Safe city solutions: Philippe Agard discusses life-critical IoT


Philip Mason talks to Nokia’s public safety and defence segment leader about the development of safe cities/the Internet of Life Saving Things, as well as the importance of open standards.

One of the core buzzphrases currently being heard around the mission critical (and in particular public safety) communications sector is the ‘Internet of Life Saving Things.’
This is a concept - for those who missed the presentations at both CCW 2019 and Critical Communications Europe -, which imagines the leveraging of numerous communications solutions in order enable a more ‘connected’ response within a specific operational context.
One of the more fully-formed current examples of the Internet of Life Saving Things is the ‘connected’ ambulance, which uses broadband technology to provide a real-time flow of life critical information between paramedics in the field and their destination at the hospital. In the policing and fire and rescue realms meanwhile, organisations are already rolling out smart holster sensors, body worn cameras, biometrics and so on.
As exciting as these incredibly context-specific use cases are however, the concept of the Internet of Life Saving Things can also conceivably be expanded to incorporate more ‘ambient’ sources of information, as provided by the likes of IoT sensors and mobile devices themselves. This ‘safe city’ concept is also something we’ve already started to see in sites across the world, with the UK – for example – devoting an entire testbed to the public health piece, in the shape of its Liverpool 5G infrastructure.   
Needless to say, this kind of methodology, by definition, provides the opportunity for many different kinds of ‘joined-up’ working, such as between the paramedics and doctors outlined above. It will also, more than likely, require a similarly integrated infrastructure facilitating both the easy flow of information as well as access to life-critical data on the part of public health and safety organisations.
Cities of the future 

As yet, concerted smart/safe city roll-outs often tend to be confined to the aforementioned IOT testbeds, with individual sites often leveraging solutions from a spread of different manufacturers and developers. An excellent example in relation to this is (the also UK-based) Bristol is Open, which describes itself as a “city-scale research infrastructure for the study of software defined networks,” and which operates by layering disparate applications on top of a wide area fibre/wireless mesh infrastructure.
One name which has become closely associated with Bristol is Open is Nokia, which has used the former’s R&D network to “explore how programmable networks can be used to address a variety of challenges in the city of the future.” At the same time, the company has also developed smart city solutions of its own, as exemplified by its Future X architecture, which is designed to leverage everything from industrial IoT, to edge computing and AI.

Philippe Agard is Nokia’s public safety and defence segment leader. Discussing the increasing relevance of IoT in regard to the protection of vulnerable people - as well as an increasingly likely open standards-based approach - he said: “Technology is going to be at the core of public life as we head into the future, central to which is the health and safety aspect. That’s an inevitability. 

“One very good example of that for us is Chattanooga, where we worked with the utility company to help provide smart metering for what [broadcaster] Walter Cronkite once referred to as the dirtiest city in America due to the level of pollution. Looking at public safety in particular, we’re currently engaging with an eastern European city about the protection of vulnerable people using IoT technology. It’s very much part of our blueprint going forward.”

He continues: “As well as the increasing leveraging of the technology itself, the other thing we anticipate is that everything will become increasingly interoperable. In the early days of IoT, people would essentially pick one application – for instance smart street lighting or smart parking - and deploy it on its own, almost for the sake of publicity. 

“The situation we face now and going into the future is the inevitable need to accommodate millions of devices and connections, including human to human, machine to human, machine to machine and so on. At the same time, there are also going to be a variety of different types of applications, with different requirements in terms of connectivity. That could include predictive maintenance where the need is only intermittent, or always-on critical communications where the connection has to be permanent. We are therefore going to need scalable, end-to-end solutions across the board.”

As is so often the case in the realm of mission critical communications, this last point brings us back to the perennial question of the choice between proprietary technology and solutions which are standards-based. It’s an issue on which both Nokia and TCCA - for which Agard is the chair of the association’s Broadband Industry Group - are of one accord. 

“Standards-based solutions are going to become increasingly important,” he says. “Again, in the old days people tended go with proprietary systems, which are somewhat attractive at the beginning of the engagement but tend to incur a higher cost over time because users are locked into them.

“The other drawback with non standards-based technology is that operators are ultimately limited in terms of the functions that can be performed within their own system. Obviously, Nokia understand the importance of working within an open eco-system, and we can facilitate the development of vertical applications on top of the infrastructure which we provide. That is something which always has to be about partnership, as with our recent collaboration with Room40 using their analytics expertise.”

The Internet of Things - and in particular, smart/safe cities - represents one of those occasional, crucially important moments in human history where technology itself will drive societal change. In the realm of public safety this will only not translate into a smarter, more joined operational response but also greater collaboration between both agencies and manufacturers.


Philip Mason
Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216