With the internet of things (IoT) slated as the next big thing in networking and the communications technologies emerging, the race is on to install the infrastructure that is expected to irrevocably transform society as digitalisation becomes ubiquitous.
Very much at the forefront is Scotland, which is set to get a countrywide long range (LoRa) IoT network for businesses to tap into in a new £6m project launched in August. Led by Glasgow-based network provider Boston Networks, the three-year project is primarily funded with £2.7m from the Scottish government under its digital future push. Other funders include the development agencies Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
“The IoT is set to transform every sector of our economy and presents an exciting opportunity to revolutionise the way businesses and the public sector across Scotland work,” comments Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes. “This network supports full commercial use of IoT in Scotland and will help transform the potential for businesses and the public sector to explore sensor and imaging applications, to pilot their ideas and then launch proven, sustainable products and services into the global market.
The LoRa low power wireless area network (LPWAN), named IoT Scotland, will provide a wireless sensor network for applications and services to collect and send data from devices, enabling businesses to develop new and innovative applications.
Businesses also will be enabled to monitor the efficiency and productivity of their assets and equipment, to schedule maintenance and improve production.
“The wide-reaching network will be rolled out in cities, towns and rural areas across the country. The network will allow a wide range of users, from small IoT start-ups to multinationals to focus on the deployment of sensors and applications, rather than network build,” comments Falk Bleyl, Chief Technology Officer at Boston Networks.
He adds that LoRa was selected rather than the emerging 5G, due to its low power requirements being ideally suited to often battery-powered devices and being more cost effective on a ‘per device’ cost basis. 5G on the other hand is more suited to high bandwidth, low latency applications.
The energy sector with its own development of IoT applications, is an obvious potential beneficiary of the LoRa network. For example, one envisaged use case is to monitor office environments to lower costs by saving energy, while reducing the carbon footprints of buildings.
Bleyl told Engerati that Boston Networks had some informal early conversations with utility providers but intends to pick up discussions in the run up to the commercial launch, which is scheduled for February 2019.
Utility IoT applications
A spokesperson for Scottish energy supplier SSE told Engerati that while the company is not directly involved in the IoT Scotland initiative, the IoT is an enabler for several of its projects.
One of these is the use of innovative motion detection sensors installed on the trident transmission line on the Isle of Skye for remote monitoring for outage prevention and response. The EkkoIoT early warning system from UK sensing provider EkkoSense, originally developed in association with SSE subsidiary Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), uses a 9-axis inertial measurement unit to detect and monitor the movement and stability of utility poles and tracks performance in different weather conditions over time. SSEN has installed these devices on 809 poles carrying the line covering an area of over 1,000km2 on Skye.
SSEN also intends to incorporate IoT more in the future, particularly as the network operator transitions to a distribution system operator, the spokesperson told Engerati. Forming part of the UK Energy Networks Association’s Open Networks initiative, which is defining this transition, SSEN has set out an action plan, including an over £100m upgrade of IT systems and rollout of a new communications infrastructure for data capture, for the years to 2020 and beyond.
With its project ‘Transition’ currently underway, SSEN is starting to test the commercial aspects of becoming a DSO with various models focussed on price signal response and flexibility procurement.