Can Internet Infrastructure Pay for LED Street Lights?

Photo: Philips

From Birmingham, UK to Shenzhen and Lyon to Los Angeles, cities across the world are installing light-emitting diodes (LED) street lights to save money and increase safety.

Such retrofits can require a lot of upfront capital that many municipalities do not have. To entice more cities to make the switch, Philips and Ericsson have teamed up to offer a lighting-as-a-service model that pairs Philips’ LED street lights with Ericsson’s small cell mobile networks.

“We are offering lighting as a service that scales with a city’s needs and enables city officials to offer their citizens a more connected, energy efficient and safer urban environment, while preserving existing budgets and resources to improve the livability of their city,” Frans van Houten, president and CEO of Philips, said in a statement.

Philips’ LED street light poles will now include small cell mobile telecom equipment from Ericsson that cities can rent to telecom operators. The payments from telecom providers would then help pay for the infrastructure.

Small cells are essentially miniature cellular base stations. The move to smaller, more distributed base stations from the large cellular towers deployed today are seen as critical to expanding capacity in urban settings.

“It’s impossible to find an operator today who doesn’t believe in small cells,” Simon Saunders, former chairman of the international Small Cell Forum, told IEEE Spectrum in 2012. The small cell market is still emerging, but is expected to grow to $2.7 billion by 2017, according to Infonetics Research.

LED street lights offer a 50 to 70 percent savings over traditional street light fixtures, according to Philips, but can be even more efficient if they are coupled with smart controls. In the United States alone, street lights cost $6 billion to $8 billion annually for energy and maintenance, according to a report from Groom Energy.

For many cities, controls and sensors are part of the appeal of LED street lighting. Networked lighting can offer additional public safety measures and dim or brighten based on certain conditions. Sensors embedded in LEDs can be used for other benefits besides improved lighting, such as understanding traffic patterns. LEDs also last longer than traditional lights, so annual maintenance for street lighting is reduced for cities that make the switch.

Clean lighting and comprehensive Internet connectivity are also high priorities for city dwellers. A study from The Climate Group found that citizens prefer the white light of LEDs in street lights to the yellow-tinged coloring of conventional street lights. Ericsson’s research found that Internet connectivity was one of the top five factors for satisfaction in city life.

Street lights are just one application where LEDs are gaining traction. Retailers, for instance, are turning to LEDs for energy efficiency and better shopping experiences, such as helping you find what you’re looking for in a grocery store faster.

Photo: Philips

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