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Our NB IoT smart lock journey

In 2016, our company LEAPIN Digital Keys worked with a German Lock manufacturer to implement our Software Development Kit (SDK) to make their locks smart.

‘Making a lock smart’, in the simplest of explanations, means being able to; unlock and control access to locks with smartphones.

Locks are made smart with various technologies such as; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (NFC), Z-Wave, Zigbee and One Time Password (OTP).

Our SDK enabled lock manufacturers to add OTP and NFC with integrating smart phone apps, to their existing RFID keycard lock solutions.

Image: Launching our smart locks in Germany at Cebit

We also provided an Application Programming Interface(API), to lock manufacturers to give to their customers so that their new smart locks could integrate to existing software for more secure and efficient property management. Examples of existing software our API integrated to includes; Hotel Property Management Software, Channel Manager software and Online Travel Agency software.

The implementation of our SDK was successful and the German lock manufacturers improved their sales by over 50% in the next quarter with the new smart lock features appealing to many small to medium hotels in Germany.

In late 2016, we were approached by Huawei and Vodafone, who had seen our work in Germany, and they asked us to explore their new NarrowBand Internet of Things (NB IoT) technology.

The first thing that excited us about NB IoT was the high levels of security built into it. The other thing NB IoT offered, which our OTP/NFC SDK didn’t have, was the ability to directly communicate with the lock online in real-time (OTP’s offering was more of a ‘quasi online’ solution).

Image: LEAPIN Digital Keys CEO Steve Dunn in the joint Huawei Vodafone NB IoT lab in Newbury UK.

NB IoT also meant we could offer customers added smart locks features such as;

  • remote unlocking from apps and software (OTP/NFC enabled us to only share the digital key with someone’s phone, not directly unlock the door from anywhere)

  • canceling digital keys at anytime (OTP/NFC meant you had to physically visit the lock to cancel the digital key with an override code).

We also noticed that by bringing the lock online with NB IoT we could offer a more interoperable solution - that is better interfaces with other hardware and software. For example, adding a motion detector to the lock (connected by NB IoT) could easily be set up and monitored in the same software we use to manage the smart locks.

We spent the first part of 2017 in the joint Huawei Vodafone NB IoT lab in Newbury UK, building a prototype of our NB IoT smart access control system.

Video: Working on our NB IoT smart lock prototype in the joint Huawei Vodafone NB IoT lab

By June we finished our first prototype and we achieved a world first by successfully sending the first ever unlock command over the NB IoT network.

We demonstrated our prototype at Vodafone’s Innovation day at the Headquarters in the UK, and got the interest of a number of senior IoT managers.

Up until now, some people believed that NB IoT had a high latency of around 10-20 seconds, and so it would not be appropriate for access control and smart locks. We proved them wrong with a low latency of 1-3 seconds.

Image: Demonstrating our NB IoT smart locks at the Vodafone HQ Innovation Day June 2017

After the summer break we went to work on building a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and added a few new features to the prototype including two more opening methods namely;

NFC unlocking - using keycards, and NFC phones. ‘Local’ phone NFC unlocking could be used after using the NB IoT network to program the lock with a unique NFC ID to work for a specified date/time and user.

PIN unlocking - Programming the lock with a unique ‘access PIN’ over NB IoT, so that a lock numberpad could be used as another unlocking method.

We spent the latter half of 2017 further refining our product, and interfacing to Huawei’s Ocean Connect Device Management platform. These interfaces meant we could track data flowing throughout the system, increase security, and offer a more reliable solution for multiple lock management.

In early 2018, we went into the Huawei Shenzen NB IoT lab in China, and began extensive testing to get certification. Huawei built the NB IoT network and it was a condition that all NB IoT device partners must get certified before going to market.

Image: Our CTO in the NB IoT lab testing

After over 5000 unlock commands in the lab, and a lot of back-end tweaking and firmware updates, we reached 99% successful remote unlocking over the NB IoT network in 1-3 seconds (1% in 3-10 seconds). We also optimized our antenna and determined workable NB IoT signal strength levels.

Finally in March 2018, we received the coveted NB IoT market ready certification.

The next step was to replicate these same lab tests results in the field with a pilot. Vodafone asked all device partners to pilot test in Spain, as it was the country with the most reliable and extensive NB IoT network.

We found a system integrator in Malaga Spain (a company with experience developing IoT products, and a re-seller of access control products) and with their support we began pilot tests in their offices.

Image: In meetings with Vodafone Spain, Madrid.

By April we finished the field pilot tests, with several firmware upgrades/configurations to our back-end to integrate with the local Spanish NB IoT network.

We also polished our API’s some more and provided them to our system integrator partners in Spain, so they could customerise some access control management software for Vodafone Spain who are looking to implement an office solution.

Image: Screenshot of Spanish NB IoT Smart Lock Digital Keys Management Software

At this time, we were determined to see if our product worked on other NB IoT networks around the world, so we made arrangements with Vodafone Australia, Telia Norway, and Duetche Telekom in Poland, and successfully connected our product to their NB IoT networks, and tested out our product.

The final test to pass before we were ready to sell our product was what we called ‘monkey crash tests’. That is, we had to deliberately try to cause our system to crash as if we were monkeys playing with it. These tests were about making the product more robust and user friendly. During the monkey crash tests, we identified a couple of user behavioral issues, and improved the UX/UI to the apps and software.

Image: One of our NB IoT smart locks

We completed the monkey crash tests in June 2018 and after one and half years of building and testing, we’re finally ready to release the world’s first complete end-to-end NB IoT smart access control solution to the market.

We’ve made arrangements with manufacturing partners and we plan to begin manufacturing our new NB IoT smart locks next month.

If you are interested in ordering our NB IoT smart access product, please send us an email info@digitalkeys.co

Image: Our NB IoT smart lock (interior)