SAN JOSE, Calif — Cities are upgrading streetlights to LEDs, but they are still on a slow road to the internet of things.
Startup Telensa and Signify — formerly Philips lighting division — have installed a total of nearly 2 million LED streetlights to date, with Signify commanding a slightly larger share. That’s a drop in the bucket of an estimated 360 million streetlights worldwide.
The two companies are just starting to see movement putting IoT sensors into the poles. Telensa recently announced a pilot project using AI, but for Signify, that’s beyond the scope of 2019.
To date, Signify has deployed a little more than 500 streetlights with integrated LTE or Wi-Fi. It plans to launch this fall a model supporting 5G, including millimeter-wave bands and a mix of sensors.
“There’s a lot of work to be done … It can be a challenging sell, but we’re trying be a trusted adviser to the city,” said Bill McShane, national director of Signify’s iCity program.
For its part, a small fraction of the 1.7 million LED lights that Telensa has deployed uses sensors. “We’ve grown by a factor of three in four years, much of that on LED conversions … it’s a wave that’s just beginning … [sensors] offer a benefit, but it’s not an overwhelming business case” said Keith Day, vice president of marketing for Telensa.
Telensa packs a proprietary 900-MHz radio in a controller pod attached to an LED streetlight. (Image: Telensa)
Connected LED lights are an easy sell compared to IoT. The roughly $60 units can last 25 years and pay for themselves in less than seven, thanks to energy savings and central monitoring features that save truck rolls.
By contrast, working out the business case for IoT and selling it across multiple city departments is a challenge. In many cases, cities lack big data sets and policies to run analytics.
For vendors, the business is “frustratingly different in every country,” Day said. “For example, in the U.S., 65% of streetlights are owned by utilities; in the U.K., they are mainly city-owned.”
Often, one entity owns the streetlights, another maintains them, and a third company made them. “You have to understand the supply chain and its motivations,” he said.
Like most things in government, the projects move slowly. A typical streetlight pilot takes 18 months.
The good news is that “cities want to be smart and utilities want to offer new services, so there’s motivation … there’s a new generation of city leaders coming up, and a lot of pilots related to data services are starting to prove themselves — the U.S. is at the forefront,” he added.