A new wave of tools and technologies help companies, building managers, and other facilities better comply with social distancing, capacity, and cleanliness regulations.
After several months of working from home or being furloughed, many workers are returning to their workplaces. Also, some students are going back to classrooms, and many libraries are opening again.
Organizations need to ensure that people can go to their facilities and keep the required social distance. They also need to manage the use of their space, rooms, offices, classrooms, etc. to perform the necessary cleaning and disinfection procedures between uses.
A combination of different IoT technologies could manage all those requirements. Choosing the right wireless network is paramount to optimize resources and reduce maintenance costs.
In this respect, low-power, wide-area wireless networks (LPWANs) provide the connectivity needed to manage numerous sensors. Since the amount of data transmitted from those devices is small, long battery life is decisive. Wireless standards such as LoRa and Sigfox, operating on sub-gigahertz unlicensed spectrum, can provide the necessary indoor and outdoor connectivity without installing several gateways.
Facility contact tracing on LoRaWan
The long-range, low-power LoRa platform has been around for over ten years, and over 100 million devices worldwide already connect to a LoRa gateway or base station. Analyst firm IHS Markit projects that 43% of all LPWAN connections will be based on LoRa by 2023.
Using the LoRa wireless standard, several device manufacturers offer products to help organizations deal with the requirements of the “new normal.” One of them is the “Universal Contact Tracing” solution from Microshare.
The product helps organizations track the distance between people in factories, warehouses, hospitals, construction sites, prisons, barracks, schools, or retirement homes, and provide contact tracing records that can be used in case of infection.
In the product description, Microshare argues that “often, people within these facilities either are prohibited from using a smartphone, may not own one or simply refuse to use one. Even those carrying smartphones may have disabled geo-tracking.”
The Microshare solution works using either a wireless bracelet or an NFC badge – similar to the ones used by most organizations – with Bluetooth and LoRa connectivity. It works on a public LoRaWan network if available, or private LoRa gateways and on-site networks deployed inside the facility.
Desk and space monitoring on Sigfox
Another widely deployed LPWAN is Sigfox. The proprietary network, running over in the 868 MHz or 902 MHz unlicensed bands, only allows a single operator per country. According to Sigfox, the network is already operating in over 70 countries and covering over 5 million km².
Recently, Sigfox has partnered with Ubigreen, a French company specializing in managing office space, controlling the use of resources during the pandemic. Offered in a SaaS model, the Ubigreen Smart Desk allows organizations to monitor the use of different areas, such as offices, desks, conference rooms, and other facilities.
It is offered as a workspace management solution (sensors & software full web) to measure, analyze, and compare workspace usage.
Ubigreen uses a small, multi-function sensor placed under every desk or the room’s ceiling to monitor the space. The sensor only measures 76 x 112 x 14mm and weighs 70g. It is designed to operate for five years on two AAA batteries. It can monitor real-time occupancy and ambient temperature.
Julien Meriaudeau, President and co-founder at Ubigreen, told us on a conference call, “We do not track people around, that’s very important to understand. What we track are available places. That’s very important for customers that are using or choosing our solution. Not to track the people because, at least in most European countries, when you begin to track people, you have to be sure that the employee’s rights are respected.”
Since the start of Covid-19, the Smart Desk platform has been updated to provide additional functionality addressing the pandemic, including blocking spaces and desks to ensure social distance. The system can also alert the cleaning service after every use while preventing the occupancy of desks and places that need to be disinfected.
Narrow-band IoT provides the cellular connectivity to millions of sensors
Recently, many similar solutions have been developed using LTE NB-IoT, which is predominantly in use in Europe and Asia.
NB-IoT is also marketed as LPWAN over cellular LTE connectivity. It has the advantage of working on mobile carriers’ networks and over long distances. The power requirements for devices, however, are slightly higher than Sigfox and LoRaWan.
As many organizations, facilities, and other infrastructure are now looking for these solutions to handle the necessary procedures to open up to the “new normal”, it is essential to analyze the different solutions, especially the connectivity standards available in every area.
Originally published on IoT Times as