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AT&T's smart city vision: More parking, fewer traffic jams

Dealing with traffic is just one of the ways the telecom giant is trying to make cities smarter and safer.

AT&T is making a big investment in smart cities. 

AT&T hopes to get you out of gridlock.

Managing traffic flow, locating open parking spots and seeing whether bridges are structurally sound are some of the potential benefits from AT&T's latest push to power the smart city. On Tuesday, the company showed off a new structure-monitoring program for US railways and roadways.

In addition, the Dallas-based company offered an update on its vision of how the internet of things -- a universe of normal objects like street lights, washing machines and dog collars with an online connection -- intersects with a special network AT&T is building for first responders like police and firefighters.

The update underscores the growing ambition of AT&T, which not only wants to serve you wireless and home internet service, but also connect your city and everything around you. Making things "smart" is a broader trend that has attracted the likes of telecom providers like AT&T and Verizon, as well as device makers like Samsung, Amazon and more, with many sharing the idea that multiple objects talking with one another can benefit your life.


FirstNet is a dedicated network for first responders. 


"In the cities where we've already set up, citizens are already starting to see benefits," Chris Penrose, president of AT&T's internet of things unit, said Friday in an interview.

AT&T said its monitoring service can scan for problems like cracks or tilts, and send alerts when issues arise.

"Safety is a top concern of citizens and cities alike," said Mike Zeto, general manager of AT&T's smart city unit. "This concern extends beyond the realm of crime and natural disasters. It also includes the safety of our infrastructure."

The service comes as the nation grapples with aging infrastructure like bridges. Four out of every 10 bridges in the US is 50 years or older, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives US bridges a C+ rating. Roads scored a D.

AT&T also offered an update on its network for first responders. The company plans to hook up emergency vehicles, drones, body cameras and other tools to the network. Similar to its broader smart city push, the company wants cities to connect their infrastructure to FirstNet to aid in public safety.

For instance, Penrose talked about sensors that can hear gunshots, offering speedier and more effective guidance to police on where to respond. He said Miami is already testing out this feature.

Other smart city tricks include managing the traffic lights to allow fire trucks or ambulances to travel more quickly.

"This has a huge impact on cities," Penrose said. 

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