Vegas bets big on smart city future
Global cities are facing unique challenges in the post-pandemic world. Industries such as tourism – which often play such a major role in the economies of these infamous destinations – were hit hard by Covid, while the need for local connectivity was amplified.
At the same time, securing investment is tough. The world is facing a major recession. So leaders in global cities are turning to technology to bring back growth and open up new opportunities.
There is perhaps no city more famous for tourism than Las Vegas, USA. The self-billed “entertainment capital of the world” is home to around 641,903 residents in 2020, with a metropolitan population of 2,227,053 but Sin City welcomed a peak of around 42 million visitors in 2019, according to Statista.
When Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman and her husband moved to Vegas in the 60s, there were less than 100,000 residents in the Nevada city.
“Las Vegas has become a flourishing locale for innovation and technology,” she said at the recent MWC Americas event. “It is here where the creation of giant opportunities for the new tech economy are blooming. It is a chameleon, forever changing its skin, reaching out for something new, and that is why it is a heaven for technology, ingenuity and creativity.”
Speaking at the conference, she set out the aim to turn Vegas into a model smart city by 2025. It is already on its way, boasting more than 1200 start-ups in the downtown part of the city which has been facilitated by the deployment of high-speed fibre networks across 12 districts. But Vegas is set to go further with plans to introduce new sensors, supported by AI and machine learning, that will “improve the quality of the lives of our residents, our visitors and even those beyond our borders” she added.
One key requirement, in order to turn Vegas into a leading smart city, is connectivity. Whether it is linking smart sensors that will deployed across the city to provide better data sets, or supporting start-ups who opt to make their home in the Nevada city, Vegas has identified 5G as a key resource, according to city CIO Michael Sherwood.
“Connectivity is the foundation for a lot of things in government and technology business that are required,” he explains. “We always talk about fibre infrastructure, talking about the hard assets. But that last mile, that wireless capability, where we’re able to help students connect to their school, we’re able to secure and work with safety.
“You’ve heard that from our mayor safety, very important telemedicine opportunities, transportation, really wireless opens up a great new future, brand new opportunities, not just for our community as a whole, but for businesses that come here that work here. And for new opportunities.”
To support its ambitions, Vegas announced several key connectivity partnerships at the end of September which included a core partnership with NTT to launch what it claims will be the largest private 5G network ever deployed.
NTT and additional partners will more than double the number of network access points throughout Las Vegas through a CBRS network spanning the City of Las Vegas, Clark County (where Vegas is situated) and the state of Nevada. The regional network will also be open to third-party APs and end-user devices.
For NTT, the biggest challenge was how it could support the ambition of Vegas leaders to evolve the city to meet the needs of its citizens, businesses and visitors.
“Connection and connectivity is central to all that we do,” NTT Group EVP for new ventures and innovation Shahid Ahmed explains to TechInformed, adding the network is due to launch “in the next few weeks”.
“It’s the largest CBRS network at least when we last counted the number of access points deployed,” he adds, explaining that NTT is working with a number of partners including Celona. The 5G network runs on General Authorized Access (GAA) CBRS spectrum, which means that the spectrum is leased from another party, although NTT and Las Vegas did not share who the identity of their partner (or partners).
One service likely to run on it will be NTT’s own MVNO Transatel, Ahmed suggests, with the ability to roam onto macro networks installed in devices that will be developed.
The information generated by the connected city systems makes a positive impact on the day-to-day lives of both residents and visitors. Intelligent data allows for real-time decision-making.
Data generated by traffic flows is used to intelligently route vehicles, reduce congestion and get people to their destination faster. This allows emergency services to be deployed with extreme accuracy, dispatching the right resources to handle any issue.
Advanced facial recognition, when combined with greater CCTV coverage for example, can search for missing children. This dramatically reduces the time needed to find them. Data gathered from urban areas is built up through more efficient sensors and cameras, then used to enhance the lives of both residents and visitors alike.
Las Vegas CIO Michael Sherwood cites a number of examples where Vegas is set to benefit from NTT’s connectivity platform.
For example in education, students of all grades, including college, will be able to access virtual learning for free by using the network while adults can tap into workforce development training.
Doctors will be able to meet with their patients virtually instead of at physical locations using the Private 5G service. In addition, government agencies can place and move cameras in public areas or parking lots to provide additional security as part of Las Vegas’ smart city initiatives.
As additional use cases emerge, the network will serve as a framework for revenue generation that can improve the city’s bottom line while supporting network maintenance, expansion and enhancement.
Sherwood notes it will also help with water conservation and transportation efforts going forward.
“Having that wireless bridge, or that gateway, really opens our abilities to offer and to accept new technologies,” Sherwood said.
Vegas’ Loopy future
Other new projects that will be supported by the 5G network is The Loop – a new transport service, already live, that utilises underground tunnels to connect hotels, the Las Vegas Convention Centre and, in future, downtown.
The Loop – which was built by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company – currently runs cars from the LVCC to the Resorts World Hotel complex, which is owned by Malysia’s The Genting Group and is home to three Hilton Hotels. It is an underground system of one-way tunnels where electric cars navigate passengers from one location to the other.
Standard Tesla Model 3 and Model X cars with human drivers are used as shuttles, traveling at about 35 miles per hour, with the service able to carry 1,355 passengers per hour, according to Las Vegas. It reduces the journey from Resorts World to the LVCC from a 25-minute walk to a two minute ride.
In October 2021, Clark County Commissioners approved a 50-year franchise agreement for a 51-stop, mostly-underground system, a “15-mile dual loop system… operating mainly in the Resort Corridor with stations at various resorts and connections to Allegiant Stadium and the UNLV [University of Nevada, Las Vegas]” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Future proposals include using self-driving cars.
Earlier at MWC, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CFO Ed Finger hailed the Vegas Loop shuttle service as one of the great technology innovations to hit the city.
He explained how the Loop had helped to reduce congestion, with further plans set to use technology to reduce traffic further.
Talking on stage with Boingo Wireless CEO Mike Finley, Finger said the Authority launched a “people mover” request for proposal (RFP) to solve congestion issues, pointing to a typical busy CES day which could have up to 170,000 people on the campus.
Among the proposals it received included a fixed guideway train, gondolas moving transporting people above buildings and The Boring Company’s Loop proposition.
Finger said the proposal had a lot of competitive advantages, including price, while it also was faster to deploy and caused little interference during construction.
“They busted through the first tunnel here on campus in less than a year. In tunnel space that is unheard of. So, there’s a tonne of technology inside the system, security, life safety and vehicle operations,” he said.
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