Connected wearable devices, such as wristbands and heart monitors, can be used in multiple ways to improve health and safety. They can be used to track the location of children and the elderly, as well as monitoring vital signs, such as temperature and heart rate, not to mention being able to signal for help in the case of a fall.
Connected wearable devices could make it easier to care for elderly people living alone. If the wearer falls, the device can automatically alert friends and relatives, reducing the length of time they spend on the floor and the likelihood that they will need to be admitted to hospital. Lying on the floor for a long period of time can lead to the person developing hypothermia, dehydration and possibly bronchopneumonia. Fear of falling can also prompt the elderly to do less physical activity, suffer from depression, and have less social contact and decrease their quality of life.
Ideally, connected wristbands need to be fully mobile, rather than relying on a nearby hub or phone to communicate data. A fully mobile device can track the wearer’s location and status both inside and outside the home. To minimise the need to replace or recharge batteries, wearable devices also need to be very power-efficient. Employing new low power wide area (LPWA) connectivity could increase a wearable’s battery life fivefold in comparison to conventional 2G cellular connectivity, according to Machina Research. Some of these gains could be used to streamline the form factor of the wearable device, as well as to increase the frequency of transmitted sensor readings, improving the related analytics. If they are equipped with a voice-capable LPWA technology, such as LTE-M, wearables can also support mobile voice communications to make emergency calls.
As wearables are fully mobile and potentially high-volume devices that are deployed in multiple countries, standardisation is particularly important in this market: Manufacturers will, by default, want their devices to have connectivity in as many countries as possible. Moreover, the two-way capability provided by 3GPP-standardised LPWA technologies is important for remote firmware and software updates.
US operator AT&T is working with Samsung to test consumer wearable devices equipped with a LTE-M module. In Europe, Orange is testing LTE-M-enabled wearable devices with its partner Sony. The devices can measure an individual’s movement, heart rate, temperature and other health-related information. They are particularly interested in the energy consumption of the devices in various modes and how the resulting battery life might impact their usage.
Similarly in Denmark, TDC Group is piloting a wristwatch that can monitor the wearer’s vital signs, providing live healthcare data to clinics and hospitals. TDC’s joint venture with Leikr and a local start-up MedHub is supplying the watches for the healthcare pilot using NB-IoT technology.
In South Korea, KT is piloting the use of NB-IoT to connect safety jackets for hikers. The jacket can monitor a hiker’s vital health signs and send the data to a mountain rescue centre in the event of an accident or illness. The pilot is designed to explore whether NB-IoT is efficient and reliable enough to deliver the key information required to respond to accidents in regions that lack sufficient coverage from the existing cellular network. KT is assessing the coverage extension and power consumption delivered by NB-IoT compared to conventional LTE. It is particularly important that the connected device has sufficient power to relay information until the casualties can be rescued.