The term Internet of Things, abbreviated as IoT, has recently become more and more popular in digitization, which proves its topicality. "The Czech Republic is the world's top NB-IoT network and we don’t talk about it much. We have a huge opportunity to develop solutions on the network of the future, "Otto Zeman says, Vodafone's Internet of Things Manager.
In short, what is the Internet of Things really about?
It is a world of machines and things that are able to communicate and cooperate without human help. A smart network in which billions of intelligent devices are already connected, in which they communicate with each other. Connected sensors are an integral part of the solution, which can take care of, for example, energy saving, our safety, monitor the environment, predict machine maintenance, monitor crops and much more.
What exactly does NB-IoT mean?
NB-IoT stands for Narrow Band Internet of Things, which is intended exclusively for data transmission. It is a network specially designed for connecting devices or sensors of various kinds, regardless of where they are located. It penetrates, for example, into the basements of buildings or shafts, where the standard mobile phone network does not penetrate. The sensors are also installed in hard-to-reach places without an electrical network, and the battery located in the device will last for several years.
How long has the NB-IoT network been available on the market?
Vodafone launched the NB-IoT production network at the end of 2017. Even then, the entire territory of Czechia had been fully covered in one shot, thanks to the use of the existing 4G base stations for signal propagation. Newly, the NB-IoT technology is included in the new 5G network standard, where it will be further developed. The service is operated in a licensed band, which will ensure high security and quality of service with the possibility of two-way communication.
So the future of the Internet of Things is related to the advent of 5G?
Yes, it is and I will illustrate it on three areas. The first is a gigabit mobile connection with ten times higher transfer speed than 4G technology. The range of usable applications is much wider here. The second area is ultra-reliable low-latency communication, which means that devices will communicate with each other faster, more reliably and without errors. This includes critical applications and autonomous vehicle control. And the third area are simple massive communication devices - IoT sensors that are connected to the NB-IoT network. Thanks to the 5G standard, it supports more connected devices per square kilometre which is important because billions of these devices will be connected to the network.
What exactly is the potential and future of the Internet of Things?
The future of the Internet of Things has already begun. Many devices and things communicate without end users noticing. Some of the examples are vending machines for beverages or smaller goods, where sensors send information about what needs to be added. All drivers certainly know the system of red and green lights from shopping centres, which monitor the occupancy of parking spaces. The sensors also help monitor the capacity of waste containers and thus effectively manage the subsequent processes of their collection. In a smart home, the house can take care of regulating heat and light. It can react quickly to any danger as simple as fire or as complex as unauthorized intrusion. IoT has great potential in the spheres of autonomous vehicle control, robotics, healthcare. There will be a massive deployment of sensors in the future, which means that really every thing will communicate.
What role does Vodafone play in this?
We have many years of experience in supporting access technologies. For example, 3G, which is now being phased out the fastest, has been around for more than 15 years. 2G itself, i.e. GSM, has been in Czechia since 1996 and still operates. At present, roaming within the NB-IoT networks is also being intensively developed so that individual sensors can be manufactured, in Czechia, for example, and distributed worldwide - to countries with active NB-IoT networks. We can already offer coverage in most of Europe and North America.
What about customer end devices?
The availability of end devices, i.e. sensors, has proven to be crucial. As NB-IoT was a completely new network, a new radio standard, modems and sensors for this network were not available at all at first. The sensors, which mostly used the 2G (GSM) network, required a complete redesign. These were mainly new types of radio modules for NB-IoT. Emphasis was placed on maximum energy efficiency, i.e. long battery life.
Does this mean that in the area of IoT, you work with partners who manufacture sensors?
Yes, exactly. It quickly became clear from the manufacturers that the NB-IoT network is the best choice for them out of all available competing LPWA networks in Czechia. In order to support our partners on their way to the development of quality sensors, we have created a group of engineers at Vodafone, which has prepared a development guide and deals with testing sensor samples before they are launched on the market. They verify the functionality and battery life of the sensor in the NB-IoT network, not only in standard operating mode, but they also simulate various operating conditions the device can get into during its entire life, e.g. during scheduled system maintenance. Testing is of key importance for the production of quality terminal equipment. Unlike mobile phones, which are held by living people, sensors are often installed in remote and hard-to-reach locations.
So is NB-IoT the network of the future?
Definitely. Czechia is the world's top NB-IoT network and we don’t talk about it much. We have a huge opportunity to develop a network of the future that can be used around the world. 5G networks will definitely transform the world of IoT. When it comes to technologies, we have a better and more efficient future. And there are great opportunities for many people and companies.
NB-IoT is a certain contribution to the future, as it is part of 5G standards. It belongs to the group of LPWAN networks (Low Power Wide Area Network), which are used to transmit small amounts of data at low speeds. They are at the beginning of their life cycle and it is certain that the carriers will be operate them for a very long time. The intention of Vodafone and the entire mobile telecommunications industry is to support these new standards for more than 10 years with regard to the validity of frequency allocations for these purposes issued by the Czech Telecommunications Office. Vodafone will maintain the NB-IoT network so that it is fully compliant with standards, and we’ll ensure compatibility with new versions of the NB-IoT network that will come in the future. Vodafone actively cooperates with standardization bodies in this area.