Mr Lee talked about two classes of IoT, ‘deep’ IoT and ‘wide’ IoT. Deep IoT devices require high bandwidth and power supply. UnaBiz looks at wide IoT, which refers to devices that are very light, battery-powered and operate on pervasive networks. They can work anytime, anywhere in Singapore and do not rely on WiFi or the cellular network.
Recently OpenGov spoke to Mr Lup Yuen Lee, Chief Technology Officer at UnaBiz , the exclusive network operator of Sigfox’s low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) in Singapore and Taiwan. UnaBiz is the first IoT-dedicated network operator in Asia to roll out a nationwide IoT network.
Recently, UnaBiz enabled full indoor coverage of the Sigfox IoT network at all 4 terminals of Changi Airport. Smart solutions providers and system integrators have developed Sigfox-enabled solutions such as temperature sensors and other applications for the Smart Airport.
The Singapore-based company partnered Taipei City Government last year to build an IoT Innovation Lab. It is working with Airbus to advance research in digitalization of aircraft maintenance operations through the adoption of IoT solutions. In collaboration with bike-sharing company, oBike, UnaBiz is rolling out geolocation services for one million bikes on Sigfox Global LPWAN.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Mr Lee talked about different types of IoT applications and their network and power requirements and shared his views on the complexities of IoT development.
Deep vs Wide IoT
Mr Lee explained that there are two classes of IoT, ‘deep’ IoT and ‘wide’ IoT. Amazon Echo and Alexa are examples of deep IoT. Deep IoT devices require high bandwidth and power supply.
With the Amazon devices, the voice command goes to the cloud for processing and generating an output command. This has high computation power requirements and hence, these devices don’t work well on a low-bandwidth network or low battery power. As a result, they tend to stay fixed in offices or homes.
UnaBiz looks at wide IoT, which refers to devices that are very light, battery-powered and operate on pervasive networks. They can work anytime, anywhere in Singapore and do not rely on WiFi or the cellular network.
“We don’t think everyone will be able to afford an Amazon Echo. It is a very powerful device but it is not cheap, because there’s so much complexity inside it. In short, we’re just trying to be a very simple kind of IoT network, where you press a button and it triggers the backend. The device does not need to pair with Bluetooth or WiFi. It is simple and fuss-free, even for the elderly”, Mr Lee added.
Subscription also tends to be easier, and there is no need to worry about SIM cards because all the devices have a built-in ID. The ID indicates that the device belongs to a certain company, and all messages can be directed there, without any routing elsewhere. The packets are a mere 12 bytes, so bandwidth requirement is limited and users are not expected to pay an exorbitant price to use the network.
Cost-effective and energy-efficient IoT solutions
When Sigfox was created in Europe, it was primarily for outdoor applications, for low-power sensor kind of networks that need to send data intermittently. UnaBiz has been working on such applications that help collect data on outdoor environment, such as the weather and haze conditions. UnaBiz has been exploring indoor applications as well, such as tackling rodent infestations in F&B or retail shopping malls.
The trouble with rat traps is that if a rat gets caught, it has to be gotten rid of immediately. Otherwise the rodent will decompose, and the other rats will disperse. So how can building owners know if there is a rat stuck in the trap and alert someone to clean it up. Doing regular manual checks is simply a waste of manpower.
“The problem with this kind of use case is that the rats run around in very strange places, deep inside the building. You cannot guarantee that there’s WiFi network in air con vents, ducts etc.”, said Mr Lee.
Therefore, the solution needs to be able to penetrate into distant locations, without being constrained to just public areas or by WiFi coverage. Sigfox was found to be a good solution because of its pervasiveness. One base station can provide coverage for the whole building.
Mr Lee said, “We’re actually trying a few types of tracking solutions. You can install a GPS module, however as we all know, running GPS on any device uses up a lot of power.”
“The second idea being explored is WiFi geolocation – like an Android or iPhone which can use WiFi hotspots for locations – but if you think about it, they might not work in the wild in areas such as a reservoir because there is no network there, or in secluded areas such as big drains or canals for flood monitoring, on the rooftops of buildings with solar panels to monitor power storage and usage (UnaBiz is currently working with Sunseap on power metering), or at the basements of industrial buildings for monitoring water leakage.”
The third alternative would be to use the Sigfox network for geolocation.
Mr Lee said, “You can either use a high-power one which will drain your battery faster or you can choose something like Sigfox geolocation which requires no power, as long as it transmits one message a day.”
“For Sigfox, it’s easy, just one base station can penetrate the whole building indoors. There’s no need to shift the base station around and you do not need to put in additional base stations.”
“When we talk about networks, power and costs matter. If the rat trap needs to be hooked up to the mains, then it’s not going to work. You cannot be assured that there will be power source anywhere you go- so it has to be battery-powered. Battery power means that it has to be a very low power kind of network, WiFi will probably drain it because it consumes too much power,” he added.
The reason why Sigfox is so energy efficient is that the way it transmits in the form of a broadcast, sending out very small packets, as mentioned earlier. Every time a message is sent, three packets are sent at three different frequencies (this is called frequency hopping). When running on unlicensed frequencies, some of the packets might get blocked. If one is blocked, the others can still go through, ensuring that the message is transmitted.
“Because it is ‘broadcast’, the communication is very simple There’s no need to negotiate – 3G and WiFi networks need to authenticate with the hotspot. They need to make sure the password is correct. After that they need to keep the session alive, whereas Sigfox can shut down after each broadcast, reducing power consumption,” Mr Lee said.
Therefore, Sigfox is ideally suited to applications that need to be delivered at a very low cost, have less frequent communication requirements, and require exceptional battery performance.
There are numerous smart cities applications that requires such monitoring sensors where deployment need to be pervasive. If we think of waste management, building management, critical infrastructure monitoring, and imagine the need to put a sensor on all the fire hydrants, all AED (Automated external defibrillator) devices, all the power meters, all of the trees in Singapore, the cost and simplicity of deployment becomes crucial.
And how does Sigfox achieve wide penetration? Because it is an ultra-narrow band technology. Transmissions on wireless networks are divided into different channels. With Sigfox the communication channels are very narrow. Each message is 100 Hz wide. Because these channels are so small, the possibility of interference is very low.
Other networks like LoRa have the advantage of being able to send bigger packets, but bigger packets also imply higher risk of interference.
Barriers to take-off in IoT technologies
IoT technologies have been around for a while. And there is a market for interesting applications. Even if it is a small market like Singapore, technologies developed here can be exported worldwide.
Then what is holding back development and deployment?
Mr Lee has been an Adjunct Lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic School of Informatics & IT since April 2015, teaching and mentoring the next generation of ICT professionals in networking and IoT technologies. From his teaching experience, he realised that working on IoT technologies is quite difficult.
“Because it involves a whole range of skills. You have to know about hardware. You have to know about these devices. You have to know what powers these devices, what is the transmission range of these devices.”
“Next you have to go up in the cloud. These things will transmit to some base station, the base station will be connected to the cloud. You have to figure out how the data goes into the cloud. Then how do you build a cloud that can handle all these devices. It’s quite easy to handle one device at a time, for prototyping. But to handle hundreds of thousands of devices is quite challenging,” he explained. “It is very difficult to find people with that wide a skillset.”
Then there is the question to how to analyse all the data from the devices.
“Very few jobs in Singapore have that kind of data processing requirements. We are one of the first to actually do this kind of large scale analytics. We need tools to be able to massage the data.”
Mr Lee also said that today we see a lot of devices created just for the sake of it. These are examples of technology looking for a problem to solve. Identifying problems is a crucial step.
He provided an example of a very real problem UnaBiz is trying to address.
At a home for patients suffering from disabilities, some of the residents go out for work. The officials want to make sure that they report to work on time and that they also come back on time. It is about ensuring that they are safe and are not getting lost. The home cannot afford to give the residents expensive phones or trackers. Even if they do, the devices will run out of battery when their clients do not return.
UnaBiz proposed using one of its motion-triggered Sigfox devices. Residents can carry the device around and everytime they move, it sends a message to the cloud. Then, an algorithm is used to do machine learning and figure out where the person is. Being mindful of privacy concerns, the technology is kept accurate to a radius of around 1 km, which is enough to know if the person is safe, without pinpointing their exact location.
This is only one example of tracking solutions for non-motorised assets. Other use case include tracking bicycles, people, pets. The device must be affordable and accessible for the mainstream users to adopt and benefit from.
Ultimately, accelerating IoT development and deployment would require connecting the people with expertise in devices and in cloud computing with the business people, placing them all on one team. This would enable the creation of solutions with real value, solving real-life problems.
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針對室外與室內應用開發具成本效益和能源效率的物聯網 (IoT) 解決方案
OpenGov 最近與 UnaBiz 技術長 Lup Yuen Lee 先生訪談。UnaBiz 是 Sigfox 在新加坡及台灣的低功率廣域網路 (LPWAN) 獨家網路營運商，也是亞洲第一家物聯網專屬網路營運商，推展全國性物聯網網路。近來 UnaBiz 在樟宜機場的所有 4 個航廈建置了 Sigfox 物聯網網路，提供完全的室內覆蓋率。智慧解決方案供應商與系統整合商開發諸多採用 Sigfox 技術的解決方案，例如溫度感應器及其他應用，以打造智慧機場。UnaBiz去年開始與台北市政府合作，共同打造物聯網創新實驗室。並與 Airbus 合作推展研究，透過採用物聯網解決方案將飛機維護作業數位化。此外，UnaBiz 也與單車共享公司 oBike 合作，透過 Sigfox Global LPWAN 針對一百萬部單車提供地理位置定位服務。在廣泛討論中，Lee 先生談到物聯網的不同應用類型，以及其網路和功率需求，並分享他對物聯網發展複雜性的看法。
深入型 vs 廣域型物聯網
Lee 先生解釋物聯網可分為兩類，「深入型」物聯網和「廣域型」物聯網。Amazon Echo 和 Alexa 是「深入型」物聯網的例子，而「深入型」物聯網裝置則需要的頻寬和耗電量較高。運用 Amazon 裝置，在雲端處理語音指令並產生輸出指令。這需要高運算力，因此這類裝置不適用低頻寬網路或低電池功率，所以它們通常會放在辦公室或家中的固定位置。UnaBiz 著眼於廣域物聯網，這類裝置體積輕巧、使用電池供電而且在無限網路上運作。它們在新加坡可以隨時隨地運作，不需要依賴 WiFi 或其他行動網路。「我們認為不是每個人都負擔得起 Amazon Echo。雖然它是功能十分強大的裝置，但是價格並不便宜，因為該裝置的結構非常複雜。簡而言之，我們只想嘗試非常簡單的物聯網，只需按下按鈕就能觸發後端。這類裝置不需要與藍牙配對或使用 WiFi，它簡單易用，即使是年長者也能輕鬆上手」Lee 先生表示。服務申購也比較簡單，無需擔心 SIM 卡問題，因為所有裝置都有內建 ID。此 ID 可指出該裝置屬於某家公司，而且所有訊息都可導向該處，不會路由到別處。封包大小只有 12 位元組，因此頻寬需求不大，而使用者不需要支付昂貴的費用就能使用網路。
Sigfox 當初在歐洲創立時，是以室外應用為主，針對需要間歇傳送資料的低功率感應器類型網路。UnaBiz 一直從事於此類的應用，協助在室外環境下收集資料，例如天氣和霧霾條件；UnaBiz 也持續探索室內應用，例如處理 F&B 或零售商場的鼠類侵害情況。使用捕鼠陷阱的問題在於，如果抓到老鼠，就必須立即將它處理掉，否則老鼠會腐爛，而其他老鼠將會四散他處。那麼，大樓業主要如何才能知道是否有老鼠被捕鼠陷阱抓到，並提醒人員加以清除？定期人工檢查是一件十分浪費人力的工作。「此類使用個案的問題在於，老鼠會在大樓內部深處一些奇奇怪怪的空間活動。你無法保證空調通風管、管道之類的地方會在 WiFi 網路覆蓋範圍內」Lee 先生說道。因此，解決方案必須能夠遍及遠端位置，不受限於公共區域或 WiFi 覆蓋範圍。Sigfox 倍受肯定為出色的解決方案，就是因為它的普及性，一個基地站的覆蓋範圍可遍及整棟大樓。Lee 先生表示：「事實上，我們正在嘗試一些新的處理解決方案，你可以安裝 GPS 模組，但是我們都知道，在任何裝置上執行 GPS 都會十分耗電。」「第二個嘗試的想法是使用 WiFi 地理位置定位 – 就像 Android 或 iPhone 可使用 WiFi 熱點定位 – 但是在野外（例如水庫）可能沒有用，因為那裡沒有網路，或是在隱蔽的區域（例如大型排水道或水道）進行洪水監測，在加裝太陽能板的大樓樓頂上監測儲電量和用電量（UnaBiz 目前與 Sunseap 合作進行電量測量）或是工業大樓地下室監測漏水情況。」
第三種替代選擇是使用 Sigfox 網路進行地理位置定位。
Lee 先生說：「你可以選擇使用高功率的方案，但是這會讓電池電量更快用完，或是選擇像 Sigfox 地理位置定位這樣的方案，只要每天傳送一則訊息，就完全不耗電。」「對 Sigfox 而言，這很簡單，只需一個基地站就能覆蓋整個大樓的室內環境，不需要到處移動基地站，也不需要額外增設基地站。」「當我們談到網路時，耗電量和成本很重要。如果捕鼠陷阱需要連接電源，就不可能成功。你無法保證到處都能連接電源，一定得要使用電池。使用電池意味著必須是非常低功率的網路，而 WiFi 可能會將電池電量用完，因為它的耗電量很大」他表示。Sigfox 之所以具備出色的能源效率，是因為它以廣播形式傳輸，傳送的封包非常小，如前所述。每次傳送一則訊息時，會以三種頻率傳送三個封包（稱為跳頻）。在未授權的頻率上運作時，部分封包可能會被阻擋。如果其中一個封包被阻擋，其他的封包仍能通過，以確保訊息傳輸。「因為它是「廣播」形式，通訊方式十分簡單，無需進行協定 – 3G 和 WiFi 網路則需要通過熱點驗證。它們必須確認密碼正確，之後，還必須維持工作階段處於作用中狀態，而 Sigfox 可在每次廣播後關閉，減少耗電量」Lee 先生說。因此，Sigfox 最適合需要以非常低廉的成本傳輸、不需要經常通訊，而且需要出色電池續航力的應用。目前有許多智慧城市應用需要普及部署此類監測感應器，當我們談到廢棄物管理、大樓管理、重大基礎設施監測，以及為新加坡的所有消防栓、所有 AED（自動體外心臟去顫器）裝置、所有電錶、所有樹木都加裝感應器時，成本和部署簡單就十分重要。Sigfox 如何做到普及性？因為它是超窄頻技術。無線網路上的傳輸被分割為不同的通道，使用 Sigfox，通訊通道可以變得非常窄，每則訊息為 100 Hz 寬。因為這些通道很窄，所以受到干擾的可能性也很低。其他像 LoRa 的網路可以傳送較大的封包，但也意味著受到干擾的風險較高。
物聯網技術問世已有一段時間，而且諸多有意思的應用也有市場，即使是像新加坡這樣的小型市場，在這裡開發的技術也能輸出到全世界。那麼，是什麼讓開發及部署遲滯不前？Lee 先生自 2015 年 4 月起就在 Temasek Polytechnic School of Informatics & IT 擔任兼職講師，教授和指導網路與物聯網技術的下一代 ICT 專業人材。從他的教學經驗，他發現從事物聯網技術相當困難。「因為這涉及廣泛的技能。你必須瞭解硬體。你必須瞭解這些裝置。你必須瞭解這些裝置的供電來源，以及這些裝置的傳輸範圍。」「接下來，你還必須瞭解雲端。因為這些裝置將會傳輸至基地站，而基地站將會連線至雲端，你必須瞭解在雲端中如何處理資料，以及如何打造可處理這些裝置的雲端。對初步的原型開發而言，一次處理一部裝置相當簡單。但是要處理數十萬部裝置就十分具挑戰性」他解釋道。「要找到兼具這些技能的人才十分困難。」接下來的問題，是如何分析裝置傳輸的各項資料，「在新加坡，有這類資料處理要求的工作很少。我們是第一批實際從事這類龐大資料分析的人，我們需要可以傳輸資料的工具。」Lee 先生也表示，現今我們看到許多裝置的問世都只是為了這個目的，這些都是尋找待解決問題的技術實例，找出問題是關鍵步驟。他以 UnaBiz 目前正在嘗試解決的一個實際問題為例：在失能者之家，有些失能住民可外出工作。政府單位需要確保他們準時上班，準時回家。如此以確保他們安全無虞以及不會迷路。這類機構無法負擔為每位住民都提供昂貴的手機或追蹤器，即便這麼做，當住民沒回家時，這些裝置的電池電量也會用完。UnaBiz 建議採用其動作觸發的 Sigfox 裝置，住民可隨身攜帶裝置，每當他們移動時，裝置就會傳送訊息至雲端。然後，採用一種執行機器學習的演算法來找出該名住民的所在位置，基於隱私權考量，此項技術的精確度維持在半徑 1 公里左右，足以確定該名人員安全，而不會精確定位其所在位置。這只是其中一個用於非機動化資產的追蹤解決方案例子，其他使用個案包括追蹤單車、人、寵物，裝置的價格必須經濟實惠，而且讓大眾便於取得，才能推廣普及並從中獲益。加速物聯網的開發與部署最終需要將具備裝置和雲端運算專業技術的人材與商業界的人士連結在一起，同在一個團隊中合作。如此才能打造具實際價值、可解決實際生活問題的解決方案。