Both Vodacom and MTN have announced major initiatives for building out Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) networks and services in South Africa. MTN is first over the start line, however, joining forces with Huawei to launch a Smart Water Metering solution. They say it’s “the first Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) solution in Africa”, and is designed to help MTN develop NB-IoT services to explore new markets.
The Smart Water metering solution enables the automated collection of utility meter data, addressing the issue of manual meter reading leading to high labour costs and missing or inaccurate data. Through sensors installed in water meters, customers can identify water pipeline leakage earlier. Household water meters will automatically report data on a regular basis, reducing fault probabilities and the operating expense.
Powered by Huawei’s NB-IoT technology, the sensor array is designed to serve as a diagnostic spine that underpins network management. The data gathered can be used to control waste water flows from each property, identify faults across the network and improve health and safety outcomes.
“NB-IoT is viewed by the industry as the answer for enterprise applications in a range of different areas, from utility meters to sensor monitoring to asset-tracking,” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology and Information Officer of MTN. “Now we’ve succeeded in the commercial trial of smart water metering, lots of services will be available to bring us a better connected Africa.”
He mentions wildlife tracking, smart farm, and smart parking, among other.
“The number of cellular IoT connections in Africa will grow seven-fold over the next three to four years, and NB-IoT will be a key driver for this trend,” says Jacky Chen, Managing Director of Huawei MTN Key Account Group. “Together with our partners, Huawei is applying ground breaking NB-IoT innovation to solve core challenges around IoT applications.”
NB-IoT will make IoT more efficient to connect objects requiring a long battery life and are located in hard-to-reach areas. This Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology will connect more objects to the Internet of Things. Generally, the global IoT market is expected to be worth trillions of dollars by 2020.
MTN and Huawei will showcase the live Smart Water Metering Demo and other IoT services at AfricaCom 2016, running in Cape Town from November 15 to 17.
Vodacom has also commenced its Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network build, which it plans to commercially launch in major metropolitan areas across South Africa in 2017. It has already begun the process of upgrading various components of its network to support NB-IoT.
The company reiterates that a key characteristic of LPWA devices is power efficiency, resulting in devices being deployed in-field with batteries which could last up to many years. NB-IoT networks run on existing licensed spectrum, ensuring integrity of the communications channel as well as the delivery of data from the device to the end point.
“In investing in its network for NB-IoT, Vodacom will enable South Africans to participate in developing new solution sets for the Internet of Things,” says Vodacom Business Chief Officer Vuyani Jarana. “We look forward to working with the broader IoT industry to nurture an ecosystem of developers, engineers and entrepreneurs for NB-IoT applications. This will push the boundaries of what is possible as well as bring services to the market that will genuinely transform lives and businesses in South Africa for the better.”
A large portion of Vodacom’s network will only require a software upgrade to support the technology, which means that deploying NB-IoT across Vodacom’s existing base stations will be a relatively quick roll-out, driven by geographic deployment and based on demand.
New services enabled by NB-IoT will include the next wave of connected things, including environmental monitoring devices and smoke detector alarms.
NB-IoT also opens up new possibilities for Cloud technology as increasing volumes of data are extracted from the field, requiring additional process and storage capacity.
Jarana says: “This reaffirms the link between IoT and Cloud to deliver transformational business and socio-economic outcomes. Smart cities will no longer be a concept, but a reality when you combine the traditional Vodacom mobile and fixed line IoT connectivity stack, with the new NB-IoT offering. The economics for connecting millions of things in a city becomes viable with this new access technology.”
In September, Vodafone Spain and Huawei announced the successful completion of the first over-the-air connection on a live network using NB-IoT.
Vodacom will also showcase its NB-IoT network and application capabilities through a live demonstration at AfricaCom in Cape Town this week.