Unidata is keeping a close eye on and developing technology for the Internet of Things (IoT).
What is the IoT? It is the concept of and the implementation of connecting sensors and control devices to the physical environment,to machinery, and to animals and humans, and then connecting those devices across the internet so we can monitor and control just about everything. It is a good thing? Many say it will enhance our lives. Perhaps it will and perhaps it won’t. Regardless it is happening and we need to understand and embrace it to allow better monitoring of the environment.
Unidata has been participating in the IoT for almost 10 years now, but it was not called the IoT then. It was called telemetry (metering from a distance or tele-metering) instead. We started when we released the Neon Range of IP Data loggers, and we have deployed several thousand of these already. These systems monitor water levels, gas pressures and the like over the cell phone and satellite networks. In the last 5 years we have seen a faster growth in this area as well as a steady decline in the cost of connecting sensors across the internet. The type and the number of telemetry applications has grown and now includes such things as monitors for smart agriculture, smart livestock management and smart cities which monitor things like streetlights and parking spaces using relatively inexpensive sensors. The cost of metering from a distance is now lower than having a person come to look at and measure these things.
Apart from the low priced sensors, the networks to carry this data have grown in size and have reduced in cost. There are several emerging and competing technologies becoming available, and these are overviewed below.
There are many vendors providing LPWAN technology, the main players being LoRa WAN and Sigfox. LPWAN can be described in simple terms as a low cost and low power and very long range (about 5 km) Wi-Fi which can only carry a very small data volume. These volumes are appropriate for some applications for example a farm with a large number of soil moisture sensors, a bore monitoring application for a number of bores in a small geographical area or a metering application. These technologies can be deployed in a private network environment, in the same way you use normal Wi-Fi in your house or office and you manage the network, or you can purchase a service from a Telco and they manage the network.
This is the cell phone industry approach to the IoT, and there are new low cost low bandwidth options becoming available in the next year, for example current 4G/LTE provides speeds of up to 25Mb and we all use this for our web browsing and other applications. IoT applications generally only need a speed of 64Kb, or less. There are new 4G /LTE modules being released in the next year which will be much cheaper and these will compete with the LPWAN technologies.
Which technology will win? No one knows, perhaps it will be the same as VHS and Beta when those technologies were competing in the video recording market decades ago. At Unidata we are offering both technology options. We are also releasing our full range of Neon Remote Loggers, with both technologies, our customers can choose based on their specific needs.
Unidata has developed new products using the LoRa radio modules and has added support within the Neon Application Software to support LoRa communications. The Neon LoRa logger is a new generation Neon Remote Logger with a LoRa radio communications component, instead of a cell phone modem communications component. This new Neon Lora Logger communicates via a pre-configured LoRa gateway to the Neon Server to deliver data to be stored within the Neon System and displayed on the Neon Web interface as well as being reported on via the usual Neon reporting mechanisms.
As the LoRa communications is a low data rate/ low volume the Neon LoRa Logger needs to be pre-programmed with a logging scheme at the factory, or in the field, rather than the conventional way of downloading a scheme via the Neon Web interface. The Neon LoRa Logger supports a full range of complex sensor interfaces, for example Modbus and SDI 12 as well as analogue and digital inputs and outputs. Closed loop control systems can be set up using standard scheme programs, in the same way as normal Neon systems.
The Neon LoRa Bridge is a simpler product, which is set up to read simple analog and digital sensors and report the readings back to the Neon Server at pre-set intervals. It is a simple, low cost device without any on board intelligence that can’t be reconfigured in the field.
Both of these products are due for release / ready for shipment on July 1. They are currently in the final process of manufacture, and are now being certified for compliance at our external compliance laboratory. We have brochures available on request, and the brochures shall be on our website soon.
Where is LoRa very effective? If you are connecting sensors in cities or in countries where there is wide cell phone coverage, for example in many Asian countries, there may be little reason to use LoRa, as there is an existing lower cost network. However if you are in a remote area, where there is no cell phone network available, then Inmarsat satellite backhauled LoRa is a very attractive option.
Perhaps you have a large farm with a few hundred soil moisture sensors. Perhaps you have a large pastoral property of 250square kilometres. Perhaps you have an important underground aquafer mound which is in a remote area which has a hundred water bore holes to measure groundwater levels within a 100 square kilometre radius? In these applications you could use a small number of Inmarsat BGAN M2M Neon Remote Terminals and a small number of Lora Gateways to provide LoRa sensor coverage over hundreds of square kilometres. The aggregation of a large number of low data rate LoRa sensors via Inmarsat BGAN M2M satellite is effective to cover a large remote area, and as the LoRa sensors are relatively low data rate and low data volume it is economical to send this data via satellite.
Unidata works closely with Inmarsat on many M2M applications. We are an Inmarsat certified partner for Neon Systems for M2M applications. This application of satellite backhauled LoRa is just another example of using Inmarsat BGAN to connect sensors to the internet of things.
Inmarsat is also a member of the LoRa Alliance, a group of companies working together on LoRa technology enhancements and applications, lead out of Paris, France by the founding partner Actility.