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Let there be light. And 4G.

LA has a clever new way to keep smartphones online in times of disaster

Corinne Purtill
By Corinne Purtill

Reporter

Smart technology has allowed US cities from San Diego to Chicago to turn the humble streetlight into a data collection point that tracks everything from traffic to pollution.

Now, Los Angeles has become the first city in the country to put its street lamps to work boosting local broadband coverage.

On Nov. 5, city workers began installing the first of 600 new streetlights that will be deployed around LA over the next four years. The Philips SmartPole has energy-efficient LED bulbs and Ericsson 4G LTE wireless technology. By leasing the space at the top of each pole to broadband providers, the city can make the poles pay for themselves, claim LA officials.

By virtue of their number, the poles offer better coverage and a more reliable signal than the central cell tower model. In the case of LA’s palm-tree cell phone towers, they’re arguably an aesthetic improvement as well.

But their greatest benefit could come in time of disaster. While a single tower can easily be knocked out of commission by loss of power during an earthquake or other catastrophe, or overwhelmed by the volume of calls, a diffuse network is more likely to stay online.

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