Newport is poised to become the region's first Smart City -- and a local company is the brains of it

Nexigen's internet-loaded kiosks power system
Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-28 08:31:16-05

NEWPORT, Ky. -- By next Christmas, Newport residents and visitors will be able to walk down most of Monmouth and York Streets and have a continuous connection to Wi-Fi.

People might walk past a store or restaurant and receive an alert on their phone that there's a lunch special, or a  coupon that's good today or they can find a hot new gift if they'd just step inside the door.

It's how Newport will look as a Smart City, which will roll out in phases starting this month through next fall and beyond as more access is needed.

The first of 50 nodes, called MyLo, was on display earlier this month at Newport on the Levee. The nearly 10-foot kiosk will be up and running outside the first-floor entrance to the movie theater in two weeks, said Jon Salisbury, chief technology officer and co-founder of Newport-based Nexigen, the creator of the smartLINK network.

Weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, the node or kiosk has two large screens on each side, kind of like a giant iPhone.  Passersby will see silent rotating advertising and likely streaming news or other information across the top.

Newport will be able to broadcast music for a street festival or other events through speakers mounted inside, said Salisbury.

Consumers also will be able to use high-speed USB to charge devices at a MyLo kiosk; it's a bring-your-own-cord for energy access only. Besides Wi-Fi, users can make emergency calls, see a bus schedule or peek at the weather forecast using a smaller screen on the side. Second-generation MyLo kiosks will include some electric car charging stations as well.

It's a coup for Newport: The stations cost $35,000 each, and there's $1 million in development funding behind smarkLINK. Total investment for pieces from fiber cables to hardware and design will be upward of $6 million for all the layers.

The technology won't make the entire city smart, at least not for now. There are obstacles such as competitive interests by other companies that include contracts with customers.

So, how does it work?

To start, more than 50 MyLo (which stands for My Location) nodes will be placed throughout Newport on the Levee and the business district, as well as the high school, library, Newport Pavilion and Newport Shopping Center as the service ramps up. Newport is providing the space and smartLINK will use advertising on the MyLo screens to pay the city and make money. SmartLINK also will keep them working.

Consumers within 300 feet of each MyLo will be able to access the Wi-Fi service and have continuous services as they walk or drive in the MyLo locations.

Thirty smaller access points that will be installed later in the year will give some residential areas free Wi-Fi as well.

It is filtered access, however, meaning users can't access pornography, for example, Salisbury said.

Behind the scenes, Cincinnati Bell and Nexigen partnered to identify businesses interested in subscribing to Cincinnati Bell's fioptics to help finance the fiber coverage needed for Newport to launch its Smart City.

It fit into Cincinnati Bell's goal to build a fiber network across Greater Cincinnati, critical to delivering high-speed internet and Wi-Fi that smartLINK or other companies will continue to need.

Salisbury credits Newport businesses for signing up for service that makes SmartLINK possible.
There's more to the smart city of the future, however, than just Wi-Fi access.

Ingenue, a company out of San Diego, will install 23 data access points across Greater Cincinnati, offering a canopy of data coverage, so to speak. It's data that eventually will connect to sensors on future cars so they can find an open parking space after the car drops a user at the coffee shop.

Brian Johnson, senior business development manager for Ingenue out of Burlington, Ky., said his company's part of the infrastructure for a smart city allows machines to talk to machines.

Salisbury said the smart city plan also will add a transportation phase that cities can use to monitor parking or traffic and give feedback that might allow advertising in parking garage spots that are used the most, for example.

Ingenue access points already have the capability of helping law enforcement by triangulating locations of gun shots as an example, Johnson said.

Ingenue will install 23 shoebox-size access units across Cincinnati that will provide 2,400 square miles of coverage, basically from Williamstown, Ky.,  to Springfield, Ohio.

Texas cities such as Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are already using the devices to help monitor city services, he said.
That canopy will happen in 2017, making it easier for other cities add the layers and become "smart."

Newport's piece, said Salisbury, "is part of a multilayer plan that will change the technology here, and it will also become part of a larger data system that will cover Greater Cincinnati."