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Vodafone and Huawei open narrowband IoT lab

Mobile operator Vodafone supplies connectivity to an internet of things (IoT) joint venture development centre with Huawei in Newbury

Vodafone and Huawei have cut the ribbon on a narrowband internet of things (NBIoT) laboratory at Vodafone’s Berkshire headquarters to incubate and commercialise machine-to-machine (M2M) and internet of things (IoT) systems using narrowband networking.

Narrowband is a radio transmission method in which information is carried in a very narrow range of frequencies. It is widely seen as the most efficient technology to serve low-power wide area networks (LPWANs) – which in turn are forecast to provide connectivity to 1.4 billion IoT devices by the end of the decade – because it enables a great number of sensor devices to share a very small amount of bandwidth, using very little power, meaning IoT projects can become much larger.

Building projects with the potential to deploy on a large scale is key to the entire enterprise, according to Vodafone chief engineer Luke Ibbetson, because it will ultimately bring the costs associated with the IoT down.

“With the right volumes we are looking to get down to a few dollars per module. That will come with the scale and maturation of the technology, that’s the glide path we are on,” he said.

“We want to bring the whole industry together around one technology because it is only with one technology that we see any chance of deploying at scale.” 

GSMA head of connected living, Graham Trickey, said the NBIoT lab would help establish the idea of mobile network operators (MNOs) providing the connectivity backbone for the IoT, meaning developers could concentrate on their use cases and business models.

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“Mobile operators are in a great position with the technology and security they already have to build trusted IoT networks,” he said.

The lab accommodates six developers at a time, working on parallel projects, and includes a demonstration area. Huawei and Vodafone hope it will see a rapid turnover of projects and claim to already have interested startups queueing around the block.

“It provides an environment for small players in the value chain,” said Dave Liu, solutions marketing director on Huawei’s Vodafone account, “and a platform for industry to plug into to speed up deployment.”

Smart metering NBIoT use case

With its focus firmly on enabling large-scale IoT deployments, NBIoT is already of interest to utility companies rolling out smart metering systems – a smart metering system was one of the demonstrations on display at Huawei’s laboratory.

Steen Jensen, product management head at Danish smart meter supplier Kamstrup, said NBIoT technology would help his industry meet three challenges faced by water suppliers: the growth of crowded megacities and the scarcity of water to supply them; the amount of water wasted between production and use; and ageing and inefficient distribution assets.

“This is why we believe in digitising the water industry. With the data we can create from NBIoT smart meters we can create a lot of additional value, besides billing, for the industry,” he said.

NBIoT removes a headache for companies like Kamstrup, which will no longer have to set up their own proprietary wide area networks to deploy smart metering effectively.

“With NBIoT we don’t have to spend our own R&D resources establishing our own communications, we can buy connectivity from telcos, from someone who is used to operating a network. We believe this can change the water industry,” said Jensen.

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)