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Five ways that NB-IoT is changing the world

Phil Skipper

Phil Skipper

Head of Strategy, Vodafone Business IoT

Digitalisation is driving business change in just about every conceivable sector.

Whether it’s insurers using telematics to assess real-time driving behaviour or farmers monitoring herds of livestock, connected technology is being used in an increasingly diverse range of applications, resulting in new services and revenue streams.

The next wave of growth is likely to be powered by Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a new breed of low-power, wide-area wireless communication, which has the potential to significantly increase the penetration of digitally-connected devices.

NB-IoT provides strong coverage over wide areas, even when devices are underground or deep within buildings. It also offers great power efficiency, so devices can run on batteries for ten years or more without the need for charge.

The technology is built on low-cost communications hardware and its low bandwidth requirements mean that most use cases require just a few bytes of data to be transmitted per device per day.

These performance characteristics means NB-IoT is unlocking a new wave of applications that have not previously benefited from connectivity due to barriers such as power, cost and propagation.

Here are five diverse applications that we are working on which highlight the art of the possible with NB-IoT:

  • Early warnings of seismic shocks: Earthquakes can strike at any time, in just about any part of the world. Increasingly, local authorities in earthquake prone areas and disaster response organisations are looking to technology to provide a means of issuing regional early warning alerts when an earthquake begins to take place. By interconnecting multiple ruggedised seismic sensors to a central server, such a system can alert those living further away from the epicentre that tremors and shocks could be about to take place. NB-IoT is the perfect technology for such warning systems, allowing ‘fit and forget’ sensors to be distributed over wide geographic areas, with low device and infrastructure costs.
  • Water meter readings made simple: Water Utilities around the world are installing smart meters to accurately monitor customers’ usage of water in near real-time. But until now it has been difficult to connect meters that are situated in hard-to-reach locations such as under manhole covers. However, a recent trial by Spanish utilities firm Aguas de Valencia showed that NB-IoT could provide a reliable solution to these historic connectivity problems. The company successfully tested NB-IoT’s ability to provide remote coverage across a wide range of hard-to-reach water meter locations, often underground. The results showed that the technology could cope with any conditions, providing reliable data quality and security. NB-IoT is also being used by utilities to monitor rainwater tanks and pipe flow, as well as to guard against unauthorised entry to sewers.
  • Safer buildings: There are hundreds of millions of smoke and fire alarms fitted in domestic and commercial buildings all over the world. These assets are often highly-distributed, yet dumb, with an inability to interact with building owners or maintenance teams. But what if smoke and fire detections were wirelessly connected? That would enable them to report on their operational status at regular intervals. And what if they were designed to have ultra-low power consumption with a battery standby of more than 10 years? That would dramatically reduce maintenance complexity and cost. These technical characteristics can be offered by NB IoT-enabled detectors, helping to create the smarter and safer buildings of tomorrow.
  • Protecting bees: The global decline in the number of bees and other pollinators is a key indicator of wider concerns over biodiversity. Beekeepers therefore need to be supported in their efforts to nurture and protect these important insects. NB-IoT is playing a valuable role here, making it possible for data collected by smart sensors positioned inside the beehive to be sent to the beekeeper via a smartphone or tablet app. This data includes temperature, air humidity, air pressure, beehive weight (an indication as to how full the honeycombs are) and activity of the bees. It can also provide an alert if the beehive is moved or opened. The technology is being trialled in Greece and will hopefully be adopted in other parts of the world.
  • Farming with foresight: Livestock monitoring systems, using NB-IoT devices installed on the neck of a cow or a sheep, are having a positive impact on farm management strategies. Such systems can be used to provide basic information to the modern livestock industry, including animal positioning and well-being. Food producers, meanwhile, are using tiny, underground soil sensors which monitor and report on ambient conditions such as moisture and salinity. NB-IoT is ideal in such situations, as sensors can operate effectively while buried beneath the surface. Also, farmers need to deploy sensors over wide areas without reliable access to power. NB-IoT delivers great power efficiency, which means batteries can last for the lifetime of the device. This results in lower operational costs, as fewer parts need to be replaced and maintenance checks are eliminated.

It’s clear, then, that NB-IoT has the potential to transform business models across a wide range of industries. Vodafone has successfully deployed the technology in nine countries, including Germany, Spain, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. Vodafone is also running NB-IoT trials in other parts of the world and has established a network of NB-IoT test labs which provide the ideal pre-integration testing environment for application developers and device, module and chip manufacturers. To further simplify and accelerate the deployment of NB-IoT, Vodafone also provide developers with access to NB-IoT development kits.

Vodafone for Business believes that NB-IoT represents the best solution for low-cost, wide-area deployments. And as more organisations join the ecosystem of partners and vendors, it will continue to drive the emergence of exciting use cases across key areas such as buildings, insurance and healthcare.

In short, NB-IoT provides the technology pathway to a low-cost connected future.

Discover how Techem uses Vodafone NB-IoT to track energy consumption reliably and cost-effectively and how Zelenza is using Vodafone NB-IoT to offer added value to multiple industries.

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