By Peter Karney, Head of Product Innovation, Digital Catapult
The opportunity for the Internet of Things (IoT) in the UK is huge. In the years ahead, the technology will transform the way in which many businesses, cities, processes and even people operate.
Current estimates are that the IoT will be worth £81bn in the UK by 2020, and that in the years leading up to this, it will create 67,000 jobs. Alongside Big Data, the efficiency savings created by IoT technology will generate a combined £292bn.
These estimates are driven by the changes that IoT will bring; there are innumerable ways in which it can be used across almost every industry. Whether this is for remote tracking of high-value assets from jewellery to medical supplies, keeping watch on wildlife vulnerable to poaching, monitoring health issues, or remote emergency response measures, there are very few sectors that it won’t touch.
Looking at these figures, there is clear impetus for the UK to press ahead with its plans to become a centre for IoT development and look to capitalise on the opportunities it offers. Investing in Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) will be key for this. A report from McKinsey & Company – which placed the total economic benefit of the IoT in 2025 at anything between $3.9trn and $11.1 trn, equivalent to 11% of expected global GDP – predicts that 25% of the UK’s IoT value in 2025 will come from LPWAN.
What is LPWAN?
LPWAN uses less energy than other conventional forms of connectivity such as 3G or Wifi, and as such is very battery efficient. It can also transmit data over very long distances, in some cases more than 50 miles. It achieves this by sending small amounts of data at a time using a combination of advanced radio technologies.
This makes it ideal for use in scenarios where data needs to be sent from a remote location over a long period of time, without needing to recharge or change the batteries powering the technology. When used with solar panels or other energy-harvesting techniques, the sensor could run indefinitely.
It’s a versatile and low-cost technology that presents opportunities for all organisations – from enterprises interested in asset tracking and inventory control to councils looking to monitor social infrastructure. It can even be placed within a concrete structure, under a road, or in a sewer and used to send data for decades without needing to replace the batteries.
Connecting people to LPWAN
Access to testing facilities for the technology is vital if we are to fully realise the potential of LPWAN and the IoT. More businesses need more access to LPWAN. At this moment, there are no truly nationwide networks for testing LPWAN devices in the UK, even with the telecoms industry’s high adoption rates. This is something that we are looking to solve. We recently announced our partners in establishing LPWAN in three locations across the UK. Sunderland Software City, Ulster University and Net Sensors Ltd (working in partnership WND UK) were all awarded funding to establish the infrastructure needed for the development of LPWAN and IoT.
These three networks in the North East & Tees Valley, Northern Ireland and Bournemouth were selected following a competitive Open Call, and follow our launch of similar networks in Greater London, Milton Keynes, and Cambridge. They will be free for SMEs to use for experimentation and prototyping with associated innovation programmes.
We’re also working with councils and large businesses to find commercial applications for IoT and LPWAN to help develop the technology. Our work with BOC (the largest provider of industrial, medical and speciality gases in the UK and Ireland), for example, is exploring how the company can develop a robust, cost-effective LPWAN tracking system, that will seamlessly integrate into their gas production and distribution facilities.
These are just some of the steps being taken to galvanise an ecosystem around LPWAN. Research in 2015 found that IoT adoption rates in the UK were at 30%, and predicted adoption rates of 43% by 2020 with growth across all sectors.
If it is to become a world leader and profit from the technology, the UK needs to support these industries as they look to invest in IoT and grow their capabilities in this revolutionary field. We need a concerted, collaborative effort across government and businesses to share insights and best practice across all regions of the UK. Only then will we be able to lead the way and fully unlock the potential applications of the IoT and LPWAN.