Section: Research Program

Capillary networks

The definition of Smart Cities is still constantly redefined and expanded so as to comprehensively describe the future of major urban areas. The Smart City concept mainly refers to granting efficiency and sustainability in densely populated metropolitan areas while enhancing citizens’ life and protecting the environment. The Smart City vision can be primarily achieved by a clever integration of ICT in the urban tissue. Indeed, ICTs are enabling an evolution from the current duality between the “real world” and its digitalized counterpart to a continuum in which digital contents and applications are seamlessly interacting with classical infrastructures and services. The general philosophy of smart cities can also be seen as a paradigm shift combining the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication with a citizen-centric model, all together leveraging massive data collected by pervasive sensors, connected mobile or fixed devices, and social applications.

The fast expansion of urban digitalization yields new challenges that span from social issues to technical problems. Therefore, there is a significant joint effort by public authorities, academic research communities and industrial companies to understand and address these challenges. Within that context, the application layer, i.e., the novel services that ICT can bring to digital urban environments, have monopolized the attention. Lower-layer network architectures have gone instead quite overlooked. We believe that this might be a fatal error, since the communication network plays a critical role in supporting advanced services and ultimately in making the Smart City vision a reality. The UrbaNet project deals precisely with that aspect, and the study of network solutions for upcoming Smart Cities represents the core of our work.

Most network-related challenges along the road to real-world Smart Cities deal with efficient mobile data communication, both at the backbone and at the radio access levels. It is on the latter that the UrbaNet project is focused. More precisely, the scope of the project maps to that of capillary networks, an original concept we define next.

The capillary networking concept represents a unifying paradigm for wireless last-mile communication in smart cities. The term we use is reminiscent of the pervasive penetration of different technologies for wireless communication in future digital cities. Indeed, capillary networks represent the very last portion of the data distribution and collection network, bringing Internet connectivity to every endpoint of the urban tissue in the same exact way capillary blood vessels bring oxygen and collect carbon dioxide at tissues in the human body. Capillary networks inherit concepts from the self-configuring, autonomous, ad hoc networks so extensively studied in the past decade, but they do so in a holistic way. Specifically, this implies considering multiple technologies and applications at a time, and doing so by accounting for all the specificities of the urban environment.