Verizon confident it can replicate Sacramento smart city deal

Verizon is pretty confident that it can replicate the kinds of smart city deals it’s doing in Sacramento, and in so doing, it’s leveraging the know-how it amassed through acquisitions of much smaller companies, plus its own ThingSpace.

The Sacramento City Council last week approved an array of projects with Verizon, including support for Sacramento’s Vision Zero initiative, more than a dozen digital kiosks and new infrastructure for 5G. 

Verizon will also support Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s education initiatives, with internships and opportunities for elementary, middle and high school students to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“It’s almost the epitome of what we’ve been trying to accomplish with our smart city initiative within Verizon because it pulls together the best of Verizon in a holistic fashion as opposed to having independent siloed engagements with the city,” said Mrinalini (Lani) Ingram, vice president of Smart Communities at Verizon. “We’re pretty excited about this one because it’s our first public/private partnership in this form, but it’s actually a culmination of everything we’ve been building towards over the last several years.”

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Verizon Sacramento
Verizon's Lani Ingram (right) worked with Sacramento
CIO Maria MacGunigal on the new deal. Image: Verizon

About a year ago, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced a partnership with Verizon to make Boston one of the most technologically advanced cities in the country by replacing its copper-based infrastructure with a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network platform across the city. The partnership, which came after some tumultuous years between the city and the service provider, included provisions for Verizon to attach wireless equipment to city street lights and utility poles.

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In Sacramento, one of the 11 markets where Verizon is conducting pre-5G trials this year, the city is making it easier for Verizon to roll out 5G in a way that will enable it to scale. To be clear, “we’re not skipping any processes,” Ingram told FierceWirelessTech; they’re just trying to deploy gear in more of a partnership fashion with the city.

Ingram said she met with Sacramento Mayor Steinberg for the first time in February of this year before other city leaders and activists got involved. They probably could have completed the deal even faster, she said, but creating a public/private deal of this nature required structuring it in a way that is nonexclusive and didn’t cause the city any unforeseen problems.

“We really spent a lot of time making sure we had the right language in there so the city would feel comfortable with all their fiduciary responsibilities that they need to maintain for the citizens. That part took us a little bit longer or honestly we would have been done faster,” she said.

Some of the technologies they’re deploying are similar to what’s going on in Boston as part of the Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries in cities around the world.

Sensors and surveillance cameras can be used to produce predictive analytics about near misses and some of the nuances that occur at an intersection that could potentially cause an accident, correlating with times of day or particular events. This way, a city can use the data to deploy solutions—like changing traffic signal timing or adding bike lanes—and determine in a real-time basis if those actions are making a difference.

LQDWiFi kiosk

Verizon's deal with Sacramento also includes the deployment of 15 kiosks in neighborhoods throughout the city. The technology comes via Verizon’s acquisition of LQDWiFi, developer of outdoor interactive displays that provide Wi-Fi connectivity along with community and other information. LQD’s kiosks were initially created by Frog Design using the Pebble OS; they're designed to be ad-supported but not overrun with ads. Verizon is also putting Wi-Fi in 27 city parks as part of the mayor’s goal to bridge the digital divide. The vendor of the access points for that project hasn’t yet been identified.

Verizon is working with a lot of other cities as well. “The reason I think we can replicate it is I think there are a lot of cities who are really looking for that new innovation to help them get their citizens to have that next wave of technology solutions to drive efficiency and to bring in the type of businesses and clientele they want within their community,” Ingram said. “I think what we offer from a core infrastructure really enables a lot of that but when we can actually show the manifestation of that through real solutions around traffic or providing Wi-Fi or doing internship programs… You try to look at it as a community as a whole.”

Every city is unique and different, she added. What works and was important to the mayor of Sacramento may not necessarily be the same as a mayor of a different city within the U.S., but the process and thought pattern is similar, she said. They start with a city’s initiatives, goals and challenges and work backwards to the technology, so “it’s not a technology in search of a problem, it’s really the other way around.”

“It’s got to feel like Sacramento,” she said. “It can’t feel like a corporate company sitting over on the East Coast.”

It’s also about pulling in the local entrepreneurs, universities and folks who are going to make a difference. “We’re really excited about moving forward with Sacramento,” she said, and repeating it in other cities in ways that make sense for them. 

If it succeeds, it will be worth watching since everybody and their brother wants in on the smart city action.