Today the IoT revolution is in full swing. The days of a bloke from the electricity company physically reading your meter are gone, instead, a small wireless module transmits your electricity usage accurately and instantaneously, saving the company millions each year. Each day industry finds a new creative way to use IoT to save money and deliver a cheaper product or service to their customer.
As the technology matured, people began to question why limit ourselves to just machine-like ‘things’, why not an ecosystem of plants, animals, people, rivers, oceans, and more – and the Internet of Everything concept born. The Internet of Everything is “bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before”.
After years of development in our Gold Coast office, in 2018 Powertec launched our myinsight.io system. myinsight.io is an Internet of Everything connectivity platform designed to connect any sensor, control, meter, or device to an online dashboard screen, allowing you to automate any physical or electronic process.
The system can connect as few as one device, to several thousand devices, allowing you to build a clear picture of your entire operation – flow rates, creek levels, soil moisture penetration, camera monitoring, fuel and chemical reserves, track animals, activate pumps and lighting, open and shut gates – the possibilities are limitless.
All this information is displayed on an interactive and easy-to-use online dashboard, allowing you to operate your farm, factory, office building, or house over the internet from anywhere in the world.
Designed here in the Gold Coast, and manufactured in Brisbane, we couldn’t be more proud that this is a 100% Australian made product that we’re exporting to the world.
How does the Internet of Everything work?
For a something to become part of the IoE it simply just needs to connect to the internet, no matter whether that’s by cable or wirelessly. Of course, early on it became obvious connecting everything by cables would be totally impractical, so technology developers began working on specialised wireless networks to support the internet of things.
These new networks would have to support potentially billions of things. They’d also have to be able to travel long distances, penetrate deep inside buildings and forests, and span vast sections of agricultural land. Ordinarily, such a task would be impossible but being small sensors and controllers, the amount of data being sent is very small and this allowed technology developers to do something special.
Rather than build a technology that could support high-speed internet access, specialised wireless protocols were developed specifically for tiny amounts of data. A super-thin wireless channel could be developed which allowed it to penetrate deep inside buildings and travel for tens of kilometres and still be decoded.
While quite a few research labs all released competing technology standards, today only a few have achieved mainstream adoption. We’ll talk briefly about the four main standards below.
Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT)
NB-IoT is the world’s most deployed wireless IoE network. Its popularity is due to the fact that it’s an amendment to the 4G LTE standard. This allowed most mobile networks across the globe, including Telstra and Vodafone here in Australia, to switch-on a dedicated IoT network using the same antennas and base station hardware as their standard 4G network.
As the name suggests, it’s a narrowband transmission which while it only supports speeds of about 50 kbps, it provides super long-distance coverage – roughly ten times the coverage of a normal base station.
You’ll need to talk to your Powertec RF specialist about equipment for NB-IoT, as the Australian network operators use both standalone and guard-band NB-IoT deployment.
LoRa is the second most deployed wireless IoE technology. It’s very similar in performance to NB-IoT, providing speeds of about 50 kbps, but coverage is generally a lot smaller. LoRa is designed to operate on unlicensed spectrum, that is, radio spectrum that the government releases for public use. In Australia we use the 915 MHz band but in order to play nice with others, we’re limited to a maximum power of 1 Watt, which means a base station on the ground generally doesn’t reach much further than about 10-15 km. That being said, it all depends on height – the world record for LoRa distance is 702 km by using a weather balloon at 127,000 ft!
You won’t find many national LoRa networks, most are deployed on an ad-hoc basis to provide coverage where needed, fortunately deploying your own LoRa network is both cheap and easy.
Powertec is an expert at designing long-distance LoRa networks. We supply turn-key LoRa base stations, and our myinsight.io system is not only capable of communicating via LoRa, but it can also even be turned into a mini LoRa base station.
eMTC / LTE-M
Some mobile operators have decided to implement a different type of IoT network using their existing 4G base stations. LTE-M is an amendment to the existing 4G LTE standard which introduces smaller channel sizes allowing signal to be received at longer distances (at slower speeds).
eMTC is a type of LTE-M network which supports speeds up to 1 Mbps, and is implemented by companies such as Telstra to provide a long-range IoT network for data-hungry applications that require more than what an NB-IoT network can provide.
The last commonly deployed IoT/IoE network is Sigfox. Unlike LoRa which is deployed by anyone and everyone, Sigfox is a global network who elects one company to roll out their national network.
The technology uses an Ultra Narrowband signal, providing super long-range coverage, but for super low-speed applications – with maximum speeds of only 100 bps. Sigfox uses the same unlicensed spectrum as LoRa, 915 MHz in Australia, and with the same 1 Watt power restriction can cover a 30-50 km radius – significantly larger thanks to the ultra narrowband technology.