Spark NZ fast-tracking build of long-range IoT network

Spark is building a long-range network to enable the Internet of Things in New Zealand’s most populated urban centres, switching on sites in Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland in time for the new year. Spark has been testing the technology with partners from a range of industries, from agriculture through to marine, and is seeing strong demand for the network as a result. Resource monitoring company Levno are working with Spark to have coverage extended into rural areas as well.

The days of the Internet of Things (IoT) being little more than a futuristic buzz word will soon be over for New Zealand’s top 20 urban centres.* Spark has begun building a long-range (LoRa) IoT network to cover around 70% of the population by the middle of the 2018 calendar year. Sites in Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland are being switched on in the lead up to Christmas. A further sixteen cities will be connected early in 2018.*
The network will allow businesses and local councils to connect to "things", like waterways, traffic lights, and machinery. Sensors in these real-world objects will send information over the LoRa network, providing real-time insight into the infrastructure New Zealand cities run on. In turn, it will help local councils and asset-heavy organisations run better, with lower costs.
Spark’s GM IoT Solutions, Michael Stribling says:
“The ways we’ll be able to use this new network are huge – it will change how our cities and businesses operate. We can put sensors on vehicles and equipment so we know where they are and how they’re being used. Sensors will be able to tell our councils when to carry out maintenance. There are so many examples of how it will help us manage assets better.”
In addition to the country’s urban centres, Spark plans to extend the network to rural parts of the Waikato, Manawatu and Canterbury in the 2018 calendar year. To deliver this, Spark is working with Levno, who plan to use the network to provide fuel tank, grain silo and milk vat monitoring services to farmers. This will enable farmers to react quickly to issues and increase the efficiency of their operations.

Spark’s national LoRa network is being built by specialist network provider, and IoT rollout experts, Kordia. It will suit low-power, low-data uses, complementing the high-power LTE network (LTE Cat-M1 or ‘M1’) that Spark began trials on this month. By 2020 Spark’s IoT networks will cover around 80% of New Zealand’s population.

LoRa already tried and tested in New Zealand

Spark has been trialling LoRa network technology for the past year, and now has over 30 operational sites across Auckland, Waikato, Christchurch and Wellington. A number of partners have been involved in testing use-cases for the technology.

An example is BoatSecure, a boat monitoring system developed by IoT Ventures and business owner John McDermott. Sensors on a boat continuously check the boat's battery, bilge pump, location, and shore power supply. This information travels over Spark's LoRa network to an app on the boat owner's phone.

Cameron Harris of Beacon Marine Electronics has been using the system since August 2017. “There was an instance when a storm hit, and I was able to see that a boat connected with BoatSecure had lost shore power during the night, hours before I would normally find out,” says Harris.

Farmers from the Matamata-Piako region and South Island have also been trialling the network for the past year as part of the Connecting Farms project. Data sent from sensors across the farm has helped inform important decisions for farmers, such as when to irrigate, spray or harvest.

Spark’s broader IoT plans

Spark has committed to two new network technologies (LoRa and M1). This month it began trialling M1 ahead of a launch planned for early next year.
Spark is also monitoring the global progress of a second LTE IoT network type, Narrow Band (NB-IoT). Like M1, it will run over Spark’s licensed spectrum and extensive wireless network. Spark will invest in a Narrow Band network when the use cases and ecosystem become more mature.
Spark has also partnered with leading global platform providers to enable New Zealand companies to seamlessly connect to its networks.
"There will be so many different uses of IoT, so we’re seeking to provide the broadest set of IoT options to customers,” says Stribling.
“To do this, we’re making sure New Zealand has access to a range of world class networks and management platforms. We’re also continuing to take advantage of the data analytics power of Qrious, to help make sense of all the information coming our way as our environment begins talking to us."