Smart cities of the future will require a new way of thinking about city planning from construction to budgetary requirements. But one of the most important considerations is how these new technologies will actually communicate with one-another. One of the technologies that are in development today is referred to as low-power, wide-area (LPWA).

LPWA is one of several big communications network types with the potential to grant network connectivity to thousands of small sensors and other smart objects that power a smart city. One of the benefits of LPWA is that it enables small devices to operate, battery powered, for extended periods of time. Depending on the other demands of the device, small solar cells and other low-energy alternatives can enable them to run for extremely long times with minimal maintenance.

This is an important consideration for smart cities, where maintaining thousands of little battery-powered sensors can be costly and difficult.

LPWA networks work well with many small devices connected simultaneously, and the demands of these devices on the network are optimized for the type of use cases IoT applications require. Simply adding these devices to the same networks that will be occupied by consumer electronics such as smartphones means adding additional load to these networks, which could result in a reduction of reliability down the road.

There are also several downsides to the technology. Compared to 5G, the amount of data that can be transferred via LPWA is much lower. You wouldn’t want to use a LPWA network to monitor streaming security cameras, for example, but you could use it to monitor the status of garage doors in parking garages across the city.

Smart cities mean a significant increase in connected devices managed by the municipality. This is a gap that LPWA companies like SIGFOX are hoping to fill.

Will LPWA systems be scalable enough?

Whatever the network of choice becomes for the connected cities of the future, there are countless small considerations to take into account. For one, the rise of connected cars and autonomous vehicles means creating smart infrastructure that can support communication between these vehicles and the city’s transportation system. Data storage is another consideration.

For the citizens of these cities, having an LPWA network can have its advantages. For one, there is a potential for this type of network to host a growing number of wearables and other small IoT devices that have long depended on a nearby smartphone or tablet to communicate with the cloud. A network like this would enable them to operate independently, freeing the user to walk away from their smartphone without losing connectivity.

Indeed the city of the future may well be host to multiple network types tackling the wide range of needs tomorrow’s cities will have. Time will tell whether the technologies that power them are connected via 5G, mesh, LPWA, or a mix of all three.