IoT has transformed businesses over the past decade. It has enabled a step change in automation, efficiency, and new business development. Theoretically, by 2025, IoT could have an economic impact of up to $12.6 trillion, according to McKinsey. Yet major constraints still remain, especially for those organisations feeling hindered by inconsistent network availability or wanting to use IoT for traceability across wide geographic areas.
Where is the single, reliable, pan-European sub-gigahertz network that can support cross-region and cross-border connectivity and enable mobile IoT at scale? Where is the connectivity solution essential for multi-network redundancy? Where, critically, is the single data standard that can accelerate innovation in device design and multi-network access?
To realise the full potential of mobile IoT will require a collaborative industry approach, using a single data standard to bring together the multiple sub-gigahertz networks into a single, reliable, connected pan-European environment, optimised specifically for low power IoT applications.
Mobile IoT demand
The mobile IoT marketplace is already firmly established, with millions of devices connected across the licenced cellular and unlicensed sub-gigahertz radio bands. The problem for the vast majority of companies, however, is that these devices are not linked to multiple different networks. While every low power wide area network (LPWAN) provides the cost-effective solution required for IoT deployments – unlike the expensive, complex and energy sapping cellular alternatives – they do not operate together. Each operates to different data standards – from transmission volumes to frequency. As a result, it is technically and contractually challenging to achieve unrestricted roaming across a wide area, limiting mobile IoT deployments to small geographic areas, such as smart cities.
This is hugely frustrating for those industries with a powerful business case for active asset monitoring across Europe. Food producers need to expand product tracking across the cold chain to improve safety. Knowing goods are at the correct temperature when in chilled transport is great – but how long are the items sitting in the sun after being unloaded? What about pooling companies wanting to embrace the reusable packaging requirement to meet European Union demands for digital labels to deliver traceability on all reusable transit packaging used more than 10 times?
To achieve these compelling business cases, organisations need true pan European connectivity – and that cannot be achieved without a densified LPWAN network. Organisations need 100% reliability as assets pass through different regions and different countries. They need redundancy to ensure communications availability, even if one of the networks has an issue. And they require scale.
Today there is only one sub-gigahertz network, Sigfox, that can offer true pan-European connectivity with unrestricted roaming between countries. Cellular alternatives not only lack 100% coverage and may encounter issues when transferring between cell towers but are also too expensive and power hungry to make a financially viable solution for the majority of mobile asset applications. Even Sigfox, however, cannot provide the limitless coverage demanded by many IoT applications, and there is no likelihood of any vendor coming to the market with a single pan-European network alternative.
Collaboration is, therefore, essential if organisations are to achieve their digitalisation goals. 2023 marks the year when the vision of a truly densified pan-European IoT network is becoming a reality. Underpinned by the Sigfox network, but in collaboration with a cross section of other technologies that can include Helium, LoraWAN and Mioty, a Zero G WAN (0G-WAN) working party has come together to create the standard using converged network devices that will enable applications to operate across all collaborative sub-gigahertz networks.
The recent decision to make publicly available the proprietary Sigfox device code, for developers, will drive this network convergence and multi-network capability.
Key to this model is the creation of a common standard for data specification to ensure specific information and data volumes can be transmitted, irrespective of which network is being used. By defining the amount of data sent across a network to 12 bites and 140 messages per day, the IoT application will be able to run across any of the available sub-gigahertz networks across Europe. The plan is to agree this 0G-WAN standard with global standards organisations, including GS1.
The underpinning goal of the 0G-WAN initiative is to achieve industry commitment and collaboration. Current 0G-WAN working party members include semiconductor manufacturers, tower companies, logistics providers, global pooling companies, device makers and reusable transit packaging manufacturers. Future members will include European wide retailers and industrial companies.
With widespread industry support and collaboration, progress has been significant. Device manufacturers are already creating 0G-WAN devices with multiple network technology stacks on one chip to provide a single device solution for both static and mobile assets to add network redundancy. Three of the working party members already agreed to trial devices in their customer supply chains. Their findings will be shared with the rest of the 0G-WAN community, underlining the collaborative mindset of this initiative.
This collaborative model is accelerating innovation. It is bringing together the entire sub-gigahertz community to deliver a single, unified approach to enable the affordable, effective deployment of IoT based traceability across Europe. And the pace of change is exciting: it is expected that the 0G-WAN standard will be agreed during 2023, with widescale deployments commencing early in 2024.
The converged IoT vision is compelling. It has the power to deliver the next wave of digitalisation and automation, reducing costs and risk while delivering almost real-time information across diverse assets that can transform operational efficiency and control. This vision will only be realised, however, with a collaborative mindset.
0G-WAN will provide the network certainty, reliability, redundancy, scalability and device longevity required to make the IoT business case. It will support the core strengths of sub-gigahertz networks, namely secure, stable low power implementations. It will enable the densified coverage required to remove the need for power hungry continency solutions such as GPS to achieve geolocation services.
In addition to facilitating reliable, affordable pan-European connectivity, the 0G-WAN standard will also open up new markets, providing the scalability to drive down costs, while also extending deployment longevity and supporting innovation. By coming together to create the 0G-WAN standard, the market is collaboratively building confidence in the longevity of mobile IoT deployment and the 0G-WAN working party is actively welcoming competitors and partners to join in order to accelerate change.
Patrick Griffin is a internationally known business development leader and Chief Product Officer at Heliot Europe. By further leveraging his knowledge of RFID and IoT development, Patrick provides the skill set to be at leading edge of applying digital transformation to equipment pooling and RTP, in-turn accelerating access to previously unfeasible circular economy opportunities.