Vodafone and Huawei Join Forces to Launch New Narrowband IIoT Lab in Newbury

Daniel Butler
Sun, 27 May 2018
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Vodafone and Chinese network and telecom company, Huawei, have opened a narrowband internet of things (NBIoT) laboratory at Vodafone’s Berkshire headquarters in Newbury.

This facility is intended to incubate and commercialise machine-to-machine (M2M) and industrial internet of things (IIoT) systems using narrowband networking.

Narrowband describes a radio transmission method in which information is transmitted in a narrow band of frequencies. It is generally accepted as the most efficient technology to serve low-power wide area networks (LPWANs). These LPWANs are in turn expected to provide connectivity to over 1.4 billion IIoT devices by 2020.

“Narrowband is most effective as it allows a vast amount of sensor devices to share a narrow bandwidth,” explains Charles King, head of IIoT at Challenge Advisory. “It therefore uses relatively little power and therefore significantly increases the capacity of IIoT projects.”

Developing projects with the capacity to deploy on a large scale is vital to the whole enterprise, according to Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone’s chief engineer, because it employs economies of scale to ultimately reduce the costs associated with IIoT.

 According to Jason Hayman, Research Manager at TEKsystems, “IoT will enable the collection and aggregation of data that will drive digital transformation deeper within organizations, enabling better insight into customer experiences and sparking innovation. IoT is going to change the business-customer relationship in ways organizations haven’t even thought of yet.”

“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 explained.

“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.”

 Graham Trickey, head of connected living at GSMA, said that the NBIoT lab would support the effort to establish mobile network operators (MNOs) as providers of the connectivity foundation for IIoT, allowing developers to focus on their devices and business models.

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

The lab itself includes a demonstration area and can accommodate six developers at any one time. Huawei and Vodafone expect it to incubate many successful projects and stated that they had already received overwhelming interest from IIoT start-ups.

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

Enter The Utility Companies

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

With the potential for large-scale IIoT implementation associated with NBIoT, it is no surprise that interest has already been shown by utility companies seeking to deploy smart metering systems. (In fact, one of the demonstrations exhibited at Huawei’s lab was a smart metering system).

One such utility company is Danish smart meter supplier Kamstrup, whose product management head, Steen Jensen, explained the problem areas in which NBIoT technology could help. The challenges faced by water suppliers are threefold: the growth of overpopulated megacities and lack of water to supply to them; the amount of water wasted in the supply process; and old, inefficient infrastructure.

“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 bypasses the need for companies such as Kamstrup to set up their own proprietary wide area networks, which are needed to implement 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 somone who is used to operating a network. We believe this can change the water industry,” explained Jensen.

 The new lab has the potential to tap into a huge amount of IIoT innovation, with new applications and implementation opportunities occurring all the time. As Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone’s head of research and development explains, “we see no limit in terms of the number of use cases” and opening the lab up to all positions Vodafone and Huawei are placing themselves at the vanguard of the dynamic IIoT industry.