Frequently Asked Questions about Smart Streetlights and How They are Lighting the Path to a Smarter City

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Authored By: Brian Stone Business Development Manager
Smart street lights illuminated against a sunset sky


In an era of rapid urbanization and technological advancements, smart cities have emerged as a promising solution to address the challenges and demands of urban living. Smart streetlights are at the heart of this transformation, revolutionizing how cities illuminate their streets and enhance energy efficiency. In this resource article, I’ll cover smart streetlights and how they work, their key features and benefits, and how they are an essential foundation for building a smart city. Most importantly, how to implement, scale and plan for future capabilities with smart streetlights.

What are Smart Streetlights?

Smart streetlights, also known as intelligent or networked street lighting, are a technological advancement in urban infrastructure. These innovative lighting fixtures are equipped with sensors, wireless connectivity, and advanced technologies, enabling them to interact intelligently with their surroundings. These sensors can monitor everything from air quality and noise levels to traffic flow and pedestrian movement. With this data, city officials can make informed decisions to improve the overall efficiency and livability of the city.

Often integrated with the Internet of Things (IoT), smart streetlights can communicate with other devices and systems, creating a network of interconnected infrastructure. This connectivity enables them to respond dynamically to changing conditions, such as adjusting their brightness based on the presence of pedestrians or vehicles, optimizing energy consumption, and enhancing overall safety. Moreover, these intelligent lights can monitor air quality, detect noise levels, and provide data on traffic patterns.

How do Smart Streetlights work?

Smart streetlights have numerous nodes, or sensors, to detect various data points. They can share this data with each other and a remote central control system via a wireless communication network. Examples of communication networks are detailed further on; however, radio frequency and cellular are the most popular. This data allows lighting to be monitored or adjusted in real-time according to various needs.

 What are the Benefits of Smart Streetlights?

Smart streetlights offer a range of benefits that can significantly enhance our cities and communities. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Energy efficiency: Smart streetlights use LED technology, which is more energy-efficient than traditional streetlights. They are also equipped with motion sensors and dimming capabilities, allowing them to adjust their brightness based on the presence of people or vehicles.
  • Cost savings: With the ability to dim or brighten based on real-time conditions, smart streetlights can optimize energy usage and reduce costs. They have a longer lifespan, reducing maintenance and replacement costs in the long run.
  • Improved safety: Smart streetlights can incorporate advanced technologies such as cameras, sensors, and sound detection systems. These features enable real-time monitoring of the surroundings, helping to detect potential safety risks or emergencies. Such information can be shared with law enforcement agencies or emergency responders, allowing quicker response times and improved public safety.
  • AI Integration: Artificial intelligence is rapidly becoming a topic of everyday communication with far-reaching implications for our everyday lives. Smart streetlights and their supporting technologies have applications that currently use AI and lay a basis for future uses. For example, cameras with AI can detect multiple occupants rapidly exiting a building, an early sign of an active threat.
  • Traffic management: Smart streetlights can collect and analyze traffic patterns with sensors and data analytics integration. This information can optimize traffic flow, reduce congestion, and improve transportation efficiency.
  • Environmental sustainability: By reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, smart streetlights contribute to environmental sustainability goals. They can also use solar panels to power the lights, reducing carbon footprints.
  • Smart city integration: Smart streetlights are a foundational infrastructure for smart cities. They integrate with other smart devices and systems, such as waste management, parking, and public transportation, creating a connected ecosystem that improves overall urban functionality and quality of life.
  • Increased quality of life: Well-lit streets contribute to a sense of security and comfort for residents and visitors, making cities more attractive and livable.

                Related Reading: What are the benefits of LED lighting?

What Types of Communications Technologies Do Smart Streetlights Use?

These innovative lights are not only energy-efficient and cost-effective, but they also utilize advanced communication technologies to enhance their functionality. Here are some of the types of communication technologies that smart streetlights use:

  • Wireless Mesh Networks: Streetlights can form a mesh network, where each light acts as a node that can communicate with neighboring lights. This setup enables data to hop from one light to another, extending the coverage range without requiring each light to connect directly to a central hub.
  • Cellular Networks: Smart streetlights can use cellular networks (3G, 4G, or 5G) to communicate with a central management system. Cellular networks offer wide coverage and high data rates, suitable for transmitting real-time data and receiving commands.
  • WiFi: Streetlights equipped with WiFi modules that can connect to local WiFi networks or create a hotspot, allowing for data exchange with nearby devices and central servers.
  • Radio Frequency (RF): Using radio waves, these streetlights can communicate with each other and a central control system, creating a seamless network of intelligent lighting. This is one of the most common transmission methods; it works best for small networks.
  • Powerline Communication (PLC): Some smart streetlights use powerline communication technology, which utilizes existing power lines for data transmission. Modulating the electrical signals on the power lines allows these lights to send and receive data without additional communication infrastructure. This makes powerline communication an efficient and cost-effective solution for smart streetlight networks.
  • Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT): NB-IoT is a low-power, wide-area network technology specifically designed for IoT applications. Smart streetlights can utilize NB-IoT to connect to a cellular network and transmit data over long distances. This enables them to communicate reliably and efficiently with other devices and systems, such as traffic management systems or emergency services.
  • Satellite Communication: In remote or less connected areas, satellite communication allows streetlights to transmit data to a central server using satellite links.
  • Fiber Optic Networks: In areas with high-speed internet infrastructure, fiber optic connections can establish fast and reliable communication between streetlights and the central management system.

What Types of Sensors Can be Connected to a Smart Streetlight?

Smart city light fixtures are equipped with a wide range of sensors to collect and analyze data in real-time, allowing for smarter and more responsive street lighting systems. Some of these sensors include:

  • Motion sensors: These sensors detect movement by only activating the streetlight when motion is detected, conserving energy when no motion is present.
  • Light sensors: Also known as photocells, these sensors measure ambient light and adjust the brightness accordingly, ensuring that they are not too bright during daylight hours and not too dim during the night.
  • Environmental sensors: These sensors can monitor air quality, temperature, humidity, CO2 and other environmental factors, providing valuable data for urban planning and improving the overall quality of life.
  • Sound sensors: These acoustic sensors can help identify and mitigate noise pollution in urban areas by detecting sound levels.
  • Traffic sensors: These sensors can monitor traffic flow, detect congestion, and provide data for optimizing traffic management and improving transportation systems.
  • Surveillance sensors: Equipped with cameras and other surveillance technologies, these sensors can enhance public safety by monitoring streets and detecting suspicious activities.
  • Vibration sensors: These sensors can monitor ground motions or earthquake activity, helping assess structural health and maintenance needs.
  • Wireless communication modules: This enables streetlights to communicate with a central control system or other devices for data exchange.
  • Emergency call buttons: Allows individuals to request assistance or report emergencies, enhancing safety in public spaces.

Are Smart Streetlights Right for Every City?

Acknowledging that these technological advancements may not be right for every city or town now is important. Some cities and towns may have unwilling utility providers that own the streetlight assets and want to maintain that control. Some may not require anything more than an LED streetlight upgrade. Regardless of the city or town, the benefits of LED streetlights are hard to argue, with reduced costs and improved visibility. It’s important to engage a partner knowledgeable about working with utilities and finding the right-sized solution for each city and town.

Another aspect to consider is the investment required for implementing and maintaining these advanced lighting systems. Depending on the existing infrastructure or procurement model, they can be feasible for most cities. For instance, when incorporated into an energy savings performance contract (ESPC), these lights can be deployed without any initial capital expenditure. What’s even more promising about ESPCs is that they are backed by performance guarantees to ensure they meet or exceed promised energy savings.

On the other hand, decision-makers should exercise caution with low-bid procurement, as it may not yield the most favorable return on investment for the intended scope. It may seem more cost-effective upfront, but often, you get what you pay for, and the systems may not perform as intended.

How Do I Implement Smart Streetlights?

If smart streetlights sound like a great solution for your city or town, finding a licensed, qualified provider with proven experience installing and integrating smart streetlighting is best. Better—work with a design-builder, as their team will be solely responsible for the project’s design and installation. Design-builders serve as a one-stop shop for projects, as they partner with cities and towns to design, price, and construct the project from start to finish. As a result, they have sole accountability, meaning you can rest assured knowing you’re in good hands with one contract. Together, you can complete the following steps:

  1. Assessment and Planning
  2. Select Technology
  3. Prepare Infrastructure
  4. Install Sensor, Equipment and Network
  5. Test and Optimize Control and Automation Sequencing
  6. Data Utilization
  7. Maintenance, Monitoring, and Continuous Improvement

The most important thing to remember when implementing smart streetlights and the technologies they’re capable of is that they are scalable. Starting with new LEDs and advanced lighting controls can create a foundation for future expansion into community WiFi, camera systems for traffic and pedestrian safety, and smart city integration is a great way to create an immediate return on investment. Depending on the region, streetlights are generally a great solution to decrease operating costs without creating additional maintenance costs.

How Do I Fund Smart Streetlights?

Funding smart streetlights requires careful consideration of various financing options and strategies. A few options include public-private partnerships, grants and subsidies, leasing agreements, or municipal bonds. However, intelligent street lighting can also be installed as part of an energy savings performance contract without any upfront capital. This flexible funding alternative helps cities, towns, counties, and state governments use energy savings and avoid capital costs to pay for improvements. As a result, no up-front capital is required. Projects are financed and repaid with guaranteed energy and efficiency savings from the newly installed equipment.

Once the project is implemented, the qualified provider monitors utility bills and energy consumption monthly to ensure everything is running correctly and efficiency levels are reached. If the actual energy savings do not match the promised energy savings, the provider will pay the difference and make any changes needed. Any additional savings achieved from the project go directly to the building owner. So, cities and towns can be confident that smart street lighting will perform at or better than designed while setting the foundation for further smart city improvements.

                Related Reading: Why should an alternative procurement process be considered for renovating government facilities?

Ultimately, the funding approach will depend on the city’s financial situation, goals, available resources, and the level of support from stakeholders. It’s essential to assess various options, evaluate the long-term financial implications, and choose a strategy that aligns with the city’s vision.

What is the Role of Smart Streetlights in Building a Smart City Infrastructure?

Networked streetlights are designed to be the foundational component of smart city management as they create a framework for narrowband and broadband communications. They act as a series of nodes within a larger networked infrastructure. As a result, the smart streetlights interact and integrate with various smart devices and provide additional smart services to the public, such as WiFi or 5G networks.

Additionally, when integrated with smart transportation systems, these streetlights can detect traffic congestion and automatically adjust signal timings to alleviate congestion. Furthermore, they can be synchronized with other smart city solutions, such as waste management and parking management, to streamline operations and enhance efficiency.

                Related Reading: Critical Components for Building the City of Tomorrow, Today

What are Some Examples of Smart Streetlights in Action?


Smart streetlights can help in a variety of contexts. For example, when a person or vehicle approaches, the motion detection feature is triggered, and the sensor sends a signal to the streetlight to turn on or increase its brightness accordingly. Conversely, when no activity is detected, the sensor will signal the streetlight to dim or turn off, thus conserving energy and reducing light pollution. Other features include ambient light sensors that can adjust the brightness of the streetlight based on surrounding conditions.


Another example of how these intelligent streetlights can improve safety is their real-time ability to detect and respond to hazardous conditions. Equipped with sensors and cameras, these smart streetlights can identify potential dangers such as accidents, fires, or even criminal activities. Once a threat is detected, the streetlights can automatically adjust their brightness and color to alert pedestrians and drivers, drawing attention to the situation. Additionally, smart streetlights can also connect with emergency services, providing them with valuable data and enabling faster response times.

City Decision-Making

All of the smart sensors can provide city officials with actional insights. For example, traffic data could indicate that a particular intersection has heavy traffic during certain hours. Therefore, city managers can adjust the timing of traffic lights to alleviate congestion. Similarly, suppose air pollution levels are high in certain neighborhoods. In that case, city authorities can take targeted measures, such as planting more trees or implementing emission-reducing initiatives, to improve air quality. By harnessing the power of smart streetlights, cities are becoming more efficient and livable for their residents.


Smart streetlights pave the way toward a more connected and sustainable future for urban environments. The possibilities for this technology and its integration potential are countless, but automated streetlights provide the perfect jumping point into smart city infrastructure. They can scale, integrate, and connect with various technologies, making them an invaluable resource for your city or town as it grows and desires to make smarter, data-driven decisions.

Contact us today to learn how your city or town can install smart streetlighting or transition to smarter technology. Our smart city experts and engineers are ready to answer your questions and design the right solutions.

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