other devices. The sensors on the street light pole and the short-range 5G or 6G base stations require an optimally positioned, dense, and comprehensive network. Such a network already exists in many places in the form of street lighting. 

"The smart pole network is often easiest to implement by upgrading the existing streetlights in urban environments into smart poles. Using existing streetlights is cost-effective, and it has many advantages, such as electricity is available in already installed streetlights", describes Mikko Mäkipää, the project manager and telecommunications consultant at Sitowise. 

The smart pole network planned for Otaniemi would provide many opportunities in the future. As an example, smart poles could be utilised for autonomous transportation, developing new safety solutions, or smart lighting. However, these visible applications for residents would be realised later. In the initial phase, the network would serve as a testing platform for both future 6G technology and other smart infrastructure systems. One of the most significant benefits of the smart pole network would be the utilisation of the collected data for research and later for commercial purposes. 

Data moves on the data marketplace 

The value of smart poles lies in the data they collect. The data obtained from the poles enables, for example, the optimisation of solutions and systems based on people flow and movement in a certain area. People flow and movements can be modelled in digital twins. 

Currently, the availability of relevant data is the main bottleneck in the development of applications like artificial intelligence. Therefore, there is a high demand for the sensor data provided by the smart pole network. To utilise this data, a data marketplace has been designed, where companies could buy, distribute, and exchange data or ready-made data models. 

However, the realisation of the data marketplace still requires solving critical issues like data security and privacy. Once the challeges related to data marketplaces are solved, they would offer companies the opportunity to commercialise their own data and data models. In this context, the ownership of data would not be crucial, but its efficient use would be. 

Cost savings from neutral infrastructure 

According to the study, the Otaniemi smart pole network could utilise the Nokia-led LuxTurrim 5G ecosystem, which already has a test network on Nokia's campus. However, for commercial services, a more extensive test network would be needed. 

"At the moment, we have 19 smart poles, which is too limited for proper service testing. In the future, the 5G technology is also intended to be upgraded to the 6G version, and the smart pole network would also serve as a testing platform for the new technology," says Juha Salmelin, responsible for the ecosystem. 

However, the implementation approach of the smart pole network is more significant than the technology used. The smart pole network can be implemented using the neutral host model, where the ownership and operation of the infrastructure are separated. This means that different operators can provide services through the same infrastructure, promoting competition and innovation. 

Neutral Host model reduces the need for teleoperators' own base stations and other overlapping structures, enabling reliable and fair use of data. However, the challenge lies in finding a suitable implementer and business model for the platform.

Otaniemi offers a unique environment for the smart pole network in Finland 

The smart pole network is part of a larger global smart city research and development approach in the built environment. Particularly in Otaniemi, which is home to Aalto University, VTT, as well as major companies like Nokia, numerous start-ups, and other research and business activities, the smart pole network project is well-suited  to Otaniemi due to its dense urban structure and diverse public transportation solutions. 

"The smart pole network interests the City of Espoo from the perspective of urban planning and city service development. The sensor data collected by the smart pole network, for example, could provide information on people flows in the city, and thus optimise the traffic and transport related services", lists Mervi Hämäläinen, Development Manager at the City of Espoo.

From planning to implementation 

The basic study conducted now has demonstrated the potential of the smart pole network. In the next phase, the City of Espoo, research institutes, and businesses need to consider how to proceed with the project. There are still many challenges to be addressed, such as data privacy in handling the collected data and finding a neutral host operator responsible for the network platform, as well as suitable partners for collaboration. 

However, these challenges are solvable, and the benefits offered by smart lampposts and the data marketplace are already attracting the interest of many companies at this stage. The project enables participating companies not only to develop new applications but also to utilise, share, and exchange comprehensive data in an innovative way. 

But what about the city residents? What would the smart pole network offer for citizens? Not necessarily anything at first hand, but someday, moving around in Otaniemi may become smoother, network connections faster, and daily life generally more seamless without any visible reason. That's the best the urban technologies may offer for residents. 

Building a carbon-neutral society requires bold thinking and new approaches. Espoo has the ability to take up this challenge. Join us in developing future solutions in Kera, Otaniemi and Kiviruukki! The Implementation Pathway for Environments that Accelerate Sustainable Growth KETO project boosts cooperation between businesses, schools and research organisations, and creates concrete development environments that promote the green transition and digitalisation. The project is run by the City of Espoo, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University and Omnia, together with several business partners. Project is funded by European Union’s REACT-EU ERDF and is part of the European Union’s response to the covid-19 pandemic.  

Interviews with Tatu Koljonen, Research Director at Aalto University, and VTT researchers Juri Mattila and Sami Ruponen were also conducted for this article. 

TEXT: Mikko Jaakkola

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