IoT Time: M2M/Internet of Things weekly digest

18 Oct 2018

Vodafone Germany has announced reaching NB-IoT coverage of 90% of its national LTE network. In March it began expanding the NB-IoT footprint from Dusseldorf and Berlin, and has now activated the technology in several thousand cities and municipalities. The network can theoretically connect up to four billion devices simultaneously, with a single mobile radio cell able to connect 50,000 objects in parallel, a press release stated. Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter said: ‘The machine network is a central pillar of the digital revolution and an important step to 5G. The rapid expansion throughout Germany opens up new digital opportunities for our industry and our cities.’ Also this week, Vodafone Germany made its ‘IoT Tracker’ service available to all SMEs, enabling tracking of vehicles, goods, equipment etc. on a simple tariff from EUR3.95 (USD4.57) per month.

Sister company Vodafone Spain revealed that its NB-IoT network now covers all Spanish towns/municipalities with 25,000-plus inhabitants, whilst it is also expanding coverage in rural areas. In the last year, Vodafone has carried out NB-IoT pilots for solutions in water management, waste management, retail, agriculture, electricity, Smart City and public administration segments. This week Vodafone also announced the launch of an NB-IoT smart lock system for the Spanish market in partnership with Huawei and Top Digital, aimed largely at hotel chains and property managers.

Another sibling in the UK-backed group, Vodafone Malta has announced it is launching NB-IoT network services in collaboration with Nokia and Affirmed, the Malta Independent reported. Vodafone Malta’s Director of Enterprise and Business Development, Kenneth Spiteri, said: ‘The evolution of IoT means that there is an urgent need for a low-power way to connect thousands of devices. NB-IoT fits the bill perfectly. We are therefore delighted to be the first local operator to provide a NB-IoT network to our customers. Our latest innovation will provide a head start to Maltese businesses and consumers in their race to become truly smart and efficient, radically saving time and money.’

Russian cellular heavyweight MegaFon has claimed the country’s first launch of commercial tariffs specifically for NB-IoT device management alongside 2G, 3G and 4G M2M/IoT connectivity; the MegaFon Internet of Things packages include data from 15MB to 300MB costing RUB20 to RUB120 (USD0.31-USD1.83), plus CSD transmission to support voice communication channels, a dedicated APN network to guarantee security of information transmission, and an M2M management platform.

Russian rival MTS, meanwhile, is testing NB-IoT in St Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad region, with plans to commercially launch the technology there by end-2018, as part of a wider programme under which MTS aims to offer ‘complete’ NB-IoT network coverage in all Russian million-plus population cities and several other large cities by the end of the year in partnership with Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, Samsung and Cisco. MTS says that solutions based on NB-IoT are in demand in such areas as transport and logistics, energy, housing and public utilities, retail, medicine, monitoring systems, infrastructure management/smart cities, and facilities security.

Not to be outdone, Beeline Russia has launched NB-IoT in test mode in Novosibirsk based on Ericsson equipment, initially using two LTE-1800 base stations, each capable of connecting several thousand devices in a 1km radius, whilst also testing a ‘universal’ NB-IoT modem manufactured by Vega-Absolute designed to collect data from various devices simultaneously and transmit the data to the network on a specified schedule. Beeline previously launched an NB-IoT open test zone in Moscow’s Marino district, and this week it reported successful pilots of 800MHz NB-IoT smart electricity metering in Marino in partnership with Elster Metronika.

Yet more NB-IoT developments, as Elisa Estonia has opened up access to its NB-IoT network to corporate customers. Head of the Elisa Technology Unit, Toomas Polli, noted that over the past year, manufacturers have begun developing a large number of NB-IoT modules, and highlighted NB-IoT’s capabilities for efficient data transmission and coverage penetration in e.g. underground cellars or sewage pipes which 3G/4G coverage does not reach; one Elisa pilot this year with FlyDog Solutions enabled NB-IoT devices to transmit real-time water level data at a depth of 1.5m underground.

Orange Business Services has launched ‘IoT Connect Anywhere’ enterprise services based on LoRa connectivity and Orange’s Datavenue IoT/analytics platform, promising secure data transmission and aimed at a range of applications including energy management, waste control and environmental metering. The system is already being used by a US multinational oil/gas group for asset management.

Zain Kuwait has launched ‘Drone-as-a-Service’, offering a wide range of drones and applications for gathering precision data, incorporating AI-enabled autonomous systems for a multitude of use cases, the operator announced in a press release, adding that Zain Group intends to expand the services across other markets in its Middle East and Africa footprint. Zain says it is positioning itself ‘to become the leading strategic partner in the fast-developing markets for unmanned data acquisition’ where ‘the disruptive power of drone solutions will bolster efficiency for many businesses and government entities’, citing target sectors including oil/gas (flare inspections), utilities (power line inspections), construction, infrastructure (e.g. asset inspections), security, real estate, telecoms, agriculture and others. Zain disclosed that its new range also includes ‘Anti-Drone’ services.

Finally, keep your sensors peeled as KPN and ZTE prove they are no small potatoes in the 5G/IoT field with their latest technology mash-up by ploughing ahead with the first 5G-rooted Precision Agriculture application in the Netherlands. Tests employed a camera drone to make ‘very accurate’ images of a potato cultivation field, which are transmitted in real-time via high bandwidth mobile connections and processed before the resultant data is relayed to an agricultural machine. In a crisp press release, KPN CTO Tom Poelhekken chipped in to explain why the project was not half-baked: ‘Not only will this save the costs of the farmers on their crop protection, which also benefits the environment, but it is to be expected that this will also increase the profits on their land because they will have more real-time direct control over their crops.’

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