Vodafone has beaten rivals Telstra and Optus to launch the first Narrowband-Internet of Things(NB-IoT) network in Australia. This network is now live in North Sydney, Port Melbourne, and Frankston, and will reach other areas of Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra by the end of this year. Enabling devices to connect to the Internet on a large scale, without human intervention, this network has been attracting the interest of councils around Australia. While local governments see this as an innovative solution to improve the lives of citizens, businesses are adopting this for operational efficiency. Why is NB-IoT creating such a buzz in the technical sector? Let’s understand.
What is Vodafone’s NB-IoT?
6.5 billion devices are connected to the Internet today. Unbelievably, this is only 1% of what could potentially be interconnected to create smart networks of the future. As communication shifts from humans and machines to just between machines, more devices need the Internet to function to their full potential. Devices like smart meters and smart sensors need the Internet to transmit the data they collect to their “mother” computers. However, most of these items are either too remote, too inaccessible, or simply too many to make it economically viable to do so.
Vodafone’s NB-IoT is here to remove the machine-to-machine communication barrier. It uses Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) Technology to enable efficient communication and long battery life for mass distributed devices across wide geographical footprints and deep within the urban infrastructure. The key features of this network are:
- Strong coverage:
Compared to 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, the NB-IoT network can penetrate through three double brick walls in depth, and up to 30 km in distance. This allows devices that are deep underground or deep within buildings to still connect to the Internet.
- Power efficiency:
Unlike cellular networks that drain your phone battery within hours, NB-IoT requires negligible power. Devices can stay connected for ten years or longer, without needing a battery recharge!
- Massive scale:
Millions of devices can be connected at once through a single deployment. Launching smart networks can now be done at a touch of a button, without manually setting each ‘thing’ on the network.
As you can imagine, the potential of NB-IoT is immense, and it can be used to drive new data streams, reduce operational costs and create new business models.
What can NB-IoT be used for?
Australian businesses can use NB-IoT for:
- Smart Grid solutions :
A Smart Grid gives utilities capabilities like remote data management and monitoring, automation and control, and the systems for the effective utilisation and safe management of transmission and distribution. The Smart Grid not only enables utilities to deliver in a sustainable, economic, efficient and secure way, but it also opens up opportunities for the development of other new low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles and the smart home.
- Smart metering solutions:
A Smart meter facilitates in remote meter reading, customer relationship management, demand-side management and value-added services for any application. NB-IoT enables two-way communication between the meter and the central system, making it possible to engage with consumers in new and innovative ways for delivering maximum customer service. For example, providing energy bills based on actual, rather than estimated, consumption, reducing inquiries over billing and payments, and enabling new pre-paid energy services that can be offered to customers who lack the funds for an up-front deposit.
- Smart home solutions
NB-IoT technology can be used to connect devices within a smart home. For example, a smart chip within a fridge-freezer or air conditioning unit that can power down the appliance when it is at the optimum temperature and power on again when required. Smoke alarms that can turn on sprinklers automatically or security cameras that can upload video feed and analyse images to differentiate between an animal and a human intruder are all possible.
- eMobility solutions:
NB-IoT can provide the reliable communication services needed for eMobility (electric vehicle charging and monitoring), one of the rapidly emerging smart technology services in Australia. Scalable network infrastructure is a critical success factor in providing clean, sustainable transportation on a national and even global basis. NB-IoT can enable efficient electric vehicle charging across Australia, ensuring that regional utilities support vehicle charging while maintaining balance in local energy grids.
How was NB-IoT launched?
Vodafone trialled NB-IoT in different markets through NB-IoT labs created in partnership with Huawei. The network has already had significant success in Europe.
- Spain – Spanish water utility Aguas de Valencia is trialling NB-IoT to read its water meters across the country. Vodafone is currently in talks with 15 other companies who are keen on this network for utility and other services.
- Turkey – Pre-standard NB-IoT is being used to connect sensors in a car park that tells drivers using a smartphone application exactly where to find a parking space.
- United Kingdom – British Gas is using NB-IoT to connect smart meters across the United Kingdom. The new meters will facilitate the connection of all types of home renewable and microgeneration technology onto the grid.
Encouraged by these early successes, Vodafone is all set to roll out this new network across Germany and New Zealand by the end of this year. Within Australia the roll out will be state-by-state, beginning with Victoria and gradually moving to New South Wales and then others by end of next year. The NB-IoT labs are driving growth as they allow companies to experience hands-on time with prototype devices.
Who is using NB-IoT in Australia?
Vodafone and Huawei partnered with Victorian water utility, South East Water (SEW) to begin Australian field trials this July. SEW wanted to utilise NB-IoT as a basic service to enable digitisation across the company. The pilot trial saw the connection of 10,000 devices, with the goal being to eventually connect 1 million devices including 800,000 meters and 200,000 detectors in endpoints like sewers, potholes and fire hydrants.
The SEW project is interesting because it goes beyond smart metres to utilise IoT for predicting and proactively taking action. For example, preventing pipe blockages before they occur, using weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology and electricity data to control pricing, providing personalised information about leaks, blockages etc. that directly affect customers and by providing access to exception-based data across smartphones.
Apart from SEW, Vodafone is also working closely with Metasphere, a firm that offers telemetry and control solutions to businesses. NB-IoT will provide the reliability and scalability Metasphere needs to monitor and manage remote assets on their client networks.
Vodafone has also partnered with CCP Technologies; an ASX listed public company providing a critical control point management system with a focus on the food industry. CCP’s smart IoT sensors capture temperature and other data in controlled refrigeration environment as a foundation for delivering sophisticated business intelligence, alert notifications, compliance verification and reports. CCP hopes to use NB-IoT to accelerate its innovation pathway and provide more efficient temperature management services to the food industry
Are there other similar technologies in Australia?
While Vodafone is the first, it is definitely not the only implementor of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology to Australia. Optus and Telstra have also been trialling their LPWA networks in different parts of the country and are very close to release. Telstra has partnered with Joondalup council in Perth to trial Western Australia’s first smart city. The solutions will include environmental sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, pollution, light, and noise levels in real time; 32 smart bins fitted with sensors to notify the local council of when they need to be emptied; and a smart car park connected to Telstra’s mobile network, allowing the council to see how many parking spaces are remaining and redirect traffic accordingly. The council is planning to use these three solutions, alongside a dashboard providing real-time analytics, to improve local governance efficiency, obtain information on which areas of the park are being used the most, and reduce traffic.
Earlier this year, rival telco Optus, too, completed LPWA trials with Cisco, announcing that it integrated Cisco’s Jasper, a cloud-based IoT platform, to support NB-IoT technology on Optus’ 4G network.
Both telcos are fairly close to launching their own NB-IoT networks, with Telstra being potentially weeks away from a release. The Vodafone announcement would definitely spur things, providing more options to businesses in Australia?
Why should businesses choose Vodafone’s NB-IoT?
Since other networks are yet to be launched, the features they provide and how competitive the pricing will be remains to be seen. However, Vodafone’s offering does have some excellent features for companies itching to try out this new technology.
- Tried and tested solution – Vodafone’s success with businesses and utilities around the globe can give businesses the confidence needed to invest in cutting-edge technology.
- Reduced installation time – Vodafone provides an in-house Managed IoT Connectivity Platform designed to take away the complexities and cost of deployment by automating provisioning, billing and other logistics processes. Considering that 30% of the cost of implementing smart metering can be related to the installation, this can mean significant savings.
- No interference in network services – Vodafone operates NB-IoT in licensed spectrum, which means that quality of service can be assured and the risk of disruption to the signal from others using the same frequencies is non-existent.
- Reliable two-way communication – Vodafone provides sufficient bandwidth to enable both data collection and remote management and monitoring of battery life. This bandwidth is both secure and managed, increasing the reliability of the underlying connection.
- Quick and efficient upgrades – Vodafone uses existing networks infrastructure, which means that current systems can be upgraded extremely quickly, largely through software upgrades without the need to deploy additional physical infrastructure. Furthermore, industries deploying technology based on NB-IoT can rely on service providers to provision their services rather than having to manage it themselves
- Ability to change technologies – Vodafone’s NB-IoT is based on open standards, which minimises the risk of technology becoming redundant in the future and helps to ensure that those using the technology are not “locked-in” to a specific vendor or operator.
- Industry-wide support – Vodafone’s NB-IoT is supported from a wide range of service providers, equipment providers, chipset and module makers, who are investing in this technology for the long-term.
- Commercialisation support – Vodafone will also provide clients with the support needed to bring their products to market.
- Innovation support – Vodafone’s NB-IoT labs give clients the necessary access and infrastructure for test-driving new ideas or experimenting with existing ones and developing prototypes of future products.