Australia's National Narrowband Network (NNN) Company has announced that it is delivering a long-range, wide-area (LoRaWAN) narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network for Ergon Energy in partnership with IoT service platform provider Actility.
The solution for the energy utility, which spans 1.7 million square kilometres across Townsville in Queensland, was announced at the LoRa Alliance All Members' Meeting in Seoul on Thursday.
In what NNN Co called the "world's first group multicast LoRaWAN deployment", the network will be trialled for six months beginning in October, with sensors being installed on the hot water circuits of several houses in Townsville.
The companies are trialling a scalable solution for controlling hot water usage at the street, neighbourhood, and district levels using the flip of a switch to respond to peak demand.
"The successful implementation of end-to-end multicast functionality results in a truly cost-effective, robust, and scalable two-way network service that can support remote over-the-air configuration and software upgrades in addition to group control of endpoint devices." NNN co-founder and CEO Rob Zagarella said.
"This opens up additional use cases that require non real-time monitoring and control capability such as public lighting, agricultural irrigation, water, infrastructure, and building automation. Demonstrating this capability in one of the most challenging environments puts us in pole position for growth across these segments both in Australia and globally via partnerships with the other LoRa Alliance member operators around the world."
The network will be operating on the industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) 920-928MHz spectrum band, Zagarella told ZDNet, with configurable devices that would be able to work on ISM band extensions if more spectrum becomes available for IoT in future.
According to Ergon Energy, utilities have historically had to upgrade their infrastructure when met with limited network capacity, which imposes a high cost on the provider that is then passed onto consumers. Instead, a LoRaWAN solution would allow the company to monitor and manage loads at a more "granular level".
"For example, it may change the time that a household's hot water is heated up so that it occurs when network load is low," Ergon Energy telecommunications architect Sanjeewa Athuraliya explained.
"This could allow Ergon Energy to run its network more effectively, increase the longevity of the network, and save customers money over the long term."
NNN Co is leveraging Actility's IoT platform and network server in combination with its own implementation of end-to-end multicast technology for Ergon's tailored solution.
Last November, Zagarella argued that instead of cellular networks, LoRaWAN networks should form the backbone of IoT in order to bring down the inherent expense in connecting so many "things".
Zagarella said traditional mobile networks "aren't necessarily ideal to meet some of these IoT challenges", as they have been set up with high average revenue per user (ARPU) in mind, with significant costs and investments in spectrum.
"Low-power wide-area network technology was designed specifically to meet the low-power, low-throughput and link budget requirements of IoT," Zagarella said.
"It's adaptable, it doesn't need to be planned in the same way that an existing carrier technology does; it's designed to deal with a high level of interference, with random, unexpected signals, so there's no need to set aside specific spectrum for it; it uses a distributed RAN -- radio access network -- that accesses very low-cost and not very smart base stations that collect the data and transmit it back over a very large distance to the core without a lot of significant processing required, which again produces costs. And then, of course, there's a centralised network management infrastructure that manages that traffic across the network in a very optimal, efficient way."
Most significantly, LoRa is a more collaborative technology, allowing a low-cost point of entry for more users to make use of the IoT.
"From NNN Co's perspective, we're in the business of enabling IoT, and we believe that to make IoT happen, we need the collection and use of data to be as simple and cost effective as possible."
The NNN began trialling its technology on Sydney's North Shore in August 2015 across 10 base stations covering 50-100 square kilometres, with the company aiming to roll out its wireless network nationwide.
In Australia, the LoRa technology operates across the 918MHz-928MHz spectrum band.
NNN co-founder David Spence told ZDNet in August that the company has been "getting a lot of interest from all sorts of sectors".
Last month, the IoT Alliance Australia (IoTAA) in conjunction with the Australian government launched a live LoRaWAN IoT network in Sydney, operating on the 915MHz ISM spectrum band, which is currently used for consumer devices operating under Low Interference Potential Devices (LIPD) class licences.
The Barangaroo Community Network allows those within a 3km to 5km radius to connect IoT devices for free, for the purposes of prototyping, testing, and developing solutions, with the IoT gateway able to support 1,000 devices at a time.
The IoTAA, which emerged from the Communications Alliance IoT Think Tank earlier this year, has forecast the IoT industry to add around AU$120 billion to the Australian economy by 2025, a 2 percent rise in Australia's GDP.
Vodafone Australia similarly completed its trial of narrowband-IoT technology across a number of live sites in suburban and central Melbourne in April in partnership with Chinese technology giant Huawei, calling the wireless low-power, wide-area network tests a success.