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Firms are urged to see network’s potential to make Norwich smart city

PUBLISHED: 17:10 15 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:12 15 October 2018

Wienke Giezman on stage at The Things Network conference. Picture: Archant

Wienke Giezman on stage at The Things Network conference. Picture: Archant

Archant

Norwich could be among the pioneers of a new smart city network which allows the instant monitoring of everything from elderly care to air pollution, an international conference in the city was told.

The event explored LoRa, a low-energy data communication network, comparable to wifi, which is already in place in the city centre thanks to devices installed at the Millennium Library and County Hall.

The network is used for devices and sensors to relay information over a network which uses far less power than a standard wifi connection.

It was launched by Norfolk County Council in the summer, and Wienke Giezman, founder of host The Things Network, said on Monday East Anglian tech companies were only scratching the surface of LoRa’s potential.

He said: “Start slow. Make a small investment and tinker with the technology. Figure out what your problems are and then think: ‘How can this technology relate?’”

The first use of LoRa was in Amsterdam where devices reported whether boats were being flooded during heavy rainfall, and reported the information directly to owners.

Mr Giezman’s message was reiterated by Lawrence Archand, of sponsor Concept 13, who said: “You need to be able to put this technology in the hands of an 11-year-old, and they be able to understand it.

“Lots of start-ups have an idea which they think will change the world, but you need to put this technology to the businesses and see how it can solve their problems.”

Eagle Labs engineer Sharon Jones said collaboration would be essential to bringing LoRa to the consumer market.

“You need someone who understands the technology to carry out the training, you need a software developer and an app developer to bring it to the consumer – all people who could work in the same office of a large corporation, but who have never spoken,” she said.

Mr Giezeman added that pitfalls he had seen on other projects had arisen out of including statutory bodies too early in the process.

“I was told by the CPO in Amsterdam that the best thing we could’ve done is not involve them until a later stage,” he said.

“Councils are very good at identifying problems and businesses can help to solve them, but they need to work side-by-side and avoid over-involvement.”

What is LoRaWAN?

LoRaWAN is a network of low power devices, which communicate simple data over a wide area.

The technology could be compared to a low-energy wifi network.

A gateway, similar to a wifi hub is set up, and devices which count and communicate simple data are connected to it, relaying back information.

Once one gateway is set up, it can be used as a collection hub for multiple data sets from different devices.

An example of this could be a private healthcare service installing a hub and giving clickers to their elderly clients, which transmit an SOS signal if they fall.

Once the hub has been set up, it could also be used by a local council to collect data from their own devices on CO2 emissions in the region.

It is the sharing of the gateways, the establishment of a ‘network’, which could drive the building of a smart city.

One transmission or data collection device could use as little as one battery per 10 years, as it is collecting basic data – making it more efficient than wifi.

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