Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) can be used to deliver a smarter citizen experience
Blog by Debbie Power, Vodafone Ireland’s IoT Country Manager
Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is here and the potential for transformative applications is enormous. That’s according to Vodafone Ireland’s IoT Country Manager, Debbie Power, the person charged with heading up the company’s early adoption of the technology and pushing it forward into 2018 and beyond.
“NB-IoT is a low power, wide area (LPWA) networking technology that is extremely efficient. It allows for extended battery life in connected devices, two-way communications and it operates in the licensed spectrum,” she said.
“It offers ubiquitous wide area connectivity and the result is devices that can last a long time while also accessing strong network coverage even if they’re located underground or deep within buildings.”
Vodafone turned on the first global NB-IoT network in Spain in September 2016, making it possible for internet connectivity to go further and last longer than ever. Today it has networks up and running all around the world – the company was an early adopter of the technology and launched its NB-IoT network in Ireland in 2017.
Already real-world examples are winning fans around the world, from farming to retail and from heavy industry to finance. The market expectation is for this technology to become even more widespread in the coming years.
The latest Commission for Communications Regulation report (Irish Communications Market, Quarterly Key Data Report, Data as of Q1 2018) indicates that there are approximately 880,000 connected devices in Ireland. Taking these figures into account and reviewing analysts’ reports, in conjunction with market growth trends, Power estimates that by 2025, there will be around 2.5 million Internet of Things devices connected by traditional cellular connectivity and an additional six million on LPWA.
These devices won’t transfer video or smartphone traffic across the internet but rather small packets of data allowing remote networks to interface with the real world.
“It’s about moving around high volumes of low size data, filling in the blind spots that stop IT systems knowing what’s happening in the real world. It’s very exciting and some of the applications companies have created are incredible,” explains Power.
Amongst those are Moocall, an Irish agritech company that markets a non-invasive, tail mounted sensor for cattle that accurately predicts when a cow is most likely to give birth by measuring tail movement patterns triggered by labour contractions.
Another example is Health Beacon, an Irish medication adherence technology company that develops smart tools for managing medication. It has a smart ‘sharps’ bin for patients who self-inject medications at home that connects digitally and is programmed with the user’s personal medication schedule.
“We want to see as much experimentation as possible with NB-IoT – the possibilities are endless. We see NB-IoT as an enabler of a whole new ecosystem,” said Power.
Traditionally, internet-connected devices, capable of carrying out the functions of NB-IoT, cost between 40 and 50 dollars each and could not be placed in remote or isolated locations in case they could not receive network coverage. They were also limited by the range of the networks they could connect to.
Today, as the cost of such devices has fallen, and capabilities have increased, devices with similar abilities can be located in more secluded locations, with batteries that last years between charges.
“Devices can connect to the NB-IoT network in much more remote locations, be serviced remotely and best of all, the cost of communicating across this type of technology is extremely low which cements the business case for considering mass deployments of connected assets,” Power explains.
From a public sector point of view, Power is keen to emphasise the massive potential that NB-IoT has in terms of its ability to enrich the lives of citizens living in Irish towns and cities.
“This technology can be used to deliver a smarter citizen experience. We’re talking about smart lighting, smart parking, smart parks, smart spaces – the application of technology to deliver safe and healthy environments, and to make our country a better place to live as time goes on,” she asserts.
“These applications resonate with people – it’s about delivering on the quality of life promise and letting people know that their urban spaces work for them.”
Vodafone’s NB-IoT offering is now a global network rolled out in Spain, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Turkey, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Germany. The next phase of countries actively being worked on for deployment are Britain, Portugal, Greece, New Zealand and Hungary.