Norfolk County Council is opening up a long range wide area network (LoRaWAN) to innovators and businesses to test internet of things (IoT) applications.
The council’s Digital Innovation and Efficiency Committee has approved a proposal to launch the network, along with plans to encourage new ideas through a schools’ competition and hackathon in October.
It has also directed council officers to develop business cases for the use of sensors and networks in areas such as street lighting and social care.
Geoff Connell, Norfolk’s head of information management and technology, said it is setting up a network initially around Norwich, based on three receiver/transmitters that can channel information from sensors and devices around the city. These should be in place by the end of next month and a fourth is planned for the town of Swaffham.
The transmitters are connected to The Things Network, which is supported by Microsoft and provides connectivity for IoT devices. This is coming to Norfolk free of charge and Connell said the overall cost of the initial installation is only about £3,000.
Social value funding
“The funding is coming from a social value pot from our wide area network procurement,” Connell said. “It can be used for community benefit-type projects, so deploying the LoRaWAN transmitters, running the schools competition and the hackathon will be all be funded through that rather than the council’s main budget.
“This is experimentation designed to accelerate the work we want to do.”
While the council will provide the network, organisations testing solutions will provide the sensors and devices used and retain any data collected.
Connell said the schools’ competition and hackathon will be run by community groups, with the council meeting some of the expenses. The former will be aimed at producing solutions that use the network to deal to monitor and improve air quality, the latter for challenges in adult social care and highways management.
“We want to ask local SMEs and entrepreneurs how they would use the network with their skills and data to address the challenges,” he said. “Whichever ideas are successful, we will fund them for further development.
“We’re using the networks to test ideas, and when they are developed we can put them on the back of more formal networks.”
He added that the Norwich network can extend 20 miles due to one of the transmitters being fitted on the top of county hall (pictured) and the surrounding flat landscape.
If the trial proves successful the network will be extended across the county.
“We’re helping local organisations so if they want to innovate they can just get on and do it,” Connell said.
The move is the latest in a trend of local authorities looking to harness LoRaWAN networks. In recent weeks there have been reports of investments by City of York Council and Hull City Council, attracted by its relatively low cost and flexibility.
Image by Graham Hardy / Norfolk County Hall, Martineau Lane, through Wikimedia