Spark fast-tracks long-range IoT network, use cases emerge

Published on the 13/12/2017 | Written by Newsdesk

Spark LoRa network

From buzz to honey as local IoT rapidly matures…

Famed for its ability to hype things up, the tech industry also has a reputation for eventually delivering on the wild promises it is wont to make. There’s been a lot of buzz around IoT, but over the past months, developments in the enabling networks has steadily produced a sense that it is becoming reality rather than pie in the sky. Another step in that direction comes from Spark, which said its long-range (LoRa) IoT network is expected to cover around 70 percent of the population by the middle of the 2018 calendar year.

In a statement, Spark said sites in Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland are being switched on in the lead up to Christmas, with a further sixteen cities to be connected early in 2018.

The network will allow businesses and local councils to connect to “things”, like waterways, traffic lights, and machinery. Sensors in these objects will send information over the LoRa network, providing real-time insight into the infrastructure run by New Zealand cities. In turn, it will help local councils and asset-heavy organisations run better, with lower costs.

Spark has been trialling LoRa network technology for the past year, and now has over 30 operational sites across Auckland, Waikato, Christchurch and Wellington. A number of partners have been involved in testing use-cases for the technology, including Levno and BoatSecure.

Spark GM IoT Solutions, Michael Stribling said: “The ways we’ll be able to use this new network are huge – it will change how our cities and businesses operate. We can put sensors on vehicles and equipment, so we know where they are and how they’re being used. Sensors will be able to tell our councils when to carry out maintenance. There are so many examples of how it will help us manage assets better.”

In addition to the country’s urban centres, Spark plans to extend the network to rural parts of the Waikato, Manawatu and Canterbury in the 2018 calendar year. Spark said it is working with Levno, which intends to use the network to provide fuel tank, grain silo and milk vat monitoring services to farmers, enabling them quickly react and increase operational efficiency.

BoatSecure is a boat monitoring system which continuously checks a boat’s battery, bilge pump, location, and shore power supply. This information travels over Spark’s LoRa network to an app on the boat owner’s phone.

Cameron Harris of Beacon Marine Electronics has been using the system since August 2017. “There was an instance when a storm hit, and I was able to see that a boat connected with BoatSecure had lost shore power during the night, hours before I would normally find out,” says Harris.

Farmers from the Matamata-Piako region and South Island have also been trialling the network for the past year as part of the Connecting Farms project. Data sent from sensors across the farm has helped inform important decisions for farmers, such as when to irrigate, spray or harvest.

Spark has committed to two new network technologies (LoRa and M1). This month it began trialling M1 ahead of a launch planned for early next year.

Spark is also monitoring the global progress of a second LTE IoT network type, Narrow Band (NB-IoT). Like M1, it will run over Spark’s licensed spectrum and extensive wireless network. Spark will invest in a Narrow Band network when the use cases and ecosystem become more mature.

Spark’s national LoRa network is being built by Kordia and will suit low-power, low-data uses, complementing the high-power LTE network (LTE Cat-M1 or ‘M1’) that Spark began trials on this month. By 2020 Spark said its IoT networks will cover around 80 percent of the population.

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