Arqiva, the communications infrastructure and media services company, and SIGFOX, a pioneer in cost-effective, energy-efficient Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, have today (9 December 2014) launched the first sites in the rollout of their IoT network across ten of the UK’s largest cities.
The network will make it simple and affordable to connect millions of “things”, helping cities and businesses to improve services, reduce costs and protect property and people. The ten UK cities with live sites are: Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.
The two companies first announced their partnership to create a dedicated UK IoT network in May 2014. They committed to connecting ten of the UK’s largest cities within 12 months, and as of December 2014 sites in each of the ten target cities have gone live, connecting them to the SIGFOX global IoT network.
Wendy McMillan, managing director of Smart Metering and Machine-to-Machine solutions at Arqiva, said: “Our network is truly unlocking the promise of the Internet of Things. Together with existing connectivity, such as street-level WiFi, these cities are becoming hubs for digital innovation.
“A whole host of smart city and intelligent building applications can now deliver strong benefits – from smart parking and waste level monitoring through to connected smoke alarms.”
One of the first sites live in London is in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Greenwich is rapidly establishing itself as a leader in smart city innovation and, as announced last week, will be a UK pilot for the introduction of driverless cars.
Councillor Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich said of the launch: “Greenwich recognises that all the UK’s leading cities are engaged in a global competition and that cities with a clear vision for the digital economy will be in a stronger position.
“This kind of technology will bring benefits to all our residents right across the whole of our borough and in time will really help enhance how we deliver services.
“This technology will help cities tackle economic and social challenges and will help solves issues like traffic congestion as well as enhancing security, and making heating and lighting more efficient.
“We’re delighted that the Royal Borough of Greenwich is one the first areas to benefit from the Arqiva and SIGFOX network and the opportunity this provides to become a leader in this field."
Rodolphe Baronnet-Frugès, executive VP Network and Business Development at SIGFOX, commented: “This two-way IoT network, which has been rolled out quickly and easily, eliminates the cost and energy-use barriers to widespread adoption of the Internet of Things by UK municipalities and companies.
“Through this project, Arqiva and the UK are presenting a clear example to governments and network operators around the world of how conveniently the SIGFOX network can help make the IoT’s many projected benefits a reality.”
Wendy McMillan Interview
Speaking to Wireless today, Wendy McMillan said: “People are realising that low power networks are going to be needed for apps that need a long battery life and a low cost network to make their set of applications really work.”
Following the SIGFOX partnership announcement in May the two companies have worked to get the network live across 10 UK cities. “We have one site live in each city so companies, start ups and entrepreneurs looking to use SIGFOX can trial and pilot apps in those locations,” said McMillan.
She added that the aim is to have full coverage in all 10 cities by the end of spring 2015. A SIGFOX base station has a range of approximately 10km radius per site, although this will depends on how much indoor coverage is required and what the geography is like.
McMillan pointed out that these aspects will impact on how dense the network needs to be, but noted that relative to other technologies the SIGFOX solution is very good at propagating long distances.
The SIGFOX solution differs to the one Arqiva is using for its smart metering contract for Scotland and the North of England. McMillan explained that the functionality required for smart metering is much greater than for the kinds of applications its SIGFOX solution is targeting.
“We will need to download significant amounts of firmware and tariffs for the smart meter contract, so we are using a long range radio technology from the US company Sensus for the base stations and consumer end points there.”
The SIGFOX technology does have two way capability, but one that is not as extensive as a broadband network. “The terms of using unlicensed spectrum means you are limited on the amount you can do on the downlink,’ explained McMillan.
“So, the range of apps will be different compared with some of those on a cellular network, for example. With SIGFOX you just want to get hold of a small amount of data and occasionally send a command the other way. But you couldn’t do a software download.”
McMillan said that Arqiva sees itself as being more technology agnostic than some players in the market. It proposes to be able to match individual customer requirements to the right technology, rather than trying force them to fit with an existing technology.
She acknowledged that the idea of cities developing holistic M2M/IoT ecosystems makes sense, but expects that different connectivity technologies will have to be deployed nonetheless.
“It makes sense to deploy single technology infrastructure and then use it for as many types of application as you can, but the reality is you will need to use different types of infrastructure to meet the requirements of different types of application,’ said McMillan. “There are some smart city initiatives trying to pull together that holistic vision and we certainly encourage cities to do that as much as possible.”
Data monitoring and analysis
Data monitoring and analysis can be provided by Arqiva and its partners, but customers are free to use their own capabilities. “Ultimately, the data belongs to the customer and just transits through SIGFOX,” said McMillan. “It is up to them to make the most of that to realise efficiency aims and to improve the lives of their citizens.
“Some customers will just be looking for the connectivity solution to extract the data, while others may have none of that capability. We talk to them about how to best provide a full suite of capabilities. We can help them to develop devices, monitor them and analyse the data through range of different partnerships with other providers.”
McMillan reports that the most interested sectors at the moment are intelligent building provision and facilities management, along with logistics and tracking. Retail and manufacturing are also keen to exploit low power, low data, low cost M2M/IoT applications.
Security remains a key concern, but McMillan pointed out that at the moment it is very difficult to intercept the data package on a SIGFOX network, as it only contains a few bytes of data, which would be almost meaningless to anyone except those in the receiving data centre where that data is interpreted.
“You probably won’t get too much data anyway even if you did manage to hack the network and the fact that you can’t do much in terms of sending commands to the sensors means you are less likely to get hacked in the first place,” said McMillan, who added: “But we are aware that we must find security solutions to give people confidence in IoT.”
McMillan said Arqiva’s intention is to roll the SIGFOX network out nationally over the next couple of years, but the immediate focus is to get applications tested and channel information back from customers on performance.