From parking to farming, applications for NB-IoT are heading out into the real world

Showing off a couple of practical uses for its new narrowband Internet of Things service, Norwegian mobile operator Telia reckons the tech will open up many original applications.
Written by Stig Øyvann, Contributor

Telia and 7Sense are offering what they call the world's first smart irrigation system based on NB-IoT.

Image: Telia

In what it describes as a first for the Nordics region, Norwegian firm Telia has launched a commercial narrowband Internet of Things service, allowing operators to offer communication to and from connected devices over their existing 4G/LTE mobile networks.

Using narrowband for IoT, or NB-IoT, allows for more devices to be connected to mobile networks at a lower cost, ultimately enabling telcos to turn IoT into a basic service.

NB-IoT is one of several competing technologies that are generally termed low-power wide-area networking, or LPWAN. Chinese telecom vendor Huawei is one of the most noteworthy NB-IoT proponents, and Telia's service is based on its products.

This communication tech is characterized by very good coverage indoors, outdoors and underground. It is well suited to devices that are battery-powered and transmit data only occasionally. These infrequent transmissions result in a very long battery life in the sensors, typically more than 10 years, according to Telia.

To illustrate the potential of its NB-IoT launch, Telia has unveiled two applications that make use of the new technology.

In the first, Telia and APX Systems have developed a pilot system for smart parking management, which is being tested on spaces reserved for disabled parking near a shopping mall in Oslo.

By using sensors drilled into the asphalt of the parking slots, the system can detect whether or not the parking space is vacant. This status information can be accessed through a companion app, so users can see if there are vacant spaces.

In the longer term, APX plans to implement a reservation scheme, so the users will see the open but reserved parking as yellow-coded on their maps.

The second application for the technology is what Telia and Norwegian company 7Sense describe as the world's first smart irrigation system based on NB-IoT. The system is designed to monitor and manage agricultural irrigation more precisely.

Each irrigation sprinkler is equipped with a sensor that registers its GPS position, sends alerts, and reports on issues such as falling water pressure. The sensor package is connected to the mobile network with an NB-IoT module, and transmits data regularly.

"NB-IoT opens up many new applications, and by employing this technology combined with our proprietary platform, we can now connect more devices to the Internet of Things, and develop exciting new commercial solutions together with our partners," Telia Norway CTO Jon Christian said in a statement.

"We are the first operator in the Nordics that brings NB-IoT into the real world with concrete solutions that solves real world problems."

Telia Norway CEO said NB-IoT represents a huge opportunity for many businesses.

"We were first with 4G, 4G+ and 4.5G, and are now first in the Nordics with NB-IoT. Mobile technology can achieve amazing things, and with just small adaptations to our prize-winning 4G network, we'll continue to roll out more NB-IoT in 2017," he said.

To run the new service, the only thing its networks needed has been a circuit board upgrade in the base stations, while the radio system itself has required no changes to activate the relatively new NB-IoT communications standard, released last summer by international telecom standards body 3GPP.

As it name suggests, NB-IoT employs a very narrow frequency band. Typical applications use only 200kHz bandwidth, which gives bit rates of a few tens up to a couple of hundreds of kilobits per second.

The standard uses licensed frequency bands to communicate. It can be implemented in dedicated frequency bands, in the guard band next to existing 4G/LTE bands, or in a band in a 4G/LTE frequency block. 3GPP recommends building NB-IoT in the 700MHz or 800MHz bands, in conjunction to existing 4G/LTE implementations.

Each 4G/LTE base station can support more than 100,000 connected things.

Read more about narrowband IoT

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