North’s Group Technical Director Alasdair Rettie looks ahead to the key IoT trends this year.
We now find ourselves in 2021, with hope that the rollout of the COVID vaccines will see us return to some form of normality. The truth is that whatever the norm moving forward, life will be different in many ways.
One positive outcome to come from the pandemic is the rapid upgrade and adoption of new technologies and solutions to enable employees to work remotely on a collaborative basis so that organisations can continue to operate. A secondary positive is the growing awareness of the benefits that the Internet of Things (IoT) can provide. IoT enables organisations to measure, collect, analyse and act upon data received from remotely deployed sensors, delivering better outcomes and customer experiences, improving services and reducing costs resulting in significant business benefits.
The following are our predictions on the IoT trends that will gain the greatest traction in 2021…..
We are turning the corner with COVID, and with the vaccination programme being expedited we should see an end to the disruption it has brought to our lives. IoT has, and will continue to play an important role in the fight against this infection and others, whether through the monitoring and control of the number of people entering a building or the realisation that poor air quality within a building plays an important role in the spread of COVID and other airborne viruses. Poor air quality in a building can typically be quantified by measuring the amount of CO2 in the air. The pandemic has brought a massive upsurge in the deployment of air quality sensors within buildings, resulting in worldwide shortages. Just as the first lockdown showed us how much air pollution the human race pours into the atmosphere, the uptake in air quality monitoring within buildings has raised awareness of how work or learning environments could be improved. Poor air quality has a direct and negative impact on productivity and absenteeism. Thankfully this is now starting to be addressed via initiatives like the WELL™ Building Standard1, and with the awareness COVID has brought will only serve to accelerate the uptake and deployment to this standard.
Footfall & Location Data
Footfall and location based solutions have been available in some form for a number of years now, with many solutions to date dependent on CCTV analysis or Public Wi-Fi data. With the heightened awareness of privacy and the role GDPR plays in legislating and controlling the use of personally identifiable data we have seen a move towards the use of IoT sensors to monitor footfall, movement and location data. It is possible this is due to the accelerating deployment and adoption of multiple IoT network technologies (LoRaWAN, Sigfox, NB-IoT and LTE-M) all of which can support a range of low powered sensors to effectively monitor footfall, people presence and even vehicle movement.
Applications for these solutions benefit both rural and urban environments, for cities the ability to collect and present real-time data on footfall and vehicle movement helps identify bottlenecks and measure if new signage, or road layouts are required, and for rural it can help Council’s to more effectively monitor and manage walking trail usage and degradation, and for communities to better understand visitor numbers and consumer demand.
Social Care is a clear priority for Local Authorities, accounting for almost 50% of annual spend. An increase from 34% just 10 years ago and equating to £27.5 billion. With an ageing population, the pressure on Social Care services will only increase. Using IoT, it is possible to deliver Connected Care, enhancing services, increasing efficiency and providing better support. The ability to enable and retain safe and independent living at home, whilst being able to identify when residential care is required benefits everyone.
The ability to safely move from hospital to home earlier helps free up NHS capacity and facilitates quicker recovery. Having a monitored IoT solution in place both helps patients to convalesce safely at home and brings peace of mind. All of the above solutions are available now and being deployed throughout the UK. The use of IoT sensor technologies, artificial intelligence and the resulting data can be used to predict the likelihood of an elderly person falling or the presence of a urinary tract infection alerting care workers to ensure additional proactive support is provided, averting the need for a hospital visit.
5G and other IoT Technologies
The network technologies that connect sensors play an important role in the viability of the overall IoT solutions and services on offer. IoT networks need to be cost effective – with the potential for tens of thousands of sensors being deployed, typically they don’t need to support high data speeds as the sensors deployed only transmit relatively small amounts of data on a periodic basis. Most importantly the chipsets used within the sensors need to be low power enabling battery powered sensors to operate for 5-10 years without revisiting them.
Within the UK we have several network technologies, the most mature and widely available at present are LoRaWAN and Sigfox. Both Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies operate within the unlicensed 868MHz band within the UK and Europe. LoRaWAN has been selected for Scotland’s National IoT network – IoT Scotland.
Historically mobile networks are not particularly suited to connecting IoT sensors for two main reasons – cost and more crucially high-power demand on the sensor chipsets to connect and communicate with the network. Battery powered sensors using legacy mobile connections 2G, 3G or 4G are not viable and would require frequent visits to replace the batteries. Mobile network operators have launched their own technologies – NB-IoT and LTE-M. Both provide low-cost connectivity, increased data bandwidth and packet throughput, and improved battery life. However, the resulting battery life is less than LoRaWAN or Sigfox but is acceptable. The availability of NB-IoT and LTE-M within the UK is patchy at present and sensor availability is limited. This will be addressed in 2021 with larger parts of the UK having NB-IoT or LTE-M coverage.
5G promises amongst other things to support the deployment of IoT solutions and to deliver the greater speeds and lower latency which 4G and Wi-Fi cannot - both of which are important to remotely control time critical systems and applications e.g. autonomous driving, greater scalability and the ability to support virtual networks - ‘network slicing’ providing different applications with their own independent logical network.
5G will support low power wide area connectivity as the 3GPP standards body has agreed that the NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies will continue evolving as part of the 5G specifications. The rollout of public 5G networks within the UK is being carried out by the Mobile Network Operators starting within the major cities. Private 5G networks are also available and will play an important role for networks within Airports, Manufacturing, Oil & Gas, Stadia, Hospitals and campus environments. To support the rollout of private 5G networks, Ofcom have made shared spectrum available for use by private 5G networks. The use of this shared spectrum requires the purchase of a low-cost annual license and approval by Ofcom. North are currently working on several private 5G network deployments throughout the UK for a world leading university and a major global manufacturer.
1The WELL™ Building Standard is a leading evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring building features that encourage organisations to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance human health and well-being.