Smart cities panel at CES 2019: AT&T's Mike Zeto on 5G, IoT, resiliency

AT&T's Mike Zeto discusses the future of smart cities with TechRepublic's Jason Hiner and Teena Maddox at CES 2019.

Smart cities panel at CES 2019: AT&T's Mike Zeto on 5G, IoT, resiliency

At CES 2019, AT&T's Mike Zeto spoke with TechRepublic's Jason Hiner and Teena Maddox about 5G and the future of smart cities at CES 2019. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Jason Hiner: Mike, why don't you talk a little bit about what you do at AT&T?

Mike Zeto: Yeah, so I've got a great job. And at AT&T, I'm the general manager of our Smart Cities business. I actually founded the business for the company. It was a startup inside of the Internet of Things practice that we have. And I've got responsibility for not only Smart Cities, but drones. IoT devices for FirstNet, which is our nationwide public safety broadband network.

And then I've got our public project partnerships. And some other emerging areas of the business around connected stadiums, and connected spaces and event venues. So it's a lot of fun. It's a lot of emerging areas that people like to talk about. And you know, we feel like we're doing a lot of good for not only businesses that are our customers and the cities, but for the citizens that we serve. So it's a great gig, man. I love it.

Teena Maddox: Mike, I wanted to ask you to tell us a little bit about some of the IoT projects that AT&T is working on with Smart Cities.

Mike Zeto: From a cities perspective, we've been active for about the last three years with Smart Cities solutions. And we're basically taking Internet of Things solutions that we developed in partnership with our ecosystem, and then deploying them into cities like Atlanta, where we've got AT&T's digital infrastructure that's deployed. And it's an IoT sensor node with multiple cameras, environmental sensors, and audio sensors.

And then a suite of applications that allow you to use those sensors to provide data back, and make decisions for their citizens. Public safety's a big use case there. So that sensor can detect gunshots and then leverage the ShotSpotter application, and be able to provide unreported gunshot information to the PD in Atlanta. It provides for energy efficiency. It provides for the ability to gather data that you can use to decrease road fatalities and improve mobility through those cameras. And again, as well as public safety.

SEE: How 5G will transform business (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

So a lot of various different solutions that we've got deployed in cities. Atlanta's a great use case. A partnership with Georgia Power, as I just said. And Portland, we're doing the same thing. Same AT&T digital infrastructure solution to solve for Vision Zero, which is an awesome cause.

And Las Vegas. We just announced this week, something that we're doing right here in Las Vegas, right in Old Town, if you will, right in the Innovation District, with Michael Sherwood, the CIO. We've deployed a lighting control device that's connected with LTEM, because not everything has to be 5G, contrary to what everybody's talking about this week. With LTEM. And then associating aftermarket air quality sensors.

So you're getting lighting controls, which drives efficiencies for the city. It creates a safer environment, because you know that those lights are always lit. And if they're not, you can get out there quick and fix them. And then you have the ability to plug in aftermarket sensors, which is great because then you can take that particular data and other things that you're going to gather from that air quality sensor, and really understand, based on time of day, the amount of traffic, construction going on, what those air quality levels are like at a micro level. Which is important to those citizens who live around there.

SEE: CES 2019 news, photos, videos, and more (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Jason Hiner: Very cool. So one of the things that a lot of people don't know, the biggest new pavilion at CES this year is on resiliency just north of North Hall in the West Gate. And Teena, tomorrow, you're moderating a Smart Cities panel over there.

And the great thing about that is, it really reflects that fact that a lot of people here at CES, the organizers of CES, they're more concerned about sort of the state of the world, and the direction of humanity. And they wanted to do something that not only was about gadgets and all the things we're used to at CES, but also touched on the ways technology is improving people's lives. The way it's changing the direction of society.

And so that resiliency panel is dealing with a lot of things such as sea level rise in Miami, using technology to help deal with that. The board of CTA, who runs CES, they even experienced this firsthand while they were planning for this event. That they were surrounded by wildfires at one of their board meetings in Northern California. So what we're seeing is, technology trying to deal with many of the problems that are happening in the world, and using technology to save life and property.

So, Teena, I'm going to put you on the spot for a second and say, you know, you've covered a lot of things like ShotSpotter and others, public safety, like Mike talked about. Maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the cases that we've seen and that you've reported on, about ShotSpotter and some of the places that are doing, you know, things with that. Maybe tell the audience, if they're not familiar with ShotSpotter, what that is.

Teena Maddox: It's a sensor that goes onto smart lighting fixtures, such as with AT&T or other manufacturers. And it detects when gunshots have occurred. And so it helps the police triangulate where the shots have come from, and if there's multiple gunshots at any given time, they can send out police cars. Somebody doesn't have to call 911. They can send someone out to see what happened. Because in a safe city, you don't want a random gunshot.

Jason Hiner: Because if someone calls 911, they hear a shot, it will take up to five minutes, typically, for a car to get there. But now some of these that are not only with ShotSpotter, even that might get there faster. But now they're doing something else with some of the cities, with drones, too, right? Why don't you talk a little bit about that?

Teena Maddox: Well, the whole concept of being able to have drones monitoring and sending the police out faster is fantastic, I know. But then you also have to get into the whole privacy issues with citizens. But public safety is so important in order to know what's going on, and have your citizens protected. And for me, when I write about smarter cities, that's what keeps coming up over and over. A smart city makes citizens' lives easier. And so does all of the great technology that AT&T has, and that's going on all around us. We're not going to recognize the cities of the future as the word becomes more urbanized.

SEE: CES 2019: The Big Trends for Business (ZDNet Special Feature)

Mike Zeto: I think one of the things you said about public safety, you were talking about drones and you were talking about ShotSpotter and unreported gunshots. It's really not about Big Brother at the end of the day. This is about emergency preparedness for first responders. It's about gathering data ahead of time, after an incident, so that people can be prepared when they get to the scene.

So it not only helps to improve the chances of decreasing property loss and saving lives of the citizens, but also protecting those first responders. They have a dangerous job. So the more information that you can get, so that they can be prepared when they arrive at a scene, the better off that they're going to be, as well as allow them to protect you.

And one of the things that we've done is, we've went out and... 5G is 100% fundamentally going to drive the modernization of cities. There is no doubt about that. And the other thing that we've done from a network investment perspective as we're rolling out 5G, is put a stake in the ground, working with federal government and FirstNet. And that nationwide LTE broadband network for first responders, where they have prioritization and preemption.

And that's a major investment that we're making. We've got 4,000-plus agencies that have signed up in a year, hundreds of thousands of users. And so we continue to do more and more, not only from a solution perspective and things that can ride on top of the network and add value to the citizens and the cities that we serve, but also from a network perspective as well.

Jason Hiner: Of course, 2019 is now The Year of 5G. We have to ask you: When we went from 3G to 4G, it was like a 5x to 10x jump. And it unlocked applications that we just hadn't thought of yet. That nobody had conceptualized yet. Uber, Airbnb, things that, real-time applications where you needed that real-time response. With the leap forward to 5G is a bigger leap. We're talking, maybe, 10x to potentially even 100x, in some cases.

When it comes to smart cities, could 5G be what unlocks... there has been some sort of uneven progress with smart cities. Could 5G unlock some of the future? And what is next? What do you guys see as some of the most exciting possibilities for smart cities, and for some of these applications that 5G is going to enable us to potentially realize?

Mike Zeto: So, it's always best to tie it back to use cases. So from a 5G perspective, there's a few city use cases that I think 5G will unlock and be fundamental in changing. Video analytics is one. So again, that low latency, that high data throughput that you need, that improved coverage, that processing at the edge. Combining AI with that and machine learning, and doing it all at the device level and across the network. Those are the kind of things that 5G will enable.

So video analytics is going to be huge. And that could be used to either automate intelligent traffic systems, where you really can't have latency. It can be used for first responder use case. That 5G will further enable a connected ambulance. So imagine an ambulance being able, through a telematic solution, be able to trigger the lights in real time. To move, control an intersection to move through it quicker to an event. And then as they're responding back with the person or persons that have been involved in it, have live video from the trauma center that they're transporting that person to. Improving the opportunity to help in the actual ambulance. But also from a prepared that from a preparedness perspective, making sure that when that patient arrives, that you have the right folks there, and the right team, to save that person's life.

And that's all enabled through video, through low latency. I mean, that's 5G. That's what it's all about. That's a very powerful use case. And then you've got your consumer use cases as well. Download a video in six seconds instead of six minutes. And you hear it. So I think that's all great stuff.

But one thing we shouldn't forget is, this is really all about equality as well. So we've got to make sure that from a digital inclusion perspective, when we're talking to cities, that we're not just deploying 5G in the nicest neighborhoods. We're deploying 5G across all of the neighborhoods. And the connectivity is only as good as the devices that people have. And many people have devices in low-income neighborhoods, but they don't have the connectivity. And so that's one of the things that we can start to bring to them. You know, as the devices get rolled out. It's going to be a journey, at the end of the day.

But we've got 5G deployed in 12 cities as of December of '18. We've got seven more cities that are going to be deployed in '19, as I said. LA, San Francisco, San Diego, and right here in Las Vegas are some of them. So we're making progress. And then with 5G evolution and everything else that's happening, I mean, we're well on our way to getting this network deployed and upgraded. And there's a lot more data being pushed through the network from 3G to 4G to 5G. If you think of the incremental jump in data flow now, it's an entirely different game.

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By Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a former Associate Managing Editor at TechRepublic. She oversees TechRepublic's news team and TechRepublic Premium. She focuses on tech and business and how the two worlds intersect. Teena's lifelong journalism career has included wri...