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Five ways that NB-IoT is transforming business models

IoT Blog | May, 2018

Stefano Gastaut

Stefano Gastaut

Director, Vodafone Internet of Things (IoT)

Five ways that NB-IoT is transforming business models

What do cars and cattle have in common? The answer is connectivity.

Whether its four wheels or four legs, the latest Internet of Things technology can be used to keep track of a wide range of objects or animals across a host of unusual areas.

The technology in question is Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) – a new breed of low-power, wide-area wireless communication that will underpin industrial-grade Internet of Things deployments.

NB-IoT boasts some very specific characteristics which make it ideal for connecting thousands, or even potentially millions, of devices in the field. It provides strong coverage over large 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 also built on low-cost communications hardware, enabling data collection devices to be manufactured for less than $10. Meanwhile, its low bandwidth requirements mean that most use cases require just a few bytes of data to be transmitted per device per day.

These impressive traits are opening up some interesting use cases. From vehicle tracking through to the monitoring livestock, 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 ways that NB-IoT is delivering real value to businesses:

•Farming with foresight: Smart agriculture depends on regular updates of ambient conditions. Increasingly, food producers are using tiny, underground soil sensors which monitor and report on factors 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.

• Power to the people: Utilities around the world are installing smart meters to monitor customers’ usage of energy or water in near real-time, cutting costs and helping to balance supply and demand. But it can be difficult to connect meters that are deep inside buildings, in basements or 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 meter locations such as meter rooms in basements, meter boxes below ground, and recess niches with metal covers that block the signal. The results showed that the technology could cope with any conditions, providing reliable data quality and security.

• A waste of resources: Many cash-strapped local councils are looking to make savings on rubbish collection, which is an expensive yet necessary service to provide. But what if technology could be used to dramatically improve the efficiency of waste disposal? That’s where smart bin sensors come in. Such technology could provide councils with near real-time information around fill levels, so that bins are only emptied when at full capacity. The sensors could also offer geo-tracking to provide location details and prevent theft. The trouble is, though, that smart rubbish bins often need to be deployed in their tens of thousands. That’s where NB-IoT’s low device and connectivity cost becomes a crucial enabling factor, making intelligent rubbish collection a reality.

• Hassle-free commuting: Anyone who has ever driven in a city knows how difficult it can be to get parked. The hunt for a free slot often involves driving around in circles for long periods, getting frustrated, and contributing to urban emissions levels. Increasingly, though, real-time data-driven parking systems are providing an answer to such problems. These systems comprise deployment of an IoT module that is used to monitor and signalise the state of availability of each parking space. These use cases don’t need to support voice or even duplex data transmission. Such an application is perfect for low bandwidth NB-IoT, which is a natural fit for applications requiring just a few bytes of data to be transmitted per device per day.

• Keeping track of cows: Livestock monitoring systems, using 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. This new level of connectivity is helping farmers to improve farm management efficiency and improve the yield of milk. With technology such as NB-IoT, farmers do not need to deploy and maintain a communication network of their own. Low power consumption enables livestock monitoring devices to work for many years, without the need for battery replacement.

It’s clear, then, that NB-IoT has the potential to transform business models across a wide range of industries. In recent months, Vodafone has been actively deploying the technology across Europe, having launched it in key countries such as Germany, Spain, Ireland, Netherlands and Italy. Vodafone has also 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.

Vodafone firmly believes that NB-IoT represents the future for low-cost, wide-area deployments. And we look forward to seeing a variety of innovative business uses coming to the fore.

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