People are more connected than ever before; most of us carry smart, connected handheld devices all-day, everyday. Increasing numbers of people are adopting wearable products, like wristwatches and trackers. But these new devices don’t just enable us to be more connected to our friends/family through social networking, but allow us to connect to the growing ‘Internet of Things’.
We’re now able to connect to our homes via these IoT devices at anytime, and anywhere we can gain connectivity, but as our connection to our own homes and devices has increased, we’re yet to see any major progress into connecting us to our public services, public transports and towns/cities.
Films, video games and books would have you believe that our future involves us being fully-connected to our cities. For all these depictions, and the public demand for more convenience in our public services, why are we yet to see cities and towns around the world taking on the Internet of Things?
For the Smart City to become reality, engineers need to overcome the seemingly impossible challenge of connecting low-power devices located in hard-to-reach rural areas and in the ‘deep-indoors’ (underground or inside large buildings).
IoT devices are already well established within the home. Power sources are located nearby and connectivity shouldn’t be too far away - either by way of Wi-Fi router or Bluetooth application. However, for the Smart City to work, thousands upon thousands of sensors will require continuous connectivity, no matter their location, weather conditions, environment or power availability - even if they’re not ‘antenna-friendly’.
Narrowband-IoT could make the Smart City a reality. Enabling small packets of data to be exchanged over a long distance and using minimal power: it’s just what is needed to connect thousands of small devices and ultimately create smart cities.
What is Narrowband-IoT?
Narrowband-IoT, or NB-IoT as it is shortened, will become a new Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) network, enabling connectivity to GPS/GNSS, 2G, 3G and 4G through existing mobile network infrastructure. It promises to connect devices in rural areas and even the ‘deep indoors’.
LPWA connections allow small packets of data (10s of kbps, realistically) can be transmitted and received incredibly efficiently. This efficiency advantage has been proven to provide 10-year battery lives in some use cases, a necessary requirement where thousands of sensors, detectors, gauges and other devices will be needed to create a truly connected urban environment.
What are the applications of Narrowband-IoT?
The new band will enable devices of multiple purposes and applications to become smart, no matter where they are required.
This means we’re likely to see Narrowband-IoT enabled devices in:
Public services - waste collection, street lighting, sewage networks
Public transport - bus stops, train stations, in-road sensors
Environmental monitoring - air pollution monitors, noise pollution monitors
Health and safety - smoke detectors, smart alarms
Utilities - electricity meters, case meters
Commerce - connected shopping experiences
NB-IoT is set to grow public sector IoT adoption, now that Smart Cities promising more efficient public services, cost savings and better public satisfaction. This has been proven in the UK, with the Government offering £40m in prize money for towns and cities with proposals for Internet of Things projects. Initiatives such as Manchester’s ‘talkative’ bus stops have already been awarded cash prizes.
European markets, particularly for environmentally-friendly initiatives, are looking to connect their cities. Amsterdam have proposed smart streetlights to measure air quality and turn-on based on nearby pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic.
Narrowband-IoT could connect these two example projects more efficiently, but also can connect a variety of other devices too. Hidden devices, such as sewage monitors or weather sensors, can now achieve efficient wireless performance without the need for constant battling between power consumption and inefficiency.
How far away are SMART cities?
In 2015, narrowband-IoT was successfully trialled in a number of environments. Earlier this year (March), 3GPP decided upon a set of standards for the new band, including the decision to base it upon existing LTE infrastructure, and the planning for future narrowband applications for more data-intensive devices. Commercial launch of narrowband-IoT is planned for early 2017, and we’ve already seen a lot of interest in the early applications.
We’ve already seen the public sector, network carriers, organisations and device manufacturers gaze with keen eyes at the potential for Narrowband-IoT. Applications for parking sensors have already been demoed and exhibited at shows across the globe.
It’s really no surprise that there is such excitement about the possibilities NB-IoT brings. Plenty of engineers are backing the possibilities of the narrowband, so we’re sure it will only be a matter of time before we are connected to our cities and towns.
The Narrowband Future
Scalability was one of the main goals of the Narrowband project, eventually it could encompass 10s of kbps (available in Narrowband-IoT) to potentially gigabit-class Narrowband-LTE applications. This could enable connectivity in devices of all kinds and cater for various data requirements.
As home automation grows in popularity, and projects to create smart-city initiatives become closer to reality, it’s a real possibility that our lives could become automated and made more convenient - however, this is reliant on the delivered wireless performance of connected products.
Specifications, promises and potential is at the core of the NB-IoT conversation, but it is important that it actually delivers. Needless to say, the promise of low-power, wide area coverage with incredible efficiency is reliant on correctly integrated antenna, particularly when smart devices are shrinking in size. We’re eagerly waiting to see how it stacks up.