Internet of Things connectivity has great potential to transform not just business operations but everyday life activities as well.
Certainly, we see connectivity driving the move towards smart cities, but for those who are not following the Internet of Things (IoT) path, the obstacle has been cost. Both the requisite long battery life and installation expenses have been beyond the means of many. But narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) can put the advantages of connected technology within reach in far more places and streamline more daily activities, such as finding a parking spot.
This past summer, Andrew Morawski, head of IoT, Americas, Vodafone, discussed how his company would roll out NB-IoT next year to provide additional scalability for its IoT platform. (See Morawski: Vodafone to Launch NB-IoT Next Year.)
The telecom put its concept to the test on September 19 when engineers from Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. completed what they said was the first over-the-air connection on a live network using standardized NB-IoT in Madrid. The choice of location fit with the "Madrid Tech City" plan that was announced in June by Huawei and Vodafone. (See Vodafone & Huawei Debut Madrid Tech City.)
Vodefone sees a big upside for NB-IoT. Within the announcement about the Madrid trial, Vodafone said "NB-IoT will be supported by over 20 of the world's largest mobile operators, who provide communications to over 2.9 billion customers and geographically serve over 90% of the IoT market."
In this Telco Transformation Q&A, Morawski explained how the proof-of-concept in Madrid demonstrated that NB-IoT really has the ability to bring about a true transformation.
Telco Transformation: Can you discuss what went into realizing the potential of NB-IoT in this test and what the significance is for the future of NB-IoT?
Andrew Morawski: We know manufacturers need to deliver connectivity at a low cost and we believe NB-IoT will play a major role in achieving this. Through the establishment of NB-IoT labs and collaboration with fellow members of the GSM Association (GSMA) NB-IoT forum, we're working to advance the ecosystem for NB-IoT, and help bring NB-IoT solutions to market.
We helped lead the work to clear NB-IoT with a complete set of standards defined by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) back in June. We believe low-cost connectivity will be even easier to achieve if the industry aligns behind this NB-IoT standard. Those standards were an important step toward us completing the world's first standardized trial of NB-IoT on a commercial network.
NB-IoT has the opportunity to connect the devices that, while often hidden from the average person, form the basis of today's new connected infrastructure, and have a profound impact on our lives.
TT: NB-IoT use cases include smart meters, smoke alarms, smart bins. What else would it likely be applied to in commercial use cases?
AM: At Vodafone, our vision is to connect every machine to transform lives and businesses. We have a global network and our Global IoT SIM is designed to connect previously isolated machines or devices to the Internet across multiple different industries. Industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, smart metering, healthcare, and agriculture are prime sectors to benefit greatly from IoT. We expect to see the same from NB-IoT as the technology continues to transform.
You already mentioned smart meters and smart trash bins, but another great example of an everyday item that can be disrupted by NB-IoT is a parking spot. Connected parking solutions are in demand from local authorities worldwide. These solutions reduce congestion and carbon emissions by informing drivers about the location of parking spaces. However, they need a long battery life and low install cost in order to be cost effective for cities. NB-IoT can provide the battery longevity and the connectivity to make these solutions possible.
TT: NB-IoT works to connect objects in difficult to reach locations that have low power requirements and that have been too expensive to connect previously. Can you talk a bit about how it works and examples of locations that would have previously been beyond reach due to cost that you anticipate will be connected with NB-IoT?
AM: NB-IoT, originally called the cellular Internet of Things, is an emerging industry solution designed to enhance the global deployment of low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks. Through licensed operator spectrum, in-band, guard band and standalone deployments, NB-IoT can provide connectivity to devices in hard to reach places without requiring much power to do so -- as you noted.
NB-IoT will be able to deliver tangible benefits to these devices -- for example:
- Extended coverage -- it can reach inaccessible areas increasing coverage by 20% including deep indoors like basements and underground pipes.
- Massive connectivity -- since it requires low power, NB-IoT can connect 200,000 devices using 200KHz of energy, per mobile cell site. It can increase that as well if capacity is needed.
- Low latency -- enables communication between network data packets in under ten seconds, which is fine for devices that can communicate infrequently (such as meters, pipes, trash cans, parking spots, etc.)
- Long battery life -- NB-IoT module batteries last 13.5 years -- and 15 years with optimization, which means less maintenance to replace batteries.
I think NB-IoT will have the greatest impact on those overlooked items in society -- like smart meters, trash cans, lighting and even parking spaces -- since it has the potential to let us connect just about anything.
TT: Vodafone has expressed confidence that this will really take off. What is the basis for this optimism, and how soon do you expect it to be realized?
AM: We are confident in NB-IoT not only because of the potential it has to positively impact society, but also because of the technological advantages that I highlighted earlier. Additionally, a recent report by industry analyst firm Analysys Mason estimated that LPWA connections, using technologies such as NB-IOT, have the potential to reach 3.5 billion globally by 2025.
— Ariella Brown, Technology Writer, Telco Transformation