Internet of Things (IoT) Tech Digest - January 2017

NB-IoT stretching its legs in real-world

Vodafone has launched its narrow-band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network in Spain. NB-IoT is one of the standards that was released in 2016 by the 3GPP telecoms standards body for low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN). Vodafone is rolling out the technology commercially in Madrid and Valencia, with plans to expand to Barcelona, Bilbao, Malaga and Seville by the end of March 2017. Vodafone expects NB-IoT to increase signal coverage area by up to seven times, compared with existing cellular data networks. 
Norwegian operator Telia has also launched its NB-IoT network. Telia says that NB-IoT offers many benefits including good coverage indoors, outdoors and underground; and is well suited for battery powered devices that only occasionally transmit data. Telia is testing its claims with a pilot system for smart parking management that displays to drivers empty parking spaces via a mobile app. Telia is also testing the system on a smart irrigation system.
Both Vodafone’s and Telia’s NB-IoT networks were deployed by Huawei. 

Big companies working on blockchain

Several companies including Bosch and Cisco have set up a group to develop blockchain’s applicability to secure and improve IoT applications. Blockchain is the distributed ledger underlying Bitcoin currency: it is a ledger allowing for the transfer of value from one party to another over the Internet through multiple nodes in a secure way, without the need for a middleman such as a financial institution.  The aim of the consortium is to investigate and develop the potential of blockchain to provide enhanced security for IoT devices. 

NXP releases security platform

At the Consumer Electronics Show 2017, NXP, a semiconductor manufacturer, announced it is test bedding a range of security services for wearables and connected devices. The testbed is designed to support the development of products and applications using embedded Secure Element (eSE) technology, to support secure payments, transit, authentication and other connected device services. This means that wearables and other devices would not need to rely for security services on being locally connected to smartphones. NXP is working with Palago which enables wearables-based contactless payment services, and uConekt which manufactures uBolt, which it claims is a tamper-resistant wearable bracelet incorporating NXP’s secure element tech. 

Integration for connected devices

The MIPI Alliance, an international organisation that develops interfaces for connected devices, has recently released MIPI I3C – an inter-integrated circuit. The I3C, MIPI claims, can integrate multiple sensor interfaces through a unifying specification. It says that the new chip interface specification can provide higher bandwidths and support lower power levels compared to its previous I2C. Sensor functions supported are likely to include accelerometers, time of flight cameras, touch screens, sonic/ultrasonic sensors, transducers and actuators. Companies that were involved in the creation of the new standard included Google, Intel and Qualcomm. 

Intel’s retail platform

At the National Retail Federation’s Retail Big Show, Intel displayed its data-centric tools and technologies aimed at the retail sector, focusing not just on online but also in-store shopping. The Intel Responsive Retail Platform (Intel RRP) is what Intel is claiming will deliver a deep insight into how stores and people interact, by utilising Intel’s IoT and cloud technologies. Through collecting and analysing in-store data Intel claims shops will be able to place items optimally, deploy employees and track inventory through the supply chain. Personalised shopping experiences via virtual reality shopping is another area in which Intel is planning investment. Intel says it will invest US$100 million in the retail industry over the next five years. 

Viasat and Orange go Euro

Viasat, a security systems company, has teamed up with Orange Business Group to provide satellite tracking services and on-board telematics technologies for its automotive sector customers. Orange will supply IoT connectivity to enable Viasat’s remote telematic boxes to send and receive data, SMS and voice, on a pan-European scale. Orange is providing 350,000 SIM cards that can withstand vibration and high temperatures, and a portal to allow customers to self-manage SIM cards. Viasat is hoping that this will be useful for insurance, fleet management, security and safety. 

LoRa solar powered sensor

GCell, solar cell manufacturer, in collaboration with Zurich University of Applied Sciences Institute of Embedded Systems (ZHAW), has developed a small long-range wireless LoRa IoT sensor node powered by solar energy. (LoRa is a wireless protocol that allows long-range low-bit-rate communication between devices.) ZHAW claims that the nodes - equipped with GCell solar cells -  are able to transmit hundreds of data packets a day from outdoor light sources, and that they can transmit data in illumination as low as 500 lux – the light levels typically found in an indoor workspace. 

Blackberry Secure

Blackberry has announced its Blackberry Secure platform, as a continuation of its move to software development. Blackberry’s platform is designed for what it calls the Enterprise of Things – a network of connections and endpoints with the enterprise that enables products to move “from sketch to scale”. Blackberry Secure is based on the company’s mobile software security platform. The company claims that it can help companies manage and secure their connected devices, securing communications for all messaging and file types. Blackberry says that the platform can help prevent hackers from accessing devices, provide intelligence for highly secure supply chain communication, and ensure confidentiality in healthcare. 

Rentokil gets into IoT

UK pest control company Rentokil has engaged Qlik to provide it with the Qlik Sense analytic platform. Rentokil has over 20,000 digital devices is 12 countries  . These IoT devices can alert a Rentokil technician when a rodent is caught and at the same time keep the customer informed via an online portal. Qlik Sense will provide visualisation of the data from Rentokil’s IoT solutions, for example mapping weather patterns to rodent behaviour or to track swarms of insects as they migrate. 

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