NB IoT was originally designed with smart metering (water, gas electricity, parking), smart lighting and asset tracking as the main applications. For example it's rumored that a large Chinese utility company had placed orders for tens of millions NB IoT electricity units early on in NB IoT’s development.
In 2017, many new products and applications were built and tested in NB IoT labs and with telco’s support. Some of these products are currently in pilot projects in Spain, Germany, China and other countries.
Two examples of new ‘creative’ products built with NB IoT that have received a lot of publicity recently are the ‘connected cow’ and the ‘connected bee hive’.
Other examples of new devices/applications developed in 2017 on NB IoT include; smart vending machines; construction tools tracking; air quality devices; smart bikes; many different types of agricultural sensors, and access control.
Currently two access control products developed with NB IoT exist; one by Dessman, and the other by LEAPIN Digital Keys Ltd(LDK). Dessman’s product is using NB IoT to deliver a live audit only. LDK’s product enables all the functionality of a typical RFID/Wi-Fi access control system, and/or a BLE/Wi-Fi smart lock. That is, NB IoT is used to remote unlock from apps, and inside a Digital Keys Management Platform for time-sensitive use. NB IoT is also used to extract a live audit, for cancelling digital keys anytime, and for programming the lock for time-sensitive use so that NFC key cards, and lock number pads can be used.
LDK worked closely with Huawei and Vodafone to configure their NB IoT network for its access control application. LDK has been working with both Vodafone and Huawei in their joint NB IoT lab in Vodafone Headquarters in Newbury since March 2017 building their NB IoT Smart Access Control system, after they were invited by Vodafone and Huawei earlier in the year.
The companies also plan some more configuration of the network as they proceed with trials beginning in Spain in Q1 2018. This model of ‘configure the network to the IoT partners devices’, is one of the reasons why NB IoT has not been switched on globally overnight, instead it has been purposely built around the partners devices, and is evolving daily.
The main advantage of the use of NB IoT (in place of Wi-Fi, RFID, BLE) for access control means the following;
Product can be delivered without the need for any onsite infrastructure (e.g no need for Wi-Fi bridges, onsite power) and which means cheaper to build, and opens up new applications/markets/sales opportunities
Better power consumption (4AA batteries give around 2 years lifespan,(as compared to 6 months with Wi-Fi product) as the product easily goes in and out of sleep mode as usage requires)
Better security (NB IoT takes advantage of the superior encryption and security of 4G and a fully licenced and controlled network)
Not hacked/better perception - NB IoT is an opportunity to present a new technology in a clean and positive light - that is NB IoT is for smart devices and IoT.
Other technologies/products can easily be integrated, e.g NFC, Smart home kit platforms, third party booking engines.
LDK’s smart access control system is designed so that it can be added to any existing electronic lock (currently works with all electronic mortise locks with 3.6V and 6V).
LDK has also developed an API that enables the Digital Keys Management platform to easily integrate into any existing software/platform. The API also means that partners/customers can white-label the digital keys apps, and management software/re-design the software/apps to work with the partners existing software as a service.