Using the blockchain to get traffic moving in smart cities

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Commuters worldwide will all probably agree that while public transport may not be an exciting industry, late transportation arrivals and road congestion is certainly an aspect of city life that needs improving. A recent study showed the average commuter misses out on 55 hours of "free time" a year due to worsening traffic conditions, and the UK government warned that traffic jams on the country’s major roads cost the economy £9bn a year.

However, a combination of blockchain technology and LPWAN (low power wide area network) provides a solution.

When you think of the blockchain, it’s natural to automatically make the connection with cryptocurrency. However, there are even more exciting industries this disruptive technology can be used for. Given the transparency and security that go hand in hand with blockchain, beyond being a means of transferring money from A to B, it can also transfer valuable data.

LPWAN and blockchain protocols offer innovative advances for IoT ecosystems. With advanced communication systems, “smart cities” will be able to function smoothly and reduce the amount of time commuters waste traveling to and from work.

The road towards smart transportation

Government plans are already underway to develop ‘smart cities’ — public and private partnerships that leverage information via communications technology. The goal is to utilise resources that are able to intelligently and efficiently transfer data and reduce energy and taxes while improving services and the quality of city life.

Following in the footsteps of other cities, including Dubai, Seoul, Tokyo and Boston, London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently unveiled a new Smart Cities Roadmap addressing energy, transportation and ICT innovations. Multiple innovations supporting these cities will deliver more efficiency and stability to the environment.

Powering the roads of tomorrow

Although blockchain initiatives have the potential to provide smart city solutions, related projects are not cost-effective unless a network is in place that efficiently reduces the cost of IoT communications.

Despite the variety of wireless networks that we engage with every day, these aren't quite the right fit for IoT applications. Wi-Fi, for example, is not suitable for hosting thousands of smart electric utility meters monitoring the usage of households, businesses, and other electricity-using entities across a metropolitan area.

Transferring data over 4G is also highly restrictive. 4G networks are built to transmit large amounts of data, and in doing so require a considerable amount of power. In contrast, a single LPWAN gateway uses very little power and LPWAN sensors use even less. It is therefore possible for a single sensor to transmit up to 10 years without changing or charging the battery.

During peak hours, 4G slows down considerably. This happens because so many people are trying to use it. When considering that IHS Markit projected that in 2030 more there will be more than 125 billion connected devices, it is easy to see why having a network dedicated to devices is an excellent idea.

In addition to boasting low-power, LPWAN technology has long-distance capabilities. In Berlin, for instance, eight to ten LPWAN gateways – each of which would have a range of 20 to 40 km – would be sufficient to pick up data from across the entire city.

Technical considerations around LPWAN

A complete LPWAN network contains sensors, gateways and a server to manage and make sense of the incoming flow of data. Case in point, a city might have a sensor on a road to measure traffic. This sensor then:

  • transmits this data to the gateway
  • the gateway sends it to a local or remote server
  • the receiving server will use the data to determine levels of traffic congestion. This information can then be used by local authorities, who can redirect traffic if needed.

LPWAN functions as a blanket term describing both NB-IoT and LoRaWAN networks (and a few others). NB-IoT is an LPWAN network set up by cellular providers. Because of this, NB-IoT always costs money to access and a company wishing to use a network in an area without service, waits for the provider to deploy the network. If service is interrupted, the company using it must again wait for the provider to fix it.

In contrast, anybody can set up a LoRaWAN network because it uses unlicensed frequencies. These places the management of the service fully in the hands of the company or individual wishing to use it. At the MXC Foundation, we commonly refer to LoRaWAN when using the acronym LPWAN.

LPWAN in practice

The development of a superior infrastructure is among the most critical parts of a smart city.

Services will depend on scalability and reliable data. Furthermore, the technological infrastructure required to manage multiple data sources should not be so expensive, otherwise governments have just cause to increase taxes — which goes against the incentives for developing smart cities.

Moving forward, LPWAN technologies can revolutionise key areas including transport, energy, government and lighting. Markets will expand to include fit-for-purpose solutions across numerous sectors including lighting, parking, shipments, traffic and transportation.

Companies are already proving the value of LPWAN. The MXC Foundation is introducing the Machine eXchange Protocol allowing data, authorisation, increased data transactions and idiosyncratic data flow within congested markets.

The MXProtocol infrastructure coordinates sensor and end devices to gather information, and sends the data to a cloud platform via the Gateway. The decentralised peer-to-peer network allows anyone to deploy market solutions and resolve everyday needs within a city without causing a collision of data between networks.

For the first time in history, individual network users have the ability to provide useful information and help construct a decentralised and secure network that genuinely improves the quality of city living.

Investors looking for rewarding financial opportunities should look towards cryptocurrencies that include LPWAN protocols. With more service providers adopting and developing blockchain technologies, LPWAN is the only way of sharing sufficient amounts of data and make innovative services reliable.

The future is going to be a world of devices. It’s going to be a world of IoT. Get ready for LPWAN to lead the forefront and future of device data transactions.

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock
Aaron Wagener, COO,
MXC Foundation