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Smart grid

How one-way communication technologies promote IoT

Power pole and wind turbines in a rural area. Source: Fotolia/thomaslerchphoto

The Internet of Things (IoT) is starting to become a reality, even if some sources claim otherwise. Here’s my top 6 list to explain how one-way communication technologies are helping to keep us grounded while still realizing IoT applications – today!

"Just think how much we would save on security and system reliability – and get permanent coverage, too!"

#1: Reliable, inexpensive, and immediate energy solution

Stromnetz Berlin GmbH, a company in the Vattenfall Group and Germany’s largest citywide distribution grid operator, needed to find a reliable, inexpensive, and immediate solution for managing all of its many affiliated energy consumers, including small-scale producing facilities – in order to switch them as needed. The NP2M network from e*Message was in place, and in a very short time, Bosch.IO (formerly Bosch Software Innovations) and e*Message were able to immediately find a smart grid solution and put it in motion – it’s been in operation in Germany’s capital since September 2014.

Three months later, the solution received the Berlin Brandenburg Innovation Award: it was the only innovation to be recognized in both the IT and energy categories. Stromnetz Berlin stressed that, instead of spending considerable sums just to upgrade the conventional technology in one section of Berlin’s Neukölln district, they were able to implement a solution throughout the entire city for just a fraction of the cost.

In this situation, a web-based control solution was ruled out for various reasons: the immediate availability required, the cost, and the burden placed on the system by a steep increase in the number of facilities to be controlled were all factors. However, a web-based control solution will gradually be made available for additional services.

NP2M solutions – already available. The telecommunications networks they need – rolled out nationwide. They supplement IoT solutions – starting now. Where they provide the most benefit.

This pictures shows a member of the Stromnetz Berlin staff in the control room, looking at monitors. Source: Stromnetz Berlin - Vattenfall
Stromnetz Berlin’s control room

#2: Chances to become a commodity

Let’s look at Vattenfall Stromnetz and switches for the new energy grid (Berlin smart grid). If you miniaturize and scale it, the StromPager technology used there has a chance to become a real commodity, in the same way NP2M did. For instance, by using it in radio chips on IP boards. Maybe they won’t be used immediately or everywhere, but they’re ready to go for future applications. NP2M offers up at least one good example of how this might work: Back at the beginning of the 2010s, a new market for personal weather stations emerged, driven by good design and good sales management, and fantastic value for the money. Millions of units were used in interface boards. These weather stations delivered forecasts and warnings transmitted using national infrastructure. And all of these existing devices, found in millions of households across Europe, rely on an NP2M interface. Further refined, this interface is now part of the e*Nergy solution.

Provided the batch size is large enough, the additional protection offered by non-IP technology on an IP receiver board still costs (almost) nothing.

#3: Everything should contain complementary technologies

A few years back, Siemens manufactured cell phones. Themselves. Well, not everything themselves, but under their brand name. Even in the final weeks of Siemens Mobile’s existence, no one saw any reason to even talk about this device’s available technologies, other than the usual GSM technology (and to some degree, WLAN). Today, every smartphone has GSM, GPRS, LTE, Bluetooth, and of course WiFi. And yet some people still cling to the idea that each device, each receiver, can be connected to only one infrastructure. Sure, some infrastructure providers would love that. But does it make sense?

One device, one receiver board, one chip set – everything can and should contain complementary technologies. It makes everything more secure. Think hybrid solutions.

#4: Complementary one-way technologies can provide added value

The more connected things are, the more information they create. And of course the more everyday objects that get connected, the more important data protection becomes. The data produced make users more transparent, especially information gleaned from sensor data that has nothing to do with the device’s actual purpose. It’s out there in the world, and trying to control who has access to it today (or tomorrow) is often hard work.

The best thing would be if unnecessary data were never created in the first place. Comparing one-way technologies (such as good old radio or TV) and streaming offers makes it clear: the value to the user is the same, but in the second case, information is created about how the user reacts. Sometimes this is desirable, sometimes less so. Sometimes it becomes a problem for the data protection club.

When talking about special applications, complementary one-way technologies can provide added value. Still, it’s no secret that protection against unauthorized access could be easier to guarantee.

#5: One-way technology can be woken up as needed

If a device is located somewhere outside, in some cases it makes sense for its default setting to be “asleep”. That is, it’s using virtually no electricity. It only “wakes up” when action is required. In the same way, in the case of a widespread power outage, StromPager could be used to activate smaller energy generators or sources. Or what about the smoke detector? We expect it to perch on the ceiling, ready to go at any point throughout its 10-year lifetime. And it should also sound the alarm in the case of a major catastrophe – even if there’s a power outage! Another example: a container locating system that is permanently installed, transmitting its coordinates in case of theft or loss. But until then, it should use as little energy as possible. Once again, a one-way technology can be woken up as needed.

For some applications, the device should be woken up only when needed. This wake-up effect can be delivered by NP2M using the StromPager network.

# 6: Complementing backup infrastructure ensures safety

Everything’s IP – the same infrastructure everywhere, all parts connected with and dependent on each other. Sure, this is convenient. But it’s a bit dangerous, too. And if the worst case scenario does happen, it can even be deadly. See also the article Seven enterprise risks to consider. Ministries of the interior used to have fax machines, vehicles equipped with loudspeakers, and analog telecommunication cables. Not to mention index cards and buzzers. These days, one IP conversion project chases the next. And what about that familiar virtue of the good German engineer: better to be redundant, two is better than one? My thinking is that, if I’m in a critical situation where I have to have light, I don’t turn on first one light and then the other – I turn both on at the same time.

There aren’t that many things these days that, in the case of disaster, I can use as a secure backup other than the internet. Most of them are broadcast-based, like TV or radio. Or NP2M.

We should be glad that the infrastructure that complements IP networks is maintained, to some degree expanded, and used more often. Both because of the benefits of the internet and because then we can use IP networks more or less without reservation.

This graphic shows that a low correlation of the components such as communication server, broadcast server, broadcast sender, and receiving components ensures a high availability of the whole system. Source: Bosch.IO
Low correlation of the components – high availability of the whole system

The top 6 show that you can’t equate “smart” with the exclusive use of internet technologies for communication. That’s good news, because complementing them with one-way communication technologies such as NP2M makes many things easier: NP2M solutions are cost-effective. They don’t use much in the way of resources. They offer additional security when it comes to availability, coverage, and even access security. In hybrid solutions, they are part of an ideal communication infrastructure for IoT applications.

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