Holly Hartell, Arlington County Assistant CIO for Strategic Services, emphasizes the capabilities of the county’s broadband network.

Apr 17 2023

Street Smarts: In Arlington County, Va., Fiber Framework Creates Opportunities

The county’s tech investments are supporting residents and businesses, including Amazon’s HQ2.

Below Virginia’s Arlington County, an extensive fiber network initially built to link its facilities and school buildings with high-speed broadband connectivity is enabling design plans in the county’s National Landing district.

Encompassing three neighborhoods, the district is the future site of several prominent properties, including Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, a computer science and engineering-focused learning and research center, and Amazon’s much-publicized HQ2 second headquarters.

In 2021, the Arlington County Board approved a proposal for developer JBG SMITH — which owns 6.8 million square feet of office space, more than 4,000 multifamily housing units and 6.5 million square feet of additional density in National Landing — to lease conduit access and some of the county’s dark fiber.

The company is also serving as developer, property manager and retail leasing agent for the 2.1 million-square-foot Metropolitan Park complex, the first phase of Amazon’s East Coast expansion, which is slated for completion this summer.

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Combined with other digital infrastructure elements JBG SMITH intends to provide, such as edge data centers and Federal Communications Commission-licensed private Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum access, the developer views the district as a place for companies to potentially deploy next-gen technology like augmented and virtual reality, says Vardahn Chaudhry, JBG SMITH vice president of investments for digital infrastructure.

“What’s unique in National Landing is the converged nature of our digital infrastructure assets, as opposed to taking a piecemeal approach to fiber, data centers or wireless technologies,” Chaudhry says. “We think of the edge data centers as the new last mile of telecom and cloud networks. The first is being built on a roughly 7,500-square-foot footprint in an existing office building. Despite their size, the edge data centers will provide a diversity of compute capabilities, including those required for low-latency applications.”

Holly Hartell
The initiative helps those who didn't have access to broadband at home.”

Holly Hartell Assistant CIO for Strategic Initiatives, Arlington County Department of Technology Services

Broadband Capabilities Will Help Expand Access

JBG SMITH’s National Landing plans include supporting access to private and public 5G connectivity. AT&T, for instance, will use the developer’s digital infrastructure components to deploy its dual millimeter wave and sub-6-gigahertz 5G network, which the telecommunications provider notes in a press release will help make the district “the United States’ first 5G smart city at scale.”

Currently, Arlington County residents can log on to broadband Wi-Fi at more than two dozen places; Aruba routers were added to buildings and other structures during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Holly Hartell, assistant CIO for strategic initiatives in the Arlington County Department of Technology Services.

“There are 28 locations in the county that have outdoor Wi-Fi: 15 parks, three fire stations, eight libraries and several other county buildings,” Hartell says. “The initiative helps those who didn’t have access to broadband at home.”

Several additional new tech elements recently have come to Arlington County, which ranked No. 1 in the 2022 Digital Counties Survey by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties for its tech-forward approach.

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Robust Connectivity Enhances Traffic Operations

County departments use analog and high-definition Axis internet protocol-based cameras and others that provide closed-circuit intersection coverage to monitor the need for street maintenance. The cameras can detect and distinguish between cars, bikes and other vehicles to help facilitate real-time adaptive signal optimization.

Mounted on traffic signal poles, the cameras connect to a Layer 3 switch in each signal cabinet, which are directly linked to the county’s fiber for camera and signal timing data transmission, according to the county’s Department of Environmental Services (DES).

“We’ve invested heavily in the communications infrastructure for our signals,” says Arlington County Traffic Engineering Manager Joshua Nicholas. “We have fiber to each signal, and we’re using that to bring a lot of the detection and high-resolution controller data back to the Traffic Management Center.”

The system also offers a key sustainability benefit, says Mike Moon, COO for DES.

“It helps move traffic more efficiently and reduce delays, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles in the community,” Moon says. “That’s something else that’s been attractive: We have to account for a lot of pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, micro mobility devices and transit buses, so it’s very important that our traffic signals operate efficiently.”


The square footage of new commercial space slated for National Landing by 2033

Source: nationallanding.org, “National Landing Bid Releases Study, New Data Defining The Region As One Of The Nation’s Leading Innovation Districts,” April 11, 2022

County Seeks to Mount Network Nodes on Streetlights

Arlington County also has embellished some of its streetlights, an infrastructure element that can be a hot commodity in smart technology implementations, according to David Ihrie, CTO and vice president of strategic initiatives at the nonprofit Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation, which promotes technology-centric economic development in the commonwealth.

“It turns out one of the more valuable pieces of real estate, particularly in more densely populated areas like Arlington, are poles that can support sensors,” Ihrie says. “There’s been a challenge in a number of the more urbanized areas around Virginia, because most of the poles are not owned by the local communities; often they’re owned by the electric utility or others, and typically, the people who own the poles have been reluctant to put a bunch of additional stuff on them.”

Arlington County operates roughly 40 percent of its approximately 18,000 streetlights; utilities provider Dominion Energy manages the remainder. The county began transitioning some of its radio frequency mesh networking-based lights to dimmable versions with cellular node connectivity in 2018.

“We can run dimming programs to bring the lights down in different areas,” Nicholas says. “That gives us some flexibility with the customer expectations on lighting levels and energy. Especially at this time of year, where you’ve got up to 12 hours of dark for your streetlights to be functioning, that’s a lot of kilowatt hours we’re saving when you dim them down to 25 percent.”

DIVE DEEPER: What are DMZ networks, and how do they help state and local governments?

Prospective Tech Applications Could Augment Mobility

In winter, the county is able to provide snow removal updates with just a 15-minute processing time, thanks to a system implemented roughly four years ago that tracks its 45 internal snowplows and its externally contracted snow trucks, which can total a dozen or more, depending on storm size.

During a 28-inch snowfall in 2016, for instance, the county scaled up to use more than 200 contracted snow removal components, Moon says.

“Our plows are equipped with GPS tracking equipment,” he says. “Some are plugged into what we call the brain of the truck itself, by just the port underneath the dash. Others are plugged into cigarette lighters. Software integrates it into our GIS system; that’s then published on public-facing maps. A citizen can see what streets have been plowed in the vicinity to gauge how close they are getting done.”

Currently, county officials are considering a number of additional tech implementations that, like its snowplow technology, could augment mobility and other elements. These include a new parking-related pilot the county recently began that involves deploying pavement-level sensors in commercial corridors, Moon says.

The sensors will use radio frequency-based communication functionality to convey space occupancy information, which may eventually be used to alter pricing based on day, location or other factors.

IT Investments May Benefit Utilities and Public Safety

Advanced water meter infrastructure technology is also being tested, says Moon. He notes that while systems such as Dominion’s electricity meters operate on Wi-Fi, Arlington County is leaning toward using less expensive cellular connectivity.

“Right now, we’re just in the pilot stage with 300 meters,” he says. “We’re trying to assess the technology. The commercial space is where we really want to do it first, because those are our larger users. We can use some of that information to help interrogate larger leaks or meters that are not functioning.”

In the future, Arlington County first responders also might be directed to specific coordinates within structures during emergency situations, a GPS-based effort that David Herlihy, Arlington County director of digital innovation and cloud, says is being considered for National Landing.

“Being able to have this situational awareness to see and locate that person within the building is a very important thing for firefighters and police,” he says. “We’re working with our partners in public safety to bring that technology into Arlington. We’ve discovered there’s a lot of equipment on our police and fire folks with a lot of signals coming off it. We’re trying to see what piece we can use for a Z coordinate and localize off that.”

Photography by Ryan Donnell

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