Picking winners: the right networks for IIoT use cases

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The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is already benefiting from being able to connect devices, vehicles and machines in numerous locations and performing all kinds of important tasks. But with a variety of connectivity options now available, which network is the best one for your needs?

IIoT connectivity can most appropriately be broken down into two discrete streams: digitized products and digitized processes. What do I mean by this? Digitized products relates to things that are manufactured, that are connected to the IoT and that enable original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to deliver new services or further enhance the ones they already offer to consumers. Connected cars and trains, things designed to be used on the move or in different places. Digitized processes enable OEMs to track, monitor and locate assets and tools, primarily in their manufacturing plants, but in time that could expand to a global level. There are specific networks for these specific use cases.

Connectivity options for IIoT

With IIoT connectivity, you need to realize that there is a trade-off between power consumption, range and bandwidth. If there were such a thing as a universal connectivity solution for IIoT, it would be low power, very long range and capable of transmitting large amounts of data at high bandwidth. However, this universal connectivity does not exist. So, we can consider a range of options.

1. High power consumption, long range, high bandwidth. Sending large amounts of data over a long distance consumes a lot of power, and some IoT applications can be like that, such as connected cars that are streaming video, or perhaps digital signage streaming video advertisements on a roadside. Cellular connectivity, 4G and LTE-M are options here, while satellite is another possible alternative.

2. Low power consumption, short range, low bandwidth. Use cases here would be things like indoor tracking of assets or people in factories or on industrial sites, and a very good connectivity option would be Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which is obviously low power, short range and low bandwidth, so suits the type of standalone objects that do not have power supplies in this instance.

There are other alternatives that can work, including Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LoRa®, though both are not only short range. Other potential options include ultra-wideband and even Wi-Fi. The best choice for indoor tracking would depend on the level of precision required by the use case, what environment it was being used in and the expected lifetime of the solution.

3. Low power consumption, long range, low bandwidth. This is the connectivity that interests me most at the moment. For IIoT devices that need to be connected at long range while maintaining low power consumption and sending small amounts of data, low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs), such as again LTE-M, NBIoT and LoRaWAN, are ideally suited.

LPWANs connect IoT applications with ranges in miles rather than feet. The potential in IIoT is huge. There are numerous applications: one example is moisture sensors used in agriculture which send a small amount of data every few hours. The recent announcement about Nova Veolia choosing a LoRaWAN service for addressing its millions of water meters is a good case study of the technology’s effectiveness in reaching deep, indoor non-power-supplied meters.

LPWAN is growing fast as industrial companies recognize its value in IoT connectivity use cases: according to the IDTechEx report IoT Low Power Wireless Networks and 5G 2019-2029, there will be 2.7 billion LPWAN IoT connections by 2029, at a CAGR of around 46 percent. It is a connectivity whose time and use cases have come.

Tracking and monitoring

Outdoor tracking on cellular 2G/3G technology is an IIoT use case that will continue to grow rapidly. Tracking also represents a good example of the crossover point between digital products and digital processes: it doesn’t just mean tracking shipping containers in supply chains, or expensive goods traveling from one place to another, that require specific environmental conditions, goods like medicines or other healthcare products. Tracking can also be, for OEMs delivering a product or machines that embed connectivity, a way to provide customers with tracking services on that product or machine.

Getting back to medicines, these are a good example of how connectivity has evolved to meet need. Many countries have regulations that require the pharmaceutical manufacturer to provide compliant traceability between production facility and warehouse, ensuring that the materials stay below an agreed temperature – and that means IoT sensors. Shipping pallets do not have power supplies, so the sensors must be low power consumption, so where sensors are needed for tracking and monitoring goods throughout the journey or at a warehouse, an LPWAN solution like LoRa® is a good option, even if LoRaWAN is not deployed nationally (sensors would keep the data until reaching a covered area at warehouses in that case).

LoRa® is well-suited for agriculture and smart farming, too. In France, we have worked with a customer to deploy sensors on a farm’s tractors and tanks that monitor temperature or humidity and help improve processes through data analysis. LoRa® is also applicable to smart buildings for improving building monitoring and asset use: Orange recently developed an offering called IoT Connect Anywhere, a solution that enables the deployment of local LoRa® networks on industrial sites complete with gateways for tracking and monitoring on-site.

The right use case, the right connectivity, the right partner

At Orange, we are focused on all types of relevant connectivity, from classical 2G/3G/4G cellular to LPWA networks such as LoRaWAN, or even LoRa® on premises. This extends to NB-IoT, something we keep an eye on after we recently deployed it nationwide throughout Belgium together with LTE-M, including short-range, low-power technologies (such as BLE and ultra-wideband) required for certain indoor tracking use cases.

LTE-M is central to the evolution of our Industrial IoT connectivity offering, with a new offer introduced in France in November 2018 after being launched in Belgium, while rollout is planned for 2019 in Spain, Romania, Poland and Slovakia.

Furthermore, Orange opened LTE-M Labs for device makers and partners in France and Romania to encourage innovation, while in Poland, our LTE-M network is open partners, particularly start-ups, being accelerated through the Orange Fab program.

Orange is committed to helping customers select the right connectivity for their IIoT needs, and we are a major contributor to the GSMA in helping drive new standards that are being deployed today. Our GSMA role also means being a major contributor to the development of 5G for new business models and addressing network slicing. 5G is set for a huge role in the future of IIoT, as a complement to our current solutions. Orange has already taken strong steps in 2019 by enabling a series of tests and is planning to roll out its 5G network in 2020. These are exciting times.

Find out how Orange Business Services can help you choose the right connectivity options for your Industrial IoT projects.

Emmanuel Routier
Emmanuel Routier

Emmanuel joined the Orange Group in 1991 and has worked in various B2B and wholesale positions in France, USA and Belgium. He was appointed Vice President IoT Verticals in 2016 with responsibility for driving the Orange IoT vertical approach in three key B2B verticals.