- When COVID forced kids into remote school, the city of Las Vegas learned many couldn't get online.
- A grant helped officials build a private 5G network that connected hundreds of students for free.
- Now the city is building its network to boost road safety, air quality, trash collection, and more.
- This article is part of "5G Playbook," a series exploring one of our time's most important tech innovations.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 and schools and workplaces suddenly shut down, officials in Las Vegas soon realized something: Many Clark County School District students had little or no internet access at home, meaning they couldn't participate in online learning.
So with a $2.1 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, they acted quickly to accelerate a previously discussed plan to build a private 5G wireless network that students could access for free at home.
"We had areas where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and children didn't have access to the internet," Michael Sherwood, the chief innovation and technology officer for the city of Las Vegas, told Insider. "So we successfully hooked up several hundred students onto our private 5G network, which gave them connectivity from their homes through the city's network to their schools."
Now the city is expanding its use of the private 5G network in an effort to improve everything from traffic to air quality and trash collection.
How Las Vegas built a private 5G network
As the latest generation of mobile wireless technology, 5G follows 4G, which still powers many of our phones and other internet-connected devices. Most of us connect to mobile broadband through a public 4G or 5G network that we pay for in monthly service fees from a cellphone provider. Private networks, which are operated in a specific location such as a workplace, event venue, or government office, provide the same service but with more security.
Las Vegas, which has sensors, cameras, and other Internet of Things devices all over the city, needed a reliable way to connect those devices, so city officials were thinking about a private 5G network before COVID-19 hit.
"We have over 500 sensors or access devices, which include cameras, wireless access points, speakers, air quality and light sensors for dawn to dusk timing," Sherwood said, and each data-collecting sensor requires a network for connectivity.
"How do we get all these new automation tools hooked up to our network without having to spend a ton of money with private carriers or commercial carriers or pulling new cable all over the city?" Sherwood said of the city's thinking at the time, adding that each sensor could incur monthly costs between $10 and $30 if they primarily used commercial carriers for connectivity. "That's how we stumbled on private 5G," he said.
Sherwood and his team started looking into building a private commercial 5G network that could expand the city's networks and sensor footprint at a lower cost. Instead of relying primarily on an outsourced network, running it "in-house" would cut the costs significantly, Sherwood said. This would be supplemented by commercial carriers such as Verizon and AT&T in areas where the private network wouldn't reach. With the government funding, they got to work to upgrade the network to bring connectivity to the kids.
The future of 5G in Las Vegas
The initial 5G experiment in Clark County's schools proved extremely successful, and Sherwood is eager to expand the network further. The city's private 5G network serves a 1- to 2-mile radius in the downtown area, and more than 1,000 students and families gained access to the internet.
Sherwood envisions an enhanced city experience with cameras, air-quality sensors, trash sensors, and parking sensors providing data to city workers that can be used to inform infrastructure upgrades and changes.
To expand the network, the city of Las Vegas has partnered with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., the IT-service company building Europe's largest private 5G campus network at Frankfurt Airport in Germany.
Shahid Ahmed, the executive vice president of new ventures and innovation at NTT, underlined the potential for data-driven insights to transform communities.
"I don't think many cities have fully leveraged the data they collect to benefit their communities," he said. "There's a massive opportunity here for these cities to do more."
Las Vegas has rolled out its "1.0" 5G network, but plans for 2.0 are underway, with promises of expanded coverage, better speed, and enhanced offerings for the largest private municipal network in the US. According to Ahmed, they've moved from the planning phase to building and testing the network, with the estimated rollout in early 2024. With the expansion, the network is expected to reach double the surface area.
One area where Sherwood anticipates an immediate, tangible impact is transportation. With 32 million annual visitors in 2021, traffic congestion is an issue that Sherwood believes can be minimized with sensors connected to the private 5G network.
"How do we get cars from one end to another? Wireless connectivity within our intersections enhances traffic management and safety," Sherwood said.
One example of a congested area that's already been improved by sensors is an intersection by City Hall, where at times as many as 40 traffic incidents were reported daily. Before the sensors, city workers would monitor the intersections during the day to help reduce incidents, Bill Baver, the vice president of Smart Solutions at NTT, said. Now the sensors do the job.
"NTT's Smart Solution analyzes the data generated from the sensors and videos, which allows the city to track incidents and consider adjustments to the intersection to improve safety," Baver said. "The result gave the city insights into traffic-management actions. This included first putting in better signs, arrows on the roadway, and then signs across from the entry point. Then they put a traffic light in place." There are about two or three incidents a day now, down from the high of 40, Baver added.
Looking ahead, Ahmed sees many use cases for a private 5G network and expects them to grow in popularity as cities harness the power of artificial intelligence to create safer environments.
"To sharpen our AI language models, we need to have more data points, more cameras, and those require wireless connectivity," Ahmed said, adding that the language models could help the city make better decisions for traffic management and street design.
"You will begin to see more large cities and municipalities building their own networks, and now there's a business case for it, too," Ahmed said. "Building their network could save them a substantial amount."
By: [email protected] (Iona Brannon)
Title: How Las Vegas' private 5G network is making roads safer and getting local kids online for free
Sourced From: www.businessinsider.com/las-vegas-private-5g-network-2023-9
Published Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2023 17:35:12 +0000
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