Low Bandwidth Communications Help Keep Water Pipes Safe and Even Bring Honey to Our Breakfast Tables.

Amid demonstrations of high-speed 5G connectivity at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the GSMA Innovation City exhibition also presented a selection of use cases featuring LTE-M and NB-IoT low bandwidth communications. 

A common thread between being a beekeeper and managing Toronto’s water pipes is the need to accurately track certain parameters vital to the wellbeing of the business systems.  However, much of this data does not necessarily need to be delivered at lightning fast speeds nor does it need to be continuous. Periodic updates work just as well. 

When trying to figure out how to best achieve this, other factors such as cost and labor hours are also important. This is where Long-Term Evolution for Machines, or, as it’s better known, LTE-M or Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT) can certainly be useful.  Both can be integrated with relative ease into existing cellular networks and are light on energy consumption with a battery life that can exceed 10 years. Hardware is also relatively inexpensive.

Keeping track of the hive

The Bee Corp in Bloomington Alabama needed a solution to send data from sensors in their beehives to their databases. What they required was a sensor small enough to fit in the hives and that could handle various environmental conditions. These sensors needed to track heat and humidity, which can indicate if the queen bee is alive. The remoteness of the locations where beekeepers place their hives was also a factor that had to be taken under consideration.  

The solution provided was the NimbleLink NL-AT2, which fit the requirements, and as David Houghton of NimbleLink explained, “It also detects motion, so you can know if a bear has knocked down your hive, and the location detection will inform you if there’s been a theft.” The asset trackers were placed on the Verizon LTE-M network

The result was that The Bee Corp was able to automate its data collection and processing and utilize the motion and location features for theft protection as well. 

Monitoring Toronto’s water pipelines

Water pipe failures and leaks have increased in the past years and are indicative of today’s aging water infrastructure. There are many causes for failures and leaks, among them extreme levels and fluctuations in pressure. 

In a test case, BeWhere, in cooperation with the Water Department of Toronto, developed a solution to monitor the water pressure in a select number of water pipes. This included a BeWhere water pressure sensor and MIoT printed circuit board along with an API to integrate with the water company’s existing systems.  In addition, the costs of the sensors, compared to conventional ones were much lower as well. As Brian Boychuk, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing of BeWhere  told me, “you can put a lot more sensors in [the pipeline], maybe even 10 to 15 times the sensors for the same price of putting one sensor in three years ago.” Boychuk also added that the increase in the number of sensors has, “… really opened up an opportunity for the city to gather more information in terms of what’s happening in the distribution center and various places.”

Measurements were taken and reported every fifteen minutes, with an increase in updates when preset upper and lower thresholds were passed.  Prototyping, testing and installing was done within a few weeks. 

Usefulness of LTE-M and NB-IoT

The use and popularity of cellular connections in IoT such as  LTE-M and NB-IoT are increasing rapidly.  The advantages of being low cost, having widespread coverage and providing reliable connections can make them a good match for situations where data transfer speeds need not be lightning fast. Among other uses, they can monitor environmental parameters for agriculture or data collection for cities and track cargo and fleets.





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