Small towns also embrace the IoT

Any town can become a smart city. This is the conviction of the start-up company O-CELL, which installs turnkey sensor networks in municipal public buildings with the support of Orange and its LoRa® network for the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Our motto: the smart city made simple” – Laurent Etienne, Commercial Director and Co-Founder of O-CELL.

Does the smart city of tomorrow have to be complex? Not always. Hardware and software: O-CELL does it all! Established in 2017, this start-up offers uncomplicated, inexpensive, energy efficient IoT network solutions to its core target audience: peri-urban areas with populations of between 1,000 and 20,000. Due to their limited staff and resources, it is often these small and medium-sized communities that have the most to gain from the automated supervision of their infrastructures.

From first settlement to first sensors

A typical example is the town of Angervilliers in the French department of Essonne, south of Paris. Ancient heritage and future technology now coexist side by side in Angervilliers, since, in addition to a church dating back to the 11th century, the town now has an IoT solution provided by O-CELL for the real-time supervision of several old buildings, including a nursery school in a renovated farmhouse.

What is the objective of this scheme? To monitor the temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in order to detect any problems, such as a lack of air circulation, which could potentially lead to colds or other illnesses, particularly in a school environment. Elsewhere in the town, such as at the primary school, the football ground and the town hall, sensors allow the municipal services to remotely monitor and analyse the consumption of water, gas and electricity. The slightest anomaly, breakdown, leak or incident triggers a real-time alert by SMS, email or push notification.

The system is controlled from the town hall via a cloud platform by means of a straightforward, user-friendly interface. No special technical skills are required. All of this is achieved on an annual budget of a few thousand euros, which is affordable for a municipality the size of Angervilliers. “The benefit of the solution for a municipality purchasing the sensors is that our subscription model includes connectivity and access to the service. In this way, the municipality has a single contact for the implementation of the whole service: it’s the smart city made simple”, says Laurent Etienne, Commercial Director and Co-Founder of O-CELL.

LoRa®: minimal but not minimum

Angervilliers represents the first time that O-CELL has used Orange’s LoRa® network. There are a host of benefits for both the start-up as well as for Angervilliers. Firstly, because the Orange LoRa® IoT network already covers 95% of France, the system is available to the vast majority of municipalities of all sizes. Furthermore, only a limited investment is required: as the network antennae are already compatible with the LoRaWAN™ protocol, implementing the service simply means installing sensors and testing the software. The solution was deployed at all the relevant buildings in Angervilliers in a single day.

Finally, of course, there are the intrinsic qualities of the LoRa® technology: with its long range (up to two kilometres between sensor and antenna) and its low data rates (from 0.3 to 50 kilobits per second), it meets the objectives of an energy efficient, intermittently connected, low-cost technology that transmits very small amounts of data. Another advantage is that installation work is reduced to a minimum. For example, the LoRa® sensors installed in Angervilliers by O-CELL are “non-intrusive” – the magnetic units attach directly to meters without affecting how they function. “For an electricity meter, for example, we place a magnetic scanner on the pulse transmitter. The sensor is attached to the side of the unit and does not require a power source or any modifications to the meter”, explains Charles-Edouard Ruault, Technical Director and Co-Founder of the start-up.

Promoting widespread IoT adoption?

Packaged solutions such as the O-CELL system are attractive to Orange as they promote the widespread adoption of IoT and its applications. As a consequence, in addition to offering its LoRa® network to the start-up, the Group has also decided to promote O-CELL’s offer via Datavenue Market, an IoT marketplace established by Orange Business Services. The start-up also relies on Orange’s Live Objects IoT platform. Charles-Edouard Ruault describes the platform’s simplicity: “Live Objects is a key component; our customers are not aware of it, but it allows us to deploy our solution quickly and efficiently. In fact, this is how we oversee the management of sensors, provisioning and reporting – all in the same place”.

Economical, innovative and sustainable, the LoRaWAN™ technology provided by Orange and O-CELL optimises consumption and ensures comfortable conditions in all buildings. It is taking up the challenge of expanding the smart city concept beyond major cities. And for this specific use, LoRa® has a great future. All this even before the arrival of 5G and its promise of a host of new features for smart cities – both large and small!

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