Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Three tests LPWA for smart energy use

Steve Rogerson
October 30, 2019



UK mobile network Three is working with CK Hutchison’s telecoms division to pilot a low power wide area network (LPWAN) for smart energy applications. This is seen as the first step in a nationwide network roll out that will support mass deployment of IoT devices.
 
LPWANs – made up of NB-IoT and LTE-M technologies – can provide a cost-effective way to connect wirelessly IoT devices that monitor and control everything from key infrastructure to smart buttons. Sectors such as energy, logistics, building management and transport can be digitally transformed by LPWA technologies.
 
IoT devices used in these sectors are generally deployed on a massive scale. Often, the devices need to be placed in difficult environments for wireless or wired connections. LPWA technology solves this connectivity problem in three ways: it covers a large area; the radio signal penetrates deep inside buildings and underground, where infrastructure IoT devices are often placed; and low-energy NB-IoT devices can last five or more years in the field.
 
LPWA devices can operate without a fixed power source, meaning they can remain in situ and maintenance free for long periods.
 
The Three LPWA pilot network has been set up at the Integrated Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory (Integrel) in Gateshead, UK. The lab is a collaboration between Northern Gas Networks, Newcastle University, Northern Powergrid, Northumbrian Water and Siemens.
 
“LPWA offers huge potential for the gas industry,” said Matthew Little, a director at Northern Gas Networks. “Real-time data from our infrastructure flowing into advanced data analytics models will allow us to take fast, agile and even pre-emptive action to deliver outstanding customer value while maintaining the highest level of resilience, which will be more important than ever as we transition to a low carbon energy network. Our industry needs new technologies such as this to support our ambitions to decarbonise gas systems, through projects such as H21 to transition to hydrogen for heat and meet the UK Net Zero target by 2050.”
 
Nigel Watson, CIO at Northumbria Water, said LPWA would be an enabler for the delivery of the company's strategic objectives.
 
"We recognise the power of innovative technologies to enhance what we're already doing,” he said. “IoT is a key tool for us to detect and proactively respond to the impacts of climate change. We're excited to be involved in the LPWA IoT test bed and look forward to the learnings it will provide."
 
The LPWA at Integrel will enable researchers to deploy wireless devices throughout the experimental energy network to identify problems and gather performance data. In a live environment, LPWA technology can help energy companies improve service reliability, detect faults, make customer billing more accurate and lower carbon emissions.
 
Three’s wholesale division provides IoT connectivity to partners such as Arm, Arkessa, AT&T, Wireless Logic and Mobius. These partnerships allow Three to target IoT industry verticals including retail, transport, logistics, infrastructure and utilities. The LPWA network lets the wholesale division extend the portfolio of services it offers and work with a range of customers on use cases that require low bandwidth and wide coverage.
 
Three in the UK plans to draw on the LPWA experience acquired with other CK Hutchison telecoms companies – Three in Austria, Sweden and Hong Kong. In Austria, for example, LPWA technology is used by a range of companies in energy, transport, logistics and building management to track assets and monitor energy usage. Three Sweden was the first mobile network in Sweden to launch NB-IoT services nationally and is actively partnering with utility providers on smart-metering applications.
 
“The launch of our LPWA pilot is an exciting development for Three UK, giving our enterprise customers access to a broader range of services,” said Darren King, head of business development at Three’s wholesale division. “The low power, long battery life and excellent reach of LPWA technology has great potential to support companies in any industry where companies need continuous information from their infrastructure in order to optimise service. We expect that we will be able to start offering LPWA services to a range of industries over the next few years, as we extend the sectors we offer the service in.”