Customers want a horizontal network platform for multiple use cases instead of dedicated connectivity for vertical silos
Matt Bacon is marketing and communications director at Actility. Here he discusses with Rickard Andersson, an analyst at research firm, Berg Insight, which industries are set to be transformed by the industrial IoT (IIoT) and the mainstream arrival of low power wireless network technologies.
Rickard Andersson: What have you learned about successfully deploying IoT solutions as a leading, largescale network platform provider?
Matt Bacon: With our ThingPark offering powering almost half of all national or large-scale LoRaWAN networks being rolled out worldwide, in markets as different as Dubai and Finland or Taiwan and South Africa, Actility has had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the opportunities and challenges of IoT networks. Our initial customer base was made up of mobile operators looking to quickly and easily deploy a LoRaWAN IoT network as an extension of their existing cellular M2M services. But we quickly learned that LoRaWAN, thanks to its use of unlicensed spectrum, also enables new entrants into the IoT service provider space, such as Digita, a Finnish TV broadcaster, or Comsol, a South African broadband operator.
Australia’s NNNCo is the first of a new breed of insurgents, created specifically to offer LPWA IoT networks. We have also discovered that access to a global supplier ecosystem for network components and devices is a key success factor, as is growing the local developer ecosystem which will create applications and services.
One of the transitions we have seen in industrial IoT, which has been enabled by open network standards like LoRaWAN, is that customers are beginning to appreciate that it is much better to create a horizontal network platform enabling multiple use cases, than to rely on dedicated connectivity for vertical silos, for example in smart street lighting. We have learned that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to networks: customers will be looking for all scales of network, from national deployments to small-scale enterprise solutions. The common factor is that whatever the scale, there is an expectation of carrier-grade quality and resilience.
In spite of many deployments beginning with a single, wellunderstood use case with an equally well-defined business case, we have noticed that LPWA networks very quickly will create new solutions and new businesses that no one imagined before the network capacity was in place – the connected mousetrap, for example, or tracking endangered wildlife.
From a more technical perspective, we have discovered that LPWAN solutions can win new business even when low power is not a key factor – for example in smart street lights – thanks to the low cost and ease of deploying a network, and the value that network offers to other applications. And as we are demonstrating with the extension of our ThingPark solution to support 3GPP technology, it is clear to us that narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LoRaWAN are complementary in the market, and will continue to be used alongside each other in networks, and sometimes even in specific solutions.
RA: How is the market for industrial IoT solutions developing now that networks are more widely deployed?
MB: We have seen a significant shift in the last twelve months: our conversations with customers are no longer only about deploying IoT networks, but more and more on how they can build solutions that make business sense. With national networks rolling out in many countries, and the emergence of a rich device and sensor partner ecosystem, industrial IoT is ready to deliver.
Today, there are ready-to-deploy sensors for a huge range of use cases, from reading utility meters to pollutant detection, from soil moisture monitoring to smart parking, and from tracking cows to remotely controlling energy consumption by domestic water heaters and air conditioning. The industry is no longer thinking about the IoT as a future potentially disruptive technology, but as something that can be concretely deployed, with a business case that can be accurately evaluated.
For example, we are working today with RS Components, the electronic and industrial component distributor, to deploy a complete solution to increase efficiency and cut costs in its 70,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Nuneaton, UK, which processes 44,000 parcels per day. A campuswide LPWA network will connect hundreds of sensors and pass the data to IBM’s Maximo Asset Management and BlueMix cloud intelligence platforms. The network enables multiple applications in preventative maintenance, energy management and ultimately tracking. With 7km of conveyor belts which can drift out of true very slowly, early detection of misalignment before it causes a failure and several hours of downtime can improve productivity and save significant cost.
Equally, in a high-ceilinged warehouse, hot air rises towards the roof leaving employees at ground level chilled and uncomfortable. Installing a vertical grid of simple temperature sensors which trigger fans to overcome this thermal stratification when needed can dramatically reduce heating costs while at the same time providing a better working environment for the staff. 2017 seems to be the year in which industrial IoT (IIoT) and LPWAN are coming of age as mainstream solutions to real enterprise needs.
RA: Which industries are the most liable to disruption by the IoT, and what capabilities will drive this disruption?
MB: LPWA networks allow us to connect devices which can stay in the field for up to ten years without maintenance, over a range of up to 15km and with good indoor coverage. They’re also a cost-effective and quick-to-deploy network solution. LPWAN for industrial IoT is well-suited to smart agriculture – monitoring conditions across large areas of terrain, a plantation or cattle station, for example. Smart cities also benefit from the speed and ease of deployment and multi-use-case support, for smart parking, pollution and traffic management, and intelligent street lighting, for example. But we believe that the biggest disruption over the next couple of years will come in global logistics and supply chain management.
There are already GPS-based trackers which use LPWA networks to communicate their position, eliminating the need for a cellular subscription and increasing battery life. This year, though, we are launching a service based on network location, which can triangulate the position of any connected device without GPS. This capability also enables a sophisticated assisted GPS technique, which offers the sub-10m accuracy of GPS with energy use only 10% greater than network-based location alone – safeguarding the lengthy battery life of LPWAN devices.
These tracking capabilities, especially when combined in devices which can also connect with Bluetooth beacons and sniff Wi-Fi networks, offer enterprises the ability to precisely locate products, parts, plant and machinery, vehicles, tools and others – the list is endless. Objects can be tracked from warehouse, through assembly, to distribution and along the supply chain to the retailer, indoors and out, and soon from one country to the far side of the world. The latter is possible thanks to the LoRa Alliance’s recentlyreleased roaming standard, which enables a single LPWA device or sensor to connect to different operator networks – even those in regions using slightly different radio frequencies (like the US and APAC) – and continue to return its data to the controlling application.
This summer will see the launch of ThingPark Location, a single application programme interface (API) giving access to all these location, tracking and geofencing capabilities across multiple networks, opening the way for global connected logistics solutions giving unprecedented visibility and control of the entire supply chain.