“The connected fridge is dead, long live the connected fridge”.
The “connected everything” protagonists have been promoting web enabled domestic appliances for some years. Two things have been missing: the agreement on common standards for Machine-to-Machine communications (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and realisable benefits to end-users.
Delivering real value at the right cost and with the right level of user experience has been holding back what is sometimes referred to as the third wave of Internet connectivity. It is a market estimated by Machina Research to be worth USD$4.3 trillion by 2024. Interest is therefore high and companies and technologies are vying for market position.
One of the benefits of M2M/IoT connectivity is better access to more relevant information. The fixed and mobile Internet may have given us a wider connected society – think Facebook and WhatsApp – and a global data store available from a variety of devices, but what we really need is access to instant, personal, contextual and more relevant information. It can be as banal as where is my cat? More security driven, knowing who just entered my house? Health related, like what is my blood glucose level right now? Or environmental, questioning what is the quality of the air I am breathing? A viable use case delivers actionable intelligence and better decision-making.
Gartner forecasts smart connected cities and homes will use 1.6 billion connected things in 2016. Smart commercial buildings and smart homes are expected to account for over 50% of this connectivity with Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) and other IoT applications reducing the cost of energy, spatial management and buildings maintenance by up to 30%. M2M and IoT data collection from WSNs will create a collaborative environment as empowered consumers and business interact and engage to deliver and access services more efficiently – efficiencies that can support the pledges made by many cities at the COP21 conference.
Managing identities and access grant is one of the challenges for IoT success. We accept the need for identity of people to ensure security of entry to work places or to the access of monetary funds, but the scale of IoT will mean the development of new techniques to manage billions of IoT identities and the connection criteria of each application. The M2M and IoT industry is therefore at a pivotal point in its growth and interoperability will be critical. How will my tub of yogurt for instance communicate with my fridge?
The mobile industry is now working on the standards issues for the Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks market with standards recently accepted by the 3GPP standards group. Industry alignment over common standards for Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) will enable the industry to grow quickly by maintaining a competitive market place and help ensure agreed practices.
LPWAs need to be designed for M2M/IoT applications that often have low data rates and a low duty-cycle (the periods between activity and non activity), may require very long battery lives and can operate unattended for long periods of time in remote locations. At the other end of the scale are applications that require high data rates and a high duty-cycle – an IoT connected security camera for instance. In some cases M2M and IoT devices will need to be permanently powered, which in the longer term may be suitable for high duty-cycle applications, though the expectation is that a majority of IoT applications will be battery powered.
Device lifetime is therefore a concern and anything that can improve energy efficiency and reduce the dependency on batteries needs to be considered. Energy harvesting – solar, thermal, vibration and RF – should be utilized wherever possible for IoT applications to reduce the periods between battery swaps, since the industry is not yet at the 10 year lifetime target it has set. Some IoT retail beacons for instance use 4 AAA batteries to power the device and need to be changed every 9-12 months. IoT developers generally agree that battery power is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Therefore an aggressive approach to duty cycling is required to reduce the time an IoT device is gathering data and then broadcasting. An air quality sensor for instance could reduce the sensing cycle without negatively impacting the quality of the data – ensuring a good balance between low energy consumption sleep mode and sense and transmit mode.
The mobile industry is working inside the 3GPP standards group to help achieve the necessary operational and cost criteria needed to meet the predicted growth of M2M and IoT applications. These criteria are long battery life, low device cost, low deployment and maintenance costs, full coverage and support for a massive number of devices per cell.
LPWA solutions can be split into proprietary and cellular IoT technologies. SigFox and LoRa, deployed in the 800-900 MHz unlicensed bands are both proprietary technologies while the mobile industry is pursuing NB-IoT within the standardization process in 3GPP.
Major industry suppliers including Ericsson, Qualcomm, Huawei, Nokia, Intel and LG along with operators such as Vodafone, China Mobile, China Unicom, Telecom Italia and Telefonica as well as the GSMA are supporting the NB-IoT forum which will bring together all of the industry and ecosystem partners to commercialize NB-IoT as quickly as possible.
NB-IoT is attractive to the mobile industry because it will reuse the existing Radio Access Network and transmission while a separate dedicated and optimised core network will be deployed to support LPWA connectivity.
It is generally accepted that a global standardized approach to technology adoption reduces technology fragmentation, spurs market growth and leads to healthy industry competition – which in turn results in less costs for consumers and industry.
3GPP Release 12 – LTE-Advanced, which according to GSA data has been deployed by 97 operators in 48 countries – has already established a new low complexity device category, (Cat. 0) suitable for M2M and early IoT applications. This introduces features like low data rate requirement and reduced device receive bandwidth to bring down the cost of processing power and memory required for NB-IoT devices. Modem complexity will be reduced to 40% compared to Release 8 and Release 13 will extent that complexity reduction to 15%. Release 13 specifications will bring additional features to optimise costs and help the industry reach the sub $5 device price and even below $1.
The paradigm shift in M2M and IoT connectivity however will come with 5G and the standard is expected to support ultra dense networks and billions of M2M and IoT connections. The mobile industry is working towards an expected 1,000x increase in mobile data traffic which will be met with additional spectrum being made available for mobile broadband, a massive introduction of small cells and intelligent access using both licensed and un-licensed bands.
Additional spectrum will be a core requirement for the M2M and IoT industry for the predicted tens of billions of connected devices. While much of the 5G spectrum discussion is centred around 6 GHz and above and will be actively discussed in the run up to the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19), in the near term the 700-900 MHz band is where many IoT applications will reside.
2016 will be a pivotal year for M2M and IoT and more WSNs and beacons are deployed globally. We can all expect our lives to be impacted, whether it is a connected fitness band, smart watch, a smart medical bandage or a fully integrated smart home security & monitoring system with a hundred sensors checking air quality, air flow, monitoring window and door openings, structural movement, facial recognition and image capture.
And remember to be polite to your IoT fridge. It knows how healthy your diet is.
Joe Barrett is President of the Global mobile Suppliers Association