The internet of things (IoT) market is getting exciting in Hong Kong in just the past few months.
In September, China Mobile Hong Kong (CMHK), the Hong Kong subsidiary co-owned by the largest national mobile telecom network in China, announced their plans to support narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) network for all kinds of enterprise IoT applications. In the same month, 3 Hong Kong also followed suit and launched its NB-IoT infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Cisco Hong Kong has also demonstrated their new offerings at the Hong Kong Science Technology Park (HKSTP) in low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) based on low-power RAN (LoRA) standard. Earlier this month, another global standard SigFox Alliance, operated by Thinxtra has also recently announced the launch of their IoT network in Hong Kong. Thinxtra has been issued a public license to operate a citywide mobile data network in Hong Kong. Both LoRA and SigFox standards uses unlicensed spectrum.
It seems that the race to achieve dominance and adoption in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications now rests on the ability to enable different vertical and enterprise applications.
"There is a niche where long range is needed for wide-area coverage but with minuscule power consumption and limited data rates, these new technologies are the perfect solution for smart city utilities and applications such as temperature and humidity sensors, smart parking meters, smart street lighting and many more IoT use cases," said Wendy Yung, executive director of the Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association.
A citywide sensor network
At the Smart City Consortium (SCC), we have long been advocating the need for a citywide sensor network – one that the public, government and private enterprises could build and develop intelligent infrastructure for supporting various objectives that constitute better living, higher public safety and more efficient municipal and city management.
The use of mobile data is not new in commercial or enterprise applications in Hong Kong. On the contrary, Hong Kong has long been a pioneer in mobile data communications. Hutchison Mobile Data (the previous subsidiary of Hutchsion Telecom) launched the world's first public mobile data network in 1989 adopting Motorola's DataTAC technology with citywide coverage. Its customers included Fedex, HKJC and selected information providers.
"It was too early at the time as neither coverage and speed was the problem, it was the lack of actual applications, the readiness of the host and the cost of devices and services," said Chok Lee, managing director of WesTel International, who was previously the head of engineering at Hutchison Mobile Data.
At a recent launch event by Thinxtra in Hong Kong, the Managing Director for Asia Murray Hankinson noted that "outdoor applications such as slope management, air-quality sensing, asset management will benefit from Thinxtra's new IoT network."
He further pledged that his company is offering this citywide public mobile data connectivity for as low as HK$20 a year and the network coverage will improve as the company deploys the100 base stations by mid-2018.
Thinxtra has already been supporting an ecosystem of developers and solution designers in Hong Kong. "There are many innovative applications that could be spawned right here in Hong Kong as an IoT Hub of Asia," said Anthony Lai, head of ecosystem at Thinxtra.
Similar to Thinxtra and 3 Hong Kong, Cisco's has also recently featured its Kinetic branded LoRA network and its first application installed at the IoT Sensor Hub at the HKSTP. Garrick Ng, CTO of Cisco Hong Kong has indicated that their first proof-of-concept application is related to smart mobility. Ng emphasized that "other environment monitoring, smart parking, water and gas metering, leak detection and asset tracking applications could benefit from LoRA's relatively lightweight endpoint equipment using unlicensed spectrum."
According to a Machina Research whitepaper, the introduction of a standards-based IoT environment would create simpler processes for building new applications and would allow for interoperability. This could also mean an estimated 27% increase in the number of connected devices related to smart cities projects by 2025, which in turn could improve the speed and extent of adoption of smart city applications.
Niche players and ecosystem
In retrospect, there had been many different niche players in the Hong Kong market implementing vertical applications in the transport and asset management industry.
Lee of WesTel International for example cited that his company has just celebrated 25 years anniversary for delivering solution in such area using existing mobile data network infrastructure. He also now sees bigger potential impact in supporting different applications in industrial controls, built environment, academic research, supply-chain, property management, healthcare, agriculture, retail logistic, transport and energy with the new IoT networks in Hong Kong.
At the HKSTP where all of these IoT networks are erected and a growing ecosystem of developers is found, the ongoing drive for more innovative applications and open data collaboration will become increasingly important.
"Smart cities applications of different kind could now be on the fast track with the various IoT network being put in place at the HKSTP and we would like to see more open data being collected at the data studio and be used further to create value for the industry," said Gracie Ng, manager of ICT Cluster at the HKSTP.
SCC's IoT Committee chairman Kim-Fung Tsang also noted that this is a positive approach of developing an ecosystem of application developers. Such an ecosystem will foster more open and collaborative environment for Hong Kong's home grown engineering talent to seriously think of solving real-world problems with applications that the industry would adopt.
When asked about whether there are rooms for these three LPWAN technologies to complement each other, Tsang explained, "the room for collaboration is high as different applications all have different requirements on data payload, frequency of updates, standby power and bandwidth hence a hybrid solution may be called for in some use cases."
"The values to be extracted from these connected things are data that requires aggregation and further data analysis, the ability for application to create value will therefore become the key success factors for smart cities applications," he concluded.
Daniel Chun is chairman of the Research & Blueprint SIG, Smart City Consortium.