Smart Public Nodes – proving the smart city business case

Streetlights are everywhere, they are connected to the power grid, they are close to vital infrastructures such as roads, water-, sewage-, drainage-, gas- and telecom networks. With more than 317 million streetlights worldwide, they surely are an ideal platform to support the sensor and advanced communications infrastructure smart communities need? But if streetlights and other public infrastructures really are ideal, why are there yet few examples of large-scale deployments? TNO and partners investigated the economic viability of Smart Public Nodes, and what is holding us back.


Infrastructures such as streetlights or cabinets are strategic assets for local communities. However, most streetlights are over 30 years old, often use energy-wasting light sources and should be replaced in the foreseeable future. The current technological developments create an opportunity to expand the functionality of the light posts to a multipurpose platform for a variety of sensors, actuators and small communication cells, turning light posts into 'Smart Public Nodes'.

The Project

In 2017, TNO, together with Dutch and Swiss partners from both the public and private sectors, met the challenge head-on. On request of a Dutch city, we did the analysis and ran the computations. The result?

The business case for Smart Public Nodes is positive over the lifetime of the infrastructure, if:

  • costs are shared amongst a set of services
  • services are offered where demanded
  • the public and private sector cooperate closely


Using our internal know-how, tools and experience, enriched with the invaluable real-life input from our partners we were able to generate coverage maps, specify the costs (of sensors and required infrastructures) and project the revenues (from services relying on sensor data). Despite several challenges, Smart Public Nodes is an economically viable concept if the value chains are understood, players have a clear understanding of their roles and are willing to share costs between their services.


If you are interested in 'smartening up' public infrastructures, we recommend:

  • Consider public lighting ownership and management roles;
  • Align investor expectations with reality;
  • Break the silos;
  • Allow for failure;
  • Privacy and security by design.

Call to Action

TNO can calculate a business case tailored for your business. A good business case requires in-depth understanding and modelling of sensor coverage, technical requirements and constraints, digital ecosystems, business and value chains, urban planning, data privacy and security issues and of course economics. With our in-house knowledge and based on the concrete data provided by the partners and you, such a case gives you insight into the value potential and dynamics of smart public nodes either for your own business, or from a potential competitive view.
Interested? Don’t hesitate to contact us!

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Strategic Business Analysis

Dr. Caroline Schipper-Rodenburg

  • Economic impact
  • Urban strategy
  • Smart cities
  • Smart industry
  • Project management