UK wireless technology company, Neul — acquired by Huawei in September 2014 – says the soon-to-be-ratified NB-IoT standard is largely based on its technology, which is being trialled in Australia by Melbourne’s South East Water utility for the monitoring of its sewage pumping systems – a service currently provided with NetComm gear and Telstra’s 3G-based M2M service.
Neul CEO, Henk Koopermans — appointed to the role in December 2015 — was in Australia this week promoting NB-IOT at the Connect Expo in Melbourne. He told IoTAustralia that Neul had developed the technology underpinning the NB-IoT standard, which is due to be ratified by 3GPP at the end of June as part of Release 13 of its cellular standards.
“We developed the technology now called narrow band IoT. … What we have contributed underpins the standard,” he said.
NB-IoT is the cellular industry’s answer to various low-powered wide-area network technologies developed for IoT, such as Sigfox, LoRaWAN and Ingenu. It operates in 200kHz of the existing cellular spectrum and has been developed to meet similar objectives: support for low-cost devices with long battery life, long range and/or very good in-building penetration.
The big advantage being claimed for NB-IoT is that it will be a truly global standard and deployment will not require the installation of any new antennas – simply a hardware and/or software upgrade to existing cellular base stations.
Neul (the name means ‘cloud’ in Gaelic) started out developing technology to exploit TV ‘White Space’ and at the time of its acquisition by Huawei appeared to be one of several contenders touting proprietary low-powered wide-area network technologies for IoT. According to this report Neul launched the world’s first city-wide network using TV white space spectrum in Cambridge in April 2012 and drove creation of the open Weightless standard designed to use white space spectrum for M2M communications.
Neul to focus on NB-IoT silicon
Koopermans said Neul would continue as distinct entity — it recently moved into new corporate headquarters in Cambridge — focussing on the silicon needed for NB-IoT and enabling Huawei to provide end-to-end solutions for NB-IoT. “Huawei will do the network side of NB-IoT and the we will do the silicon solution and the stack that goes with it. So we will have a complete end-to-end solution,” he said. “Neul will effectively be an IoT device centre within Huawei.”
Koopermans added: “In the first instance we are just looking at the silicon and the software that goes with it but we are looking at developing a complete ecosystem that we will support with software tools and integration tools. Devices will be made by whoever wants to make them. The possibilities are endless.” He said that Huawei might get into the manufacture of NB-IoT devices “at some point.”
Koopermans said development of the NB-IoT standard had been very rapid. “The first big step was made in September 2015 when we got the standard into the 3GPP work program. All the parties agreed on a ratification date of June 2016. A week ago most of the physical layer was laid down and we are now in the last stages of completing the spec. The whole industry is behind it.”
He said Neul already had working silicon for NB-IoT. “Operators will be signing contracts for commercial deployments this year and there will be commercial deployment starting next year.”
Huawei in first Australian commercial NB-IoT trial
South East Water, the Victorian Government owned water and sewerage utility serving South East Melbourne has begun testing NB-IoT technology on the Mornington Peninsula, in Melbourne’s CBD in conjunction with Optus, Vodafone and Huawei.
It says that testing will also be undertaken on similar sewer infrastructure in the Belgrave area of the Dandenong Ranges, and on a range of assets in Southbank. The total test area will cover approximately 1000 square kilometres.
South East Water said that initially existing 3G technology would be replaced with NB-IoT technology to transmit real-time data on network performance, asset condition and fault management across its Peninsula sewer network. The data will be used control waste water flows from each property, and identify faults across the network. The trial is expected to run for three months.
The testing will also see NB-IoT chipsets installed on manhole covers to alert operators to unauthorised sewer access and in rainwater tank management systems to transmit and receive data about storage levels and expected rainfall, to optimise rainwater harvesting/stormwater runoff.
South East Water is currently using NetComm industrial 3G routers and Telstra’s M2M service to monitor its sewage pumping network. According to Telstra more than 3,000 pressure sewage systems are making a machine to machine (M2M) connection managed by the Telstra Wireless M2M Control Centre.