If you think of a routine incident such as a car accident on a city street at night, you can start to see how the Internet of Things (IoT) can power a new generation innovation that will enhance public safety and improve quality of life. IoT apps enable the accident to be captured by connected video cameras that automatically trigger an alarm. Public safety services are instantly notified. The streetlights grow brighter so responders can work more effectively. And connected transit and traffic light systems automatically divert traffic away from the accident scene.

All of the applications involved in managing a road accident better are possible in connected smart cities but today, even when cities connect individual applications, they mostly operate in silos. They’re based on technologies from different vendors, none of which talk to each other, making them more complex and expensive. Even worse, cities can’t tap the full potential they could realize if everything was linked within a single system.

3GPP low-power wide-area (LPWA) network technologies are going to break down smart city silos by making cost effective connections available. Designed specifically for low-bandwidth, low-power IoT applications, LPWA connections will make Smart City innovation a lot simpler, less expensive, and more exciting.

This Knowledge Base talks about:

  • Benefits of LPWA
  • LPWA technologies option
  • A smart city case study
  • Market data on smart cities and LPWA opportunities
  • Additional resources on getting started with IoT


3GPP LPWA technologies combine the right technology, at the right cost, with global coverage and scalability, and interoperability across different devices and applications. And they overcome the major barriers that have often held back IoT applications:

Cost: Many IoT applications transmit only small amounts of information. Using 3G or 4G cellular technologies designed for high-bandwidth, low-latency mobile computing means spending extra for capacity and capabilities that many Smart City applications don’t need. LPWA technologies are designed specifically for low-bandwidth IoT applications, so cost less than full-feature cellular modules. The biggest savings, however, come from economies of scale. Most 3GPP LPWA technologies can operate over existing cellular infrastructure and are compatible with hundreds of mobile networks and thousands of equipment suppliers worldwide. That means they are more likely to be broadly adopted across the industry, making every element of IoT solutions less expensive.

Power: In some smart city use cases, there is no readily accessible external power source, so IoT solutions have to run on battery power. LPWA technologies employ new techniques to consume as little power as possible, and can operate in the field for 10-15 years with no onsite human intervention.

Coverage: Some smart city applications operate in poor signal areas, such as basements or remote sites. Assuring a strong connection can be a problem – especially when relying on proprietary wireless technologies that aren’t densely deployed. The poorer the coverage, the worse the battery life but 3GPP LPWA technologies, because they’re based on 3GPP cellular standards, can get a connection almost anywhere in the world, with much improved RF link budget compared to legacy 2G and 3G technologies.

Longevity: Some smart city solutions need to operate in the field for years, even decades, without needing to be touched. Having to replace radios in thousands of deployed assets because they’re no longer supported would be a monumental expense. Cities can rely on mobile network operators supporting 3GPP LPWA technologies far into the future. Even when carriers adopt 5G networks, they will be backwards-compatible with current 3GPP technologies – including 3GPP LPWA. The latest 3GPP standards (release 13) also mitigate congestion, so operators will be able to support millions of new IoT devices without negatively affecting coverage or power.

Several proprietary LPWA technologies have emerged in recent years, such as LoRa, SigFox, and Ingenu, but governments and OEMs have been reluctant to invest heavily in them. The biggest reason for this is that these technologies lack global scale or backing from a broad ecosystem. These proprietary solutions can provide solutions for some types of deployments, but they’re limited to a much smaller group of vendors and markets that support them. So they can’t benefit from economies of scale that drive the most significant cost savings. In addition, for smart city applications that need to operate in the field for up to 20 years, basing a large deployment on technology backed by such a small ecosystem is a risky long-term investment.

3GPP LPWA technologies are based on standards already used in more than 450 networks worldwide. 3GPP also makes smart city applications easier for city governments. 3GPP cellular coverage is basically ubiquitous, so devices are simple and inexpensive to install. And cities can use the same carrier and platform to connect all of their Smart City applications.


There are three options for 3GPP LPWA technologies:

Long Term Evolution-Machine Communications (LTE-M or CAT-M1): employs new mechanisms to reduce device complexity, improve power consumption, and expand coverage and penetration. It can be deployed as a software upgrade to existing LTE networks, so mobile operators need no new network hardware or spectrum to begin servicing 3GPP LPWA deployments. It enables all the “must have” capabilities for successful IoT deployments, including IP connectivity, over-the-air (OTA) device management, mobility, low latency, and more.

Narrow Band IoT (NB-IOT or CAT-NB1): is also defined under the 3GPP LTE standard, and can also be deployed on existing LTE networks with a software upgrade. It features lower data rates than CAT-M1 (65 Kbps versus 357 Kbps) and narrower channel bands.

Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSM-IOT or EC-GSM): provides a 3GPP LPWA standard for communicating at up to 70 Kbps over re-framed 2G GSM cellular frequency bands.

With its design for extremely low-bandwidth communication, CAT-NB1 can provide a cost-effective option for applications limited to collecting basic sensor data, such as connected garbage bins. For most smart city applications that need OTA device management, IP-based communication, strong security, and more intelligence at the edge, CAT-M1 is the better choice.

Some smart cities may use applications standardized on multiple LPWA technologies – for example, smart transit systems on CAT-M1 and garbage bin sensors using CAT-NB1. Since both of these technologies are based on 3GPP LTE, cities can still use a single wireless carrier, with unified cellular management and dense coverage everywhere.

Remove uncertainty about the bewildering array of LPWA solutions entering the market by reading the Sierra Wireless whitepaper: LPWA Technologies: Separating Fact from Fiction


Philips CityTouch makes cities more sustainable, more efficient and, ultimately, better places to live by offering a remote lighting-control system that yields dramatic savings for municipalities. Given that energy consumption by streetlights can account for as much as half of a municipality’s energy consumption, there’s a clear need for such systems. The next step for Philips is to ensure longevity, with hardware options that can evolve over time, adapting to a city’s changing needs, and increase their return on investment.

Cities around the world are weighed down with old, inefficient lighting schemes that are expensive to operate, waste energy and leave many areas, along city streets and in public spaces, feeling dark and unsafe. As municipalities begin investing in the future, creating more sustainable, more livable communities by improving public lighting is often a priority.

Philips CityTouch offers a platform, used by more than 250 cities in 31 countries, that gives municipalities a way to modernize lighting and expand coverage while reducing energy consumption by as much as 80%. Philips CityTouch software lets cities control each individual streetlight, and the system can be configured for various events and conditions. Operators can know, at any time, which lights need repair, and can fine- tune the setup based on precise data visualization and extensive analytics.

The Philips CityTouch approach is so effective, in fact, that it has been recognized internationally for its contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions, and has been endorsed as a top sustainable solution for intelligent outdoor lighting.

When it came time to design the next generation of products, Philips CityTouch made longevity a top requirement. It wanted hardware components that could stay in place for years to come, without forcing cities to pay for technology upgrades. The Philips CityTouch platform relies on cellular communication for connectivity, so there was concern that, as cellular standards continue to evolve, streetlights would start falling off the mobile networks. Philips CityTouch needed cellular connectivity that could change with the times, to deliver lasting benefits.

To ensure that connected streetlights stay in place for as long as needed, and still provide reliable, upgradeable cellular connectivity, Philips CityTouch selected the AirPrime HL Series of embedded modules from Sierra Wireless for its new LightWave system and CityTouch-ready light fixtures.

As soon as a CityTouch-ready fixture is plugged in, it instantly appears on the central CityTouch map. Operators can see the status and technical parameters of lights across the infrastructure, at a glance, and can remotely control lights in any area, individually or in groups. The software also provides the current lighting status, auto-notification faults, and accurate data on the energy usage of each streetlight. With HL Series modules on board, CityTouch-ready fixtures can begin to speak for themselves, saying things like “I need a repair,” or “I’m dimmed to 90% of my full light capacity,” or “I consumed just 30 kWh of energy last month.”

Public cellular networks are available worldwide, so using the HL Series of embedded modules as the basis for connectivity ensures compatibility anywhere CityTouch- ready fixtures are deployed. HL modules can be deployed on 2G, 3G, 4G or LPWA networks to support everything from low-bandwidth transactions, like simple light dimming or inventory management, to bandwidth-intensive applications like video surveillance and sensor monitoring. As a result, cities can mix and match capabilities as needed for a given area or neighborhood, all within the same network, and without needing to support multiple hardware platforms.

Because the HL Series modules are designed for small spaces, CityTouch-ready fixtures are both compact and easy to deploy. Having reliable cellular connectivity pre-integrated into CityTouch-ready fixtures means complete connected lighting systems can be installed in minutes. The same teams that maintain existing lights can install new and retrofit CityTouch-ready fixtures, without any special expertise in cellular connectivity.

The HL Series are based on the CF3TM standard providing a common flexible form factor across all variants, which means different modules with different features on different technologies can be swapped in and out on the same footprint. A single product PCB design for Philips CityTouch can therefore be forward and backward compatible between 2G, 3G, 4G, LPWA technologies and application processing CF3-based module variants. As a result, Philips CityTouch can quickly configure their solutions to meet the needs of virtually any new market in future and easily add new features with minimal redesigns.

Philips CityTouch chose Sierra Wireless for the CityTouch LightWave system based on the level of global support they were able to provide, as the market leader, as well as the potential for evolution in future products with a simple migration path from 2G to 4G and LPWA technologies.

Sierra Wireless gives Philips CityTouch and their customers the confidence that smart, cellular-connected public-lighting networks will provide lasting value. For Philips CityTouch, using the HL Series of embedded modules means it can develop cellular-connected solutions that adapt and grow as requirements evolve. With just one PCB design, Philips CityTouch can easily deploy in any region, on any wireless mobile network.

For the municipalities that use Philips CityTouch, having Sierra Wireless as the basis for cellular connectivity means they can count on having secure, high-availability access to their lighting network for years to come. Because Philips CityTouch-ready fixtures connect instantly, through the public cellular network, to the remote lighting management system deployment, commissioning times go from several weeks to a single day. And in the future, cities can revise and expand their public-lighting networks as needed, without having to invest in new streetlight hardware, since the HL Series inside Philips CityTouch-ready fixtures support seamless migration from 2G to 4G LTE cellular.

To find out more about the market for and opportunities enabled by connected street lighting, read The Humble Street Light Shines in Smart City Strategies white paper


According to Navigant Research, global smart city revenue is expected to grow from US$36.8 billion in 2016 to US$88.7 billion by 2025.

City authorities and their technology partners could squander US$341 billion by 2025 if they adopt a fragmented versus standardised approach to IoT solution deployment, reports Machina Research.

Strategy Analytics estimates network operators could be generating more than $13 billion from LPWA connectivity by 2022, as well as significant additional revenues from value-added services, such as data analytics and security.

The smart cities market size is estimated to grow from US$312.03 billion in 2015 to US$757.74 billion by 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 19.4% reports marketsandmarkets.

The global smart city market will be valued at US$1.565 trillion in 2020, reports Frost & Sullivan. More than 26 global cities are expected to be Smart Cities in 2025, with more than 50% of these smart cities from Europe and North America. By 2025, it is expected that around 58% of the world’s population or 4.6 billion people will live in urban areas. In developed regions and cities, the urban population in cities could account for up to 81% of total population. This will pose serious challenges for city planners, who will have to re-think how they provide basic city services to residents in a sustainable manner.

Analysys Mason forecasts LPWA technologies will generate US$970 million globally in connectivity revenue in 2018, rising to US$7.5 billion in 2022.


The vision of a smart city in which disparate, siloed systems freely interconnect enabling the transfer of information and control between different functions holds enormous promise for municipal administrations and citizens alike. However, concepts remain at an early stage struggling to interconnect and hampered by a lack of standardisation and the costs and uncertainty associated with an immature market place.

Nevertheless, the advantages of smart cities are so apparent that administrations are starting to move forward with deployments. These might not yet be the all embracing smart city concept but the more apps that are deployed the closer the market gets to the vision of a smart city. Critical enablers include the emergence of low power networks which enable access to cost effective connectivity and the development of cheaper modules. Cheap in this case doesn’t mean low quality. It instead means appropriate for the application and its lifespan. There’s no reason to equip a streetlight sensor with a 5G connection when a low power connection will be more than sufficient for the bandwidth needs and also help operators meet their cost requirements.

Simple apps such a sensor in a rubbish bin that alerts its operator when it is full and needs emptying have low bandwidth requirements while a municipalities’ fleet of vehicles or CCTV network may require higher bandwidth to perform effectively.

To learn more about the performance characteristics of LPWA networks and the potential opportunities that smart city applications will enable, use all the toolkit items in this paper to augment your knowledge and improve your insight into what is now a large and real opportunity.


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Go to Demystify the scale and scope of the smart cities concept

Demystify the scale and scope of the smart cities concept

Demystify the scale and scope of the smart cities concept by reading the Fierce Wireless: Sierra Wireless whitepaper: Realizing the Smart City Vision



To understand more about how the introduction of LPWA technologies and the anticipation that surrounds 5G fit with existing 2G, 3G and 4G cellular networks, read the Sierra Wireless whitepaper on scalable migration between technologies



To learn more about how to get started with IoT applications, read the Sierra Wireless whitepaper: The Internet of Things (IoT) – Where do you begin?