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Narrowband IoT – Business Benefits for Logistics Players

In last month’s blogpost, we looked at how Internet of Things (IoT) technologies help travel and tourism players gain competitive edge through tailored service offerings. This month, we’re staying with IoT. But now we’ll consider how the wireless technology used to connect IoT devices can benefit logistics companies. And more specifically, how Narrowband IoT can deliver on the promises of RFID – enabling logistics players to harness huge volumes of data across a range of usage scenarios at an affordable cost.

What Ever Happened to RFID?

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was once one of the hottest topics in logistics. Its appeal was clear: By allowing businesses to tag goods with information and read that data using radio technology, RFID promised to automate many time-consuming tracking and scanning tasks – allowing data on entire truckloads of goods to be captured just by driving through the plant gate.

But this high-tech dream didn’t come true. The cost of individual RFID tags and the large numbers of them needed for widespread deployment were simply too expensive. And issues with power consumption and battery life meant solutions of this kind couldn’t deliver on their initial promise.

The New Way to Tag and Scan Goods: NB-IoT

With the advent of Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT), the RFID dream could soon be within logistics players’ reach. Developed to support diverse new IoT devices and services, this standards-based low power wide area radio technology offers highly compelling advantages, including:

  • More affordable, low-complexity hardware

  • Longer battery life (10+ years in some use cases)

  • Enhanced technical capabilities

  • Data exchange over standard wireless networks (especially via 5G)

With the overall market for NB-IoT expected to grow from USD 320.5 million in 2017 to USD 8,221.3 million by 2022, it’s small wonder research and advisory specialist Gartner is urging businesses to focus on the technology.

NB-IoT in Action: Use Cases and Real-World Deployments

So, how can NB-IoT benefit logistics companies? Perhaps not surprisingly, the use cases for this new technology overlap with those originally envisioned for RFID. Potential scenarios include:

  • Facility management services (for example, checking/replenishing bathroom supplies)

  • Indoor tracking

  • Outdoor applications (for example, route tracking)

  • Visual guidance support for drivers

Real Time Asset Tracking – Indoors and Out

One example of NB-IoT in use is the asset tracking solution from Accent Systems, which allows companies to keep tabs on goods, both in the warehouse and in transit. The manufacturer states that the new technology offers long battery lifetimes, enhanced indoor coverage, and low-cost network deployment, plus secure connectivity.

The solution’s IoT tracker –featuring geolocation functionality, a temperature sensor, and a shock detector – connects to an IoT platform, enabling users to monitor all data in real time. In addition to giving operators details of pallets for loading via a screen on their forklifts, the solution also provides dispatchers with information on goods in transit. The resulting logistics network optimizations can reduce overall supply-chain costs by 5–10%.

The Humble Pallet Just Got Smarter

Another pioneering solution is the smart europalletdeveloped by Fraunhofer Institute for Materials Management and Logistics with the European Pallet Association. These pallets use Deutsch Telekom’s NarrowBand IoT to interactively communicate via smart devices, transforming them into information carriers that can be tracked and routed automatically.

The plan is to deploy these smart pallets in the intelligent logistics networks of tomorrow. And because the solution is NB-IoT-based, it offers almost unlimited scalability.

A Fast, Affordable Way to Reduce Delivery Delays

In China, Huawei and DHLrecently completed a proof of concept that deployed NB-IoT chipsets to route inbound trucks to the right unloading docks at an automotive facility. All relevant data is transferred using common cellular communication bands and existing base stations, simplifying implementation and cutting costs.

Dispatchers and drivers can see the availability of docks and accurately estimate waiting times in real time, enabling trucks to be prioritized in line with needs. In addition to halving waiting times for drivers, this significantly reduces the risk of manufacturing delays due to untimely deliveries.

Back to the Future?

These real-world examples show just some of the potential that NB-IoT holds for logistics providers. The appeal of the technology is undeniable. But how should you go about getting to grips with it? And where do you start when it comes to gauging its benefits your business?

The answer may lie in your corporate archives. If your company looked into RFID back in the day, now is the time to dust off those old use cases and start considering how NB-IoT could help put those plans into action.

When you consider that the cost of an NB-IoT landscape is likely to be a fraction of that of a comparable RFID solution, you may find you have a persuasive business case for delving deeper into the world of NB-IoT.

My suggestion would be for every logistics decision-maker to revisit the use cases and business cases developed for RFID and reevaluate these with NB-IoT in mind. If you need any additional input, feel free to reach out to me.

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