New Connectivity, New Control

September 26, 2018

At MWC Americas, Innovators showcase how Mobile IoT tech can keep tabs on company assets

In the US, the arrival of nationwide low power wide area connectivity is making it easier for businesses to track their assets and manage projects. Both Verizon and AT&T have upgraded their LTE networks across the US, making it viable for businesses to connect a far greater range of equipment than has been possible hitherto.

At GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 in Los Angeles, tech companies demonstrated Mobile IoT solutions aimed at the construction sector, asset tracking, manufacturing and other industrial applications, as part of the GSMA Mobile IoT Innovators showcase. Each of the companies has created sophisticated solutions by combining long-range Mobile IoT connectivity (using LTE-M and sometimes NB-IoT connectivity) with short-range systems, such as Bluetooth.

 

Keeping a close eye on construction

Revolution11 of San Francisco demonstrated how LTE-M can be used to capture real-time data tracking the progress of a construction project. The company has used LTE-M to develop a location reporting module (LRM), which provides the general contractor with precise and timely information, including who is on site, what they are working on, the progress they are making, and which materials are being checked out (as recorded by an NFC-based system). It also allows sub-contractors to easily report on their status: the sub-contractors’ data is stored on their mobile phones and, using Bluetooth, sent to an on-site gateway, which then relays the data to the general contractor’s reporting platform using the LTE-M network.

“We chose LTE-M because it ensures easy setup for general contractors in most environments,” says Jim Marshall, founder of Revolution11. “There is no account setup, or worrying about Wi-Fi settings and no special equipment needed for subcontractors.” He notes that LTE-M also offers considerable flexibility in that the technology can be combined with NB-IoT in a single module, and is supported by embedded SIM cards and services that can manage the billing with mobile operators. “We can concentrate on building our product and services and have a worldwide reach with most of the carriers,” he says.

Now being tested in the field, the LRM can be combined with sensors to track additional information relevant to the construction project, such as temperature, humidity and CO2 levels. Through a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Apple’s iBeacon tech and Google Nearby Services, the solution can also be used to track the location of equipment on the job site. Moreover, GPS chips can be used to track expensive materials should they leave the job site.

As it is commercialised in 2019, Jim Marshall expects his company’s solution to help transform the way in which construction projects are managed. “When not using our solution, work status, blockers, and needs are siloed across various email accounts, voicemails, bits of hard paper and marked up PDFs, which leads to disorganisation and lost time,” he explains. “We are prototyping our product and are building out our API (application programming interfaces) and applications. Our current construction clients will be our first adopters.”

 

Tracking densely packed assets

The Mobile IoT Innovators showcase also featured an ultra-low power indoor and outdoor asset tracking solution, developed by Link Labs of Annapolis, Maryland. The solution uses LTE-M (or NB-IoT in the future) to connect a mobile Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) access point to their cloud-based asset tracking platform, thereby enabling the tracking of standard BLE tags both in their indoor fixed infrastructure AirFinder network, as well as outdoors, where groups of items that travel together are in close proximity to one another. BLE tags collect the devices’ location data, and transmit that to the access point, which then relays the information to a central cloud platform using the LTE-M network. The battery life of an access point will vary between weeks and years, depending on the configuration, according to Link Labs.

This solution is designed for closed-loop logistics use cases, such as the tracking of pallets, racks, equipment in warehouses, and equipment inside maintenance cars or ambulances. In these scenarios, the combination of BLE and LTE-M helps keep power consumption and cost down, while improving operational efficiencies. Our solution “provides visibility into logistics and supply chains at a much lower per-asset cost,” says Glenn Schatz, Vice President of Business Development at Link Labs. “We chose LTE-M because we needed the coverage of traditional telco networks, but the power performance of LPWA technologies.”

Having commercialised the core technology, Link Labs is piloting the system with a number of companies in North America and hopes to expand overseas in 2019. “The first adopters are in the manufacturing and logistics spaces,” adds Glenn Schatz. “To bring the solution to market, we are working with both Verizon and AT&T on the device side, as well as on bespoke customer projects.” Link Labs charges a subscription for access to the platform, which includes device cellular connectivity, and also offers a hardware leasing model option bundled into the platform subscription fees.

 

Delivering precision in industrial plants

Visitors to the GSMA Mobile IoT Innovators Showcase also had the opportunity to see how LTE-M can help businesses measure distances and detect obstacles in factories and other industrial plants. BeWhere of Toronto demonstrated an LTE-M connected sensor that can measure how far away an object is by measuring the time difference between the emission of a signal and its return to the sensor after being reflected by the object. As LTE-M can provide good indoor coverage, the solution is well-suited for use inside buildings, as well as outside.

“Low power wide area solutions can track non-powered assets and/or provide environmental monitoring of remote assets at considerably less cost than existing alternatives,” explains Owen Moore, CEO of BeWhere. “We started with LTE-M because of our relationship with Bell in Canada, but we also provide NB-IoT solutions. As former co-founders of telematics companies, we immediately understood the potential for low-power, low-cost solutions that existing technology didn’t quite address.”

The Toronto-based company has also developed industrial Mobile IoT solutions that employ sensors for flood detection, pressure sensing and internal temperature sensing. Given the complexity of the IoT, in terms of the breadth and scale of applications, BeWhere is bringing its solution to market through a number of channels, including mobile operators, software vendors and distributors.

In preparation for a full commercial launch in the fourth quarter of 2018, BeWhere has developed an end-to-end solution with hardware, firmware and end-user software, plus application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate into existing software solutions. Bell Canada is now rolling out the solution. “We are also working in various stages with all the major carriers in the US either directly or through partners,” says Owen Moore. “We launched commercially with Fleet Complete AT&T in May and have recently certified on Verizon and are undergoing NB-IoT certification with T-Mobile.” BeWhere has orders for more than 30,000 LTE-M units to date, he adds, and the company is now expanding geographically beyond North America into Europe, Asia and Australia.

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