Smart Cities: The Role of Smart Utilities

By Michael Tschirret, Marketing Communications Manager at Sensus

At Sensus, we often get asked the question “What makes a city smart?” It’s a broad one to be sure, but the answer usually starts with infrastructure. And smart cities start with smart infrastructure, closely affiliated with utilities. Whether gas, water, grid, or lighting, utilities play a critical role in building a smarter city. And while many utilities tend to be “siloed”, the right solutions can enable utilities to interact and connect with relevant city services to provide extraordinary new applications.

We’ve come a long way from the days of meter readers having to contend with barking dogs to bill you correctly. Today, AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) eliminates the need to walk or even drive house to house. The foundation of that infrastructure is the same thing you rely on every day to communicate, whether with family, friends, or at work: a network. And today’s utility networks have evolved to the point of largely enabling a vast number of smart applications, in turn powering smarter cities.

At the end of the day, you want to live in a smart city because of what it can do to improve your quality of life. Being able to report outages and monitor home energy usage was something that simply wasn’t done until recently. Smart thermostats and customer portals make it easy to ensure the services you utilize give you the most bang for the buck. But none of that can happen without the right network.

The right utility communication network will support numerous uses. Think metering, lighting control, and even pipe corrosion monitoring. And that network needs to be resilient, fast, and cost-effective. Once in place, it’s going to be there for decades or more. It needs to be scalable, robust, and ready for anything. There are a number of options to choose from, some more suited for utility-specific usage such as point-to-multipoint networks.

Next, the smart city will link its smart network with smart devices and sensors. Electric, water and gas meters are just the start, because a smart city isn’t just about your home. When you get to the airport, sensors can guide you to vacant parking spots. Waste receptacles can inform city sanitation services when they are full. And municipal WiFi, while still not ubiquitous, is gaining traction through advanced public/private partnerships.

The beauty of these networks is that they are not only friendly for multiple applications, but multiple users as well. Smaller utilities can “piggyback” on these networks to offer service in under-served areas. But regardless of how the network is deployed, it should be squarely focused on the end-user and a superior customer service experience. Data becomes a powerful tool for the customer, such as knowing when your water or electric usage spikes. You have more control over your services, and thus become a proactive part of a smart city solution, rather than waiting for the unknown when services are either not optimized, or worse–out of commission.

Finally, a smart utility will look to combine the abilities of the network to not only provide a great customer experience, but to save costs themselves — which ultimately can be passed to the consumer. Take truck rolls for example. Sending a single repair person to a site to fix an outage may benefit a small group of customers, but given the types of storms now commonplace, it’s better to know where to deploy first in order to have the greatest impact. The right smart utility network knows where services are down, and can allow utilities to reach those most severely impacted in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of cost. Smart, indeed.

And as utilities become smarter, we benefit in other ways, such as renewable energy for a cleaner planet. It’s a new age powered by information — the smart city is digital, and the role of the utility is undeniably a shining example of how that data can improve lives.

For more information, check out the Sensus video, “The Role of Smart Utilities.” And if you’d like a deeper dive, we also offer a companion Viewpoint on the subject.


Michael Tschirret is a Marketing Communications Manager at Sensus. He is responsible for all outbound marketing, campaigns and events involving Smart Cities, Smart Lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT). Entering his fourth year at Sensus, Michael previously supported marketing efforts for the FlexNet Communications network.

Prior to Sensus, Michael was the Marketing Communications Manager for Wireless and Fiber Optic test and measurement solutions at Viavi. He has over 20 years of wireless and communication network expertise, to include product marketing and business development positions at Nortel and Agilent Technologies.

Michael holds a B.S. degree from the Florida State University, and an M.S. in Urban Planning from Virginia Tech.