BlueCats enables mobile operator’s connected city solution
Mobile network and LPWAN infrastructure operators expect to play a major role in tomorrow’s “smart cities,” and they are learning that their networks can be even more effective when paired with other wireless technologies. In one major U.S. city, a Tier 1 operator is delivering real-time data to city employees by integrating Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons with its network.
The solution comes from BlueCats, a company that got its start helping retailers understand how customers were moving through stores. The company developed enterprise grade low-power Bluetooth beacons, firmware, and management tools that retailers and other consumer-focused companies include in their mobile applications. People who download these apps are able to enjoy a mobile experience tailored to their location and preferences if they have accepted the right permissions. Additionally, the app owners gain a wealth of knowledge about how mobile phone users navigate their physical spaces. These consumer-focused companies enthusiastically use BlueCats’ BLE solutions, however these applications only represent a small fraction of the potential capability and markets for BLE. BlueCats has grown to serve other verticals, including energy, healthcare and municipalities – offering specialised capabilities and integrations relevant to these markets, from sensors to asset tracking with online dashboards.
BlueCats integrated its SDK with a mobile app that city employees are already using in a major municipality. Fire trucks, police cars, snow plows, garbage trucks and other city vehicles are equipped with BlueCats beacons which transmit to city workers’ mobile devices. The beacons have a reliable range of 100 meters, a distance BlueCats said will increase to 1 kilometer with the next generation of its technology.
City employees and administrators use the system to track and locate vehicles. This information can be critical when first responders are called to action, and it is also helpful in tracking garbage trucks and snow plows that follow a prescribed route. If a city worker knows where the vehicle is on its route, she knows which streets have been serviced. This information is available to the city through a web portal, and there is also a website for citizens to use if they want to know which streets have been serviced or how far away a vehicle is.
Vehicles are not the only assets that cities want to track. Laptops, radios, police weapons, and ballot boxes are all assets that cities want to secure. The BlueCats modules can be attached to almost any device, and the city that is trialling the technology has plans to deploy it more widely.
“They will soon be installing beacons on assets and other devices of interest, and the network of employee mobiles, which cover most of the city every day, will report the last known location of these assets, all visible to city staff in real time or via historical reports,” said Kurt Nehrenz, VP Technology at BlueCats.
The data is currently aggregated on city-owned tablets that are connected to the carrier network. BlueCats has plans to change to dedicated IoT modules for data aggregation and backhaul.
LTE Category M1 will expand the network capabilities, Nehrenz said. The company is developing new devices that will combine the BlueCats beacons with LTE Cat M1 and/or LPWAN module connectivity. These bridge devices will translate the BLE data and use LTE Cat M1 or LPWAN technologies to transmit the filtered data back over the carrier’s network.
“The fact that companies are beginning to offer BLE/LTE combo modules is a sign of validation of the potential for the marriage of the two technologies, “ Nehrenz said. He added that the BlueCats firmware and applications are much more mature and redundant than those of competitors in the localized data capture space. The BlueCats team sees Cat M1 as a reliable long range gateway solution more than a solution for locally connected devices.
“Adding LTE Cat M1 or other LPWAN capabilities to everything you want to monitor gets really expensive,” said Nehrenz. In addition to the cost of the hardware, customers need to pay for use of the backhaul network of choice.
Using BLE for connectivity and aggregating traffic to an LTE gateway changes the equation significantly. “Instead of every sensor requiring a data plan, you can consolidate to a subscription only for the data aggregators,” Nehrenz said.
When those aggregators are repeated across thousands of deployments, the numbers add up for wireless carriers, while still saving customers money and delivering results. The BlueCats beacons combined with LTE gateways are an effective way to leverage LTE networks for smart cities and many other emerging IoT use cases.
BlueCats is a dedicated, and passionate team of technology enthusiasts who are committed to developing world-class Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions for enterprise and industrial applications. We have been building innovative and uncompromising BLE solutions since 2011, before Apple coined the term “iBeacon” and brought widespread attention to the concept that we developed. We know Beacons, but more importantly we know and understand the incredible versatility of BLE.
We are experts in using BLE Beacons for proximity zonal tracking in complex environments. In the retail proximity market, we have deployments with the leading retail companies in over 80 countries with our SDK deployed in millions of smartphones.
While continuing to be a leader in retail, BlueCats has added industrial Internet of Things applications to its product portfolio. Leveraging our field proven hardware and zonal tracking software, we have developed a personnel, asset, and condition monitoring solutions with immediate applicability across hundreds of industries.