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"NB-IoT makes bike trackers from IT'S MY BIKE shine."

GPS and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) are two technologies that make the new IT’S MY BIKE service world for e-bikes possible. The innovative radio standard NB-IoT is particularly suitable for smart services such as digital anti-theft protection, an emergency assistant (eCall) and, in the future, private e-bike sharing. Why? This data transmission technology impresses with its low costs, wide range, high building penetration and long battery life. Available across Germany, the pioneering Narrowband IoT network makes the Internet of things suitable for mass markets. Our news editor spoke to Michael Reinartz, Director Consumer Services and Innovation at Vodafone Deutschland, IT’S MY BIKE’s IoT partner.

Q: What exactly is the Internet of things (IoT)? What can it do and what can we expect from it over the coming years?

Kevin Ashton, the person who first coined the term ‘Internet of things’ twenty years ago, spoke of “sensors with an internet connection which behave in the same way as the Internet by establishing open, spontaneous connections, exchanging data freely and supporting applications never seen before. Computers will thus be able to understand the world around them and become humanity’s nervous system.” This refers to objects communicating with each other and with us as people via the Internet.
If objects are networked, this networking not only has an impact on almost all sectors of the economy but also on many everyday situations.

Q: Can you give us some specific examples of IoT applications besides the e-bike?

There are examples in almost all sectors and life situations. The Internet of things can be used to make our daily life safer. For example, consider a car tyre that notifies the driver that it is about to burst as they drive along a road. Or imagine a mobile ECG device which alerts doctors remotely whenever their at-risk patients are having problems with their blood pressure or heartbeat rate.
Another benefit is that the Internet of things can save us time. For example, people won’t need to wait all morning for the electricity meter man to come round. Intelligent sensors can also help avoid stress by reducing the time spent looking for a parking space. They can tell the driver where the nearest free parking space is located. The Internet of things can ultimately save significant costs in many places – for example, machines in industrial workshops can report when they need to be serviced.

Q: What exactly is Narrowband IoT?

Different radio standards sometimes do not offer adequate range, as is the case with WLAN, or consume too much energy when transmitting the required data. Narrowband IoT offers a solution. Vodafone is the first network operator to activate Narrowband IoT over an extensive area in Germany. It is based on the existing LTE network and thus ensures extremely wide ranges and extensive coverage. Narrowband IoT technology allows networks to penetrate into deep basements, meaning that any type of machine location can be displayed.
Sensors in machine networks also transmit and receive their data in a way which saves a great deal of energy so that a single battery charge can guarantee operation for up to ten years. Sensors thus no longer need to depend on external power sources.

Q: And what makes NB-IoT so interesting for the e-bike?

NB-IoT offers two decisive advantages for IoT solutions on e-bikes. First of all, the very long battery life we have just mentioned.
Secondly, the wide network coverage, especially the penetration into deep basements that NB-IoT offers. If an e-bike is stolen, for example, it may be taken down into such a basement and the radio signal will need to pass through many walls. The good thing about NB-IoT is that it also provides a connection to such places. You also obviously require wide network coverage.
These characteristics make NB-IoT the ideal radio standard for small data packages that need to be transmitted very reliably.

Q: What is your personal vision of the future networked bike?
What do you think an e-bike will be able to do in 2030? What technologies can Vodafone provide to support these capabilities?

First of all, I think that e-bikes are becoming increasingly more popular and are a crucial element in (urban) transport. Developments over recent years has shown that battery enhancement, i.e. a longer battery life and faster charging, and a reduction in battery weight will be key drivers in this process.
Apart from that, I’m sure that there will be many other features that will make e-bikes safer and riding even more convenient.
First of all, I can envisage e-bikes being able to use sensors to detect hazardous situations, just like cars do today. Using a fingerprint to unlock e-bikes would be another cool advancement for today’s locks. Integrated navigation systems or voice control could also be introduced to provide convenience.
Sharing models will continue to gain in relevance, especially in urban areas. The sharing economy will become even more important, especially for more expensive e-bikes.
It is we at Vodafone who make many of these applications possible in the first place with our connectivity. These are not one-size fits-all solutions; they are custom-fit solutions such as NB-IoT. We also assist start-ups with a cloud infrastructure to promote innovation further in this area.

Q: Do you also ride a connected bike? If so, what technology is fitted to the bike?

I haven’t started riding a connected bike yet. As we at Vodafone attach great importance to protecting our employees, we have been working from home for months now. That’s why I’m planning to buy an e-bike as a reward to myself. I can then use the bike to explore Düsseldorf and the surrounding area.

Q: Does the Internet of things also play a role in your private life? If so, in what way or what type of application do you use?

Oh yes. I have filled whole rooms in my home with technical gadgets. First of all, I have smart security applications such as surveillance cameras, which have already alerted and protected me in an emergency, by the way. Other gadgets range from smart speakers and wearables, such as smart watches, through to a smart house control system.

Q: 2G vs. NB-IoT vs. LoRa vs. Sigfox. Which technology is the right one for services related to the networked bike and why?

All four of these technologies achieve can only low speeds yet are very different from one another. 2G is already quite an old technology from the early nineties and mobile service providers will probably no longer pay it much attention in the coming years.
NB-IoT, LoRa and Sigfox, on the other hand, are all low-frequency technologies that require significantly less power than other mobile communication variants. They are thus more suitable for tracking goods and products which have a low power source or none from home.
The key difference with NB-IoT is that it is the only technology which is available worldwide based on the 3GPP standard and which uses the 4G licence band. The licensed range guarantees significantly more comprehensive coverage and high-quality data transmission, even across borders.

Q: What do you think of the IoT Venture/IT’S MY BIKE solution?

I personally find the IT’S MY BIKE solution highly innovative. The dramatically expanding e-bikes market is precisely where solutions are needed that will allow end customers to protect their bike more effectively or find it again quickly if it should be stolen. IT’S MY BIKE recognised this potential and launched a solution onto the market that will help many e-bike owners. First and foremost, NB-IoT allows the IT’S MY BIKE bicycle tracker to impress with convenience and reliability. I also believe that the IT’S MY BIKE’s digital ecosystem will steadily expand to make the e-bike experience safer and more convenient for customers.

Q: How did the cooperative partnership with IT’S MY BIKE come about?

Our collaboration with IT’S MY BIKE began back in 2018 when Vodafone and IT’S MY BIKE CEO Jürgen Veith held initial consultations. We maintained contact and as IT’S MY BIKE drew closer to market launch and needed to choose a reliable, long-term partner for connectivity, it opted for Vodafone. IT’S MY BIKE received a custom-made service package from us in the end, including our IoT management platform. Ever since then, we have been constantly working on expanding our partnership with regards to both new products and innovative features.

Q: Surprisingly, from time to time, we hear that NB-IoT does not provide blanket coverage. People have said that search and find doesn’t work in rural areas, for example. Would you like to comment on that?

Our NB-IoT network provides almost complete coverage across Germany, reaching 98% of the territory. We also provide LTE-M with a coverage of up to 95%. Consequently, there is a high level of availability in rural regions too.

Q: What other smart mobility applications do you think are possible?

One really cool feature that I already use in my car is a display telling me when a traffic light is going to turn red or green. When driving in my car, I can see exactly how many seconds there are before a traffic light changes. The system is currently only available in a few cities in Germany. It has the potential to make city centre traffic safer and flow more quickly as drivers can avoid braking suddenly.
Another solution already in use at Vodafone is a smart parking system. This system uses sensors in the car park to show which parking spaces are empty, enabling it to guide drivers to the right spot. It’s highly important innovation given the severe congestion caused by drivers searching for a free space!
However, we are also looking at innovations for other mobility solutions. We are currently developing a navigation system for drones in cooperation with Ericsson, for example.

Q: To what extent is NB-IoT important for future mobility concepts? Can technology help advance transport transition? If so, how?

NB-IoT is particularly suitable for static use in the context of smart city and smart traffic applications. There are many examples, such as the parking solutions that I have already mentioned, or also automated invoicing for electric charging stations, petrol pumps, systems for handling tolls and much more. NB-IoT is thus a crucial pillar in the Economy of Things.
Moreover, NB-IoT makes it possible to track vehicles and goods in transit in all buildings and at all depths. In this way, NB-IoT achieves new applications in many other fields besides networked mobility – providing logistics solutions, for example.

Many thanks for talking to us, Mr Reinartz.