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NB-IoT makes device connectivity a reality

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Kathy Gibson reports from AfricaCom in Cape Town – A narrow-band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) ecosystem can enable the deployment of millions of connected devices across the African continent.
Alpheus Mangale, chief enterprise business officer at MTN SA, points out that if 20-billion devices are to be connected to the Internet by 2020, there will be a tremendous load on to the infrastructure.
“NB-IoT promises to deliver on the benefits,” he says.
Because the protocol relies on low power consumption, the devices on a NB-IoT network can last up to 10 years without maintenance. This means they can be deployed in inaccessible places, and also in remote locations.
“And in our continent, the low cost is going to be a benefit,” he adds. Devices can come in at about $5 each or less.
Again, the low power and small amounts of data sent by each device means that many of them can be deployed on a single sell.
The opportunity for cellular IoT is huge in Africa, Mangale adds. In 2016 there are about 60-million cellular IoT connections, and this will grow to about 450-million in 2020.
MTN has set up a number of pilot sites together with Huawei in areas like smart metering and connected fridges.
The company intend to roll out the services in 2017, partnering with utilities to help manage scarce resources like water.
“This technology could be applied to reducing leakages; and also to ensure that end users are able to manage and monitor their usage.”
Importantly, MTN will be able to roll out the solutions in all 22 countries that it operates in.
The network has been refarmed from MTN’s 900MH network, so it utilises infrastructure that is already in place.
The network on its own has limited value for users, so MTN and Huawei have partnered with one another and third parties to provide intelligent services for government and enterprise.
Services and solutions will be offered in the areas of smart meters, smart parking, wildlife tracking, smart fridges, smart farms and smart homes.
“As MTN we are providing the platform in partnership with Huawei. Then we will partner with application providers in specific industries,” says Mangale.
MTNs revenue will be derived from the sensor technology itself, which will send data across the network. More significantly, says Mangale, MTN will provide managed services to third party partners.
“At MTN we are proud to be part of driving this evolution in the African market,” he adds.
Michael Ma, president of the cloud core network product line at Huawei, reiterates that the future word will be built on the premise of every person and thing being connected.
“Huawei helps its customers to build this connected world,” he says.
In fact, Huawei is involved in much of the platform technology that supports the ICT industry, including FTTx, 3G/LTE, 5G, NB-IoT and AR.
The company’s IoT platform, OceanConnect, lets customers build and support an open ecosystem. “The ecosystem of IoT is a key element for success,” Ma explains.
Which is why OceanConnect supports 170 APIs supplied by more than 80 partners. It supports well over 200 devices with easy integration as well.
The Huawei NB-IoT platform can support 100 000 devices per cell, offering sensors with up to 10 years’ battery life and with a high level of sensitivity.
Ma says Huawei will support MTN to build a digitally connected Africa.
At AfricaCom, the two companies demonstrated IoT in action, with a smart fridge, a connected car and a smart meter.
On the fridge, the devices deployed include door sensors, temperature sensors, an IP camera, some sensor, panic button, silent alarm and location tracking.
This allows the system to report door sensor and temperature sensor information to monitor the fridge’s working status.
The IP camera can provide realtime video to monitor the contents, while location tracking can tell the exact fridge location.
Other sensors can be useful for providing wider shop security services.
The connected car is not in the usual application, but rather in the usage-based insurance (UBI) market.
The system consists of a Huawei OBD box with an MTN SM card. I collects data as the vehicle drives, including harsh acceleration, braking, turns, speed, fatigue driving and others. It also reports location data.
A smart water meter has been installed in the Johannesburg joint lab and is used for realtime water monitoring. In the back office, big data analysis can be carried out to determine things like flow analysis, faults and overall usage.
Safety and security it a big issue when it comes to IoT.
Babak Fouladi, chief technology and information officer at MTN, says the company takes security very seriously and all products are tested before being deployed.
All packages are encrypted as well, he says. “We will continue to do this – the security area is one where you have to be always vigilant.”