Four Years From Now: a Glimpse into the Near Future of Mobile IoT

September 18, 2017

2017 was the year Mobile IoT became a commercial reality.  Connectivity to the Internet of Things through LPWA in licensed spectrum – the most secure and reliable means to do so – is now offered by 38 operators globally.  The two technologies by which Mobile IoT can be delivered, LTE-M and NB-IoT, offer connectivity to a vast range of devices, with very low demands placed either on networks or power consumption.  The relative ease with which this can be done, by simply updating existing base sites, and the enormous commercial opportunities from doing so – estimated at $1.8 trillion globally by 2026 – is proving an attractive combination to operators, who are now increasingly announcing roll-out across the world.

The most recent of these announcements – and, due to the implications for coverage, among the most significant – has been T-Mobile’s plans to launch NB-IoT across the United States.  The telco giant has chosen NB-IoT as ideal to serve the use cases it plans to serve, and is set to provide nationwide coverage from 2018.  The low power connectivity Mobile IoT provides is the best-suited technology to applications such as utilities, smart city monitoring and asset tracking, and as a result T-Mobile’s partners are “highly interested” in making the switch once it is available, with deployments expected to rise dramatically from the time it is fully launched.  “Those partners using 2G and 3G modules, they all want NB-IoT,” explains Doug Chartier, Senior Vice-President at T-Mobile.  What has seemed a futuristic concept for some time will soon become an increasingly normal and tangible feature of daily life in the United States.

With Mobile IoT infrastructure and coverage increasingly in place, there are now numerous burgeoning deployments in the pipeline.  So what are we likely to see in a few years’ time?  The GSMA’s Mobile IoT Innovators Showcase at this year’s Mobile World Congress in San Francisco gave us a glimpse into the future four years from now.

Asset and Logistics Tracking to Increase Transparency and Efficiency

One valuable contribution to asset tracking will come from Link Labs, who exhibited a multi-stage tracking system which uses LTE-M technology to help construction companies locate their assets throughout supply chains.  The trackable tag helps the business optimise routing and scheduling, and improve worker safety, alongside a range of other uses.  The exhibitors were in no doubt as to the exciting juncture at which we now stand in IoT implementation: “Link Labs was excited to be included in the GSMA Mobile IoT Showcase. Based on the plethora of interesting use cases and business models that we’ve heard this week, when talking to companies about the low-power capabilities of LTE M and NB-IoT, it’s clear that we’re at the precipice of explosive growth in the Mobile IoT industry. 2018 will be a breakthrough year for the industry, and we’re excited to be a part of it!”

This message was echoed by BXB Digital, who demonstrated a logistics tracking device which uses both LTE-M and NB-IoT sensors to pinpoint shipping containers, allowing the owners to recover losses.  The geo-location data generated can then be used to improve future asset management, without needing to refit devices or even change batteries. “The increasing use of LTE-M and NB-IoT by mobile operators is an exciting enabler for BXB Digital, as we architect end-to-end digital supply chain solutions on a global scale,” the team told us.  With the world’s major shipping lines making combined operating losses of $3.5 billion in 2016, this dramatic improvement to the tracking of assets will prove a welcome arrival indeed.

IoT Flood Prevention System

Of particular interest given the recent tragic events across the mid-Atlantic will be the work being undertaken by Tussock, who in partnership with Nokia are developing an NB-IoT-powered flood abatement system.  What is effectively a ‘connected storm drain’ will enable communication between municipal storm water systems and Nokia’s IMPACT IoT platform, providing forewarning of maintenance and capacity issues in a city’s flood response systems. Such systems – those which employ devices which are difficult to reach and absolutely must be relied upon – are an excellent example of the need for low-powered connectivity to the Internet of Things. “We have already backed LTE-M and NB-IoT as our platform of the future,” Tussock explain. “It will enable us to offer our long-term battery powered remote water level sensor deployments on carrier grade networks.”  Such innovations will without question save lives on their arrival, and given what we have seen over this summer cannot arrive too soon.

What’s Coming Next?

Judging from what we saw in San Francisco this month, we can anticipate a range of new capabilities in the years immediately ahead, including smart improvements to street lighting, environmental monitoring, waste management and parking. With new IoT technology as a whole progressing apace, Mobile IoT looks set to cement its reputation as the most trusted means to offer these revolutionary capabilities. And, given the important improvements they offer to both quality of life and profitability across the board, that can only be a good thing.

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