NB-IoT Introduction and Testing

What is NB-IoT?

It stands for Narrowband Internet-of-Things. It is a low powered wide area network (LPWAN) radio technology that is part of the LTE/4G family.

Essentially a cut down version of the LTE technology that your mobile phone probably uses but using a narrower bandwidth (hence the name).

It has similar design goals to other LPWAN technologies (such as LoRa and Sigfox). These are mostly ultra-low power usage, long range, low cost, small data usage.

The main difference between NB-IoT and LoRa/LoRaWAN is that an NB-IoT network is provided by a mobile network operator rather than individuals buying and operating their own gateway devices.

It’s a brand new technology, the standard was only finalised in mid-2016, as yet there are no commercially available NB-IoT services in the UK. There are some available in central Europe. At the moment, Vodafone UK are the only operator currently rolling out the service but as I understand it, O2 and EE will soon follow. The Vodafone service is currently in the trial stage and coverage is limited to certain areas of the country.

It’s my opinion that NB-IoT will become a popular LPWAN standard in years to come so I am excited to be able to give it a try. Alliot’s plan is to offer NB-IoT related services and sensors as soon as they are commercially available.

Trying out NB-IoT

As I said, Vodafone are currently trialling their NB-IoT service, this means that they are making SIMs available to certain partners for testing. I have obtained some SIMs for testing, I cannot get any for anyone else at the moment. Alliot plan to provide SIMs as soon as we can.

Because it’s so new, there’s not much hardware around at the moment that supports NB-IoT. So to test I have so far bought a Pycom Fipy development board:

https://docs.pycom.io/datasheets/development/fipy/

And an Arduino MKR-NB-1500 board:

https://store.arduino.cc/arduino-mkr-nb-1500-1413

These are far from plug&play devices, the Pycom board needs to be programmed using the MicroPython language and the Arduino board needs to be programmed using a C++ style language.

nbiot_microcontroller_code

Both devices need a suitable antenna, I used this one with both boards (they both have the same u.fl antenna connector):

https://pycom.io/product/lte-m-antenna-kit/

You’ll really need the Expansion board to go with the Pycom as well:

https://pycom.io/product/expansion-board-3-0/

Finally, you’ll need some NB-IoT SIMs!

The NB-IoT node will send and receive data via the network operator’s network, they will assign an IP address to the node and it can then communicate with the Internet. To test, you will need a server/computer that is publicly accessible on the Internet. In my case, the Vodafone trial limits usage to UDP only so I made a simple Python script on a test Amazon AWS server that accepts UDP packets and logs the contents to a file. All very simple stuff and not very useful but it’s pretty cool all the same! It all works as expected.

The Pycom board simply sends a “hello world” message every ten minutes, the Arduino board does this too but I also made it report it’s battery voltage since I’m powering that from a rechargable LiPo battery.

What next, what use is this?

I’ll expand on this to connect some real sensors to both devices so they are sending something more useful. I will then make the server part log to a database and produce some graphs in Grafana to visualise the data.

I have also sourced some commerically available sensor devices so will be testing them, another post on that will follow.

Verdict on NB-IoT testing

This experimentation has taught me a few things.

  • This is very new technology indeed, it’s much less mature than LoRaWAN for example. There’s scant information on the Internet so far, getting the Arduino board to work for example involved finding and reading the low level documentation for the uBlox chip on the board and the Arduino source code for their NB-IoT library.
  • You’re at the mercy of a network provider. If you have no coverage then it’s tough luck, no buying a gateway as with LoRaWAN or Sigfox. Although if there is coverage, then great, you don’t need to buy a gateway (also the case for Sigfox). You will always have to pay a network operator for use of the network.
  • It needs more power than LoRaWAN, considerably so in my opinion. For example, just connecting to the network takes multiple seconds and this will eat batteries. In comparison to LoRaWAN where a sensor can wake up, fire off a message and go back to sleep in a matter of milliseconds. Feel free to get in touch and correct me but I cannot see how NB-IoT can be anywhere near as frugal as LoRaWAN.
  • It’s more synchronous than LoRaWAN. It’s still designed for tiny amounts of data but connections involving multiple requests & their responses are possible. A protocol called Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) can be used which is like a cut down version of HTTP.
  • The technology is a reality and the mobile networks are starting to roll it out. I think NB-IoT will be big and sit alongside other LPWAN technologies.
  • The UK seems to be behind central Europe again. There’s much more evidence online for people using NB-IoT in places like Germany.



Alliot Named Official Kerlink Distributor

We’re delighted to share our latest news with you! We have today been announced as Kerlink’s official UK distributor. This appointment marks a big step for Alliot and our mission to make IoT accessible to all. Distributing a comprehensive range of their leading LoRaWAN® equipment, software and services, here’s an insight in to what Kerlink could offer to you and your IoT projects.

Kerlink Gateways

As a key component to any IoT project, Kerlink cover every eventuality with gateway options to suit every budget and use. From the Wirnet IFemtoCell, to the robust Wirnet IBTS outdoor gateway, Kerlink have you covered.


Kerlink Wanesy Management

Remotely manage and monitor your Kerlink gateways with Wanesy. Whether you have a single gateway on a small private network or multiple gateways on a commercial network, with Wanesy you can remotely deploy, operate and manage your LoRaWAN® IoT connections.

Offering a truly flexible approach, Alliot enables you to take as much or as little as you require to build your solution. Get in touch to find out more and discuss your requirements today.

CENSIS 6th Technology Summit and Conference, 7 November 2019

The team at Alliot are delighted to announce we are exhibiting at the 6th Technology Summit and Conference which takes place at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on 7 November 2019.

CENSIS is Scotland’s leading sensing, imaging and IoT event – a day of top class speakers, exhibitors, debate and networking.

What to expect:

Over 500 delegates attended in 2018, creating a day that informed, inspired and challenged. You’ll get the most from the day if you are:

  • A company or organisation involved in sensing, imaging and/or IoT.
  • A company or organisation that needs to use, or you’re interested in using, sensing, imaging and/or IoT to improve or grow your business.
  • An academic researcher or doctoral/postdoc researcher.
  • Working in knowledge exchange or business development in the university or college sector. The Summit is not aimed at university undergraduates.
  •  
    Registration is open – click here to book your ticket
     
    CENSIS 6th Technology Summit

    The Things Conference on Tour UK, 14-15 October 2019

    The Alliot team are proud to confirm we are participating at the next edition of The Things Conference on Tour UK, which is being held on 14-15 October 2019 at Reading Town Hall.

    Meet and Network with members of The Things Network Community and the Local Authorities, Housing Associations, Public Sector Organisations, Research & Higher Education Institutes and Businesses leveraging this emerging technology.

    • Explore the applications of LoRa enabled devices
    • Learn about different market ready options
    • Discover what is coming out of the R&D community before anyone else
    • Get hands on with workshops exploring ethical data collection, ultra low power and Node RED
    • Explore LoRaWAN by making your own LoRa device
    • Learn how to make reliable, secure and scalable LoRaWAN applications

     
    Come and visit us at The Things Conference On Tour UK to see the products & services we have to offer.
     
    Registration is open – click here to book your ticket
     
    The Things Conference on Tour UK

    LoRaWAN Applications

    A few examples of the vast range of use cases:

    Smart Metering / Energy Monitoring

  • Reduces the need for traditional manual processes allowing instant, remote updates of electricity, gas, water & heat consumption.
  • Retrofit sensor systems to existing client infrastructure.
  • Improve efficiency by highlighting and targeting areas of unusually high energy consumption.
  • Environmental Monitoring

  • LPWAN technology is perfectly suited for environmental monitoring due to the wide range of solutions available. Gather data on temperature, humidity, light, air quality (carbon dioxide, PM2.5 etc), smoke detection & water quality to name but a few.
  • Carbon monoxide sensors for homes managed by others such as Housing Associations or landlords to ensure the occupants are living in safe conditions.
  • Transport & Asset Tracking

  • In the realm of transport infrastructure, railways are big users of sensor networks. These can be used, for example, to monitor potentially damaging vibrations in bridges, through deformation of the tracks, to movements in embankments that could indicate potential collapse.
  • Keeping track of anything from logistics equipment (trolleys, fork lift trucks etc) right through to entire fleets of vehicles by installing a discreet, long lasting sensor not only tells you the location of the equipment in real time, it can also ensure they are being used more efficiently which could in turn assist with fleet management & inventory decisions.
  • Agriculture

  • Even agriculture gets in on the act, with smart farms monitoring soil moisture levels and crop health, providing machinery diagnostics, keeping an eye on crop storage conditions and tracking & monitoring livestock.
  • Temperature sensors could be used to ensure the optimal conditions for Chicken Farmers to maximise their yield.
  • A smart sensor system can help maximise a farmers yield therefore reducing water consumption, optimising the use of fertilizers and pesticides which increases production & lowers costs.
  • Water Monitoring

  • BT have announced they are launching a Smart Water project with Northumbrian Water which will be deployed across Sunderland, with around 150 sensors installed to capture water flow, pressure and quality enabling Northumbrian Water to gain visibility into operational insights.
  • Just last month water meters were deployed across the south east to gather real time information on water capacity levels, consumption and pass through; this is fed back to Icosa Water via a smart metering platform.
  • Beer Keg Supply Chain Optimisation

  • A novel application developed at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, involved fitting sensors to beer kegs. Called the Binary Beer project, it uses LoRaWAN to transmit the fill levels and environmental conditions of kegs back to the brewer in real time.
  • IoT LoRaWAN continues to grow

    The IoT landscape continues to develop. More and more infrastructure is being added, most recently (24/7/2019) Norfolk County Council’s Digital Innovation and Efficiency Committee has approved a proposal to launch a LoRaWAN network to enable early adopters to test IoT (Internet of Things) applications.

    The proposal includes a number of Gateways around Norwich connected to The Things Network that will receive information from Sensors placed around the city.

    It does not take long to set up a LoRaWAN network either, everything should be in place by September 2019.

    To the uninitiated IoT can be seen as a dark art when the reality paints a very different picture, especially when you have the right partner.

    The kit list can be broken down into the following categories;

    Nodes / Sensors –

    These are the devices that will collect & transmit the data

    Concentrator / Gateway –

    These will collect the data signals and send it to…

    Network Server –

    This collects all of the data via the Concentrators / Gateways and links that data to an…

    Application Server –

    Which interprets the data that can then be reviewed against a set of tolerances and can be used to automate actions based on the data that has been received, for example triggering an alarm.

    Netvox Sensor Range Now in Stock

    We have now taken delivery of our first large batch of Netvox LoRaWAN sensors.

    You can see the full list with details here:

    All Netvox Sensors

    Please get in touch by email (contact@alliot.co.uk) or phone (01484 599544) if you want to ask any questions or want to order any sensors.  Next day delivery is available to most places in the UK and we have no minimum order quantities, if in doubt please ask.