Antwerp becomes Europe’s place-to-be for Internet of Things (IoT) experiments

iMinds and the city of Antwerp introduce LoRa telecommunications network

The city of Antwerp, Digipolis and iMinds today announce an important next step for the Antwerp ‘City of Things’ (CoT) initiative. City of Things is a large-scale testing ground, enabling more than 500,000 Antwerp citizens to communicate (and interact) with a huge amount of smart devices and sensors. However, efficient Internet of Things (IoT) communication requires a network; a network that can overcome sensors’ inherent limitations (such as restrictions in terms of battery lifetime). ‘Long Range Low Power’ (LoRa) network technology addresses those challenges and is currently being deployed in the Antwerp city center by experts from iMinds - Antwerp University and Digipolis. Through its LoRa network, Antwerp positions itself as Europe’s place-to-be for IoT experiments: the scale on which network, data and user tests can be conducted, and the thriving ecosystem of start-ups and SMEs that can use the network to test their services, make for a unique value proposition.

New IoT applications require a customized communications network

LoRa is a new Internet of Things technology that has specifically been designed to connect sensors and other devices to the Internet. After all, existing network technologies present a number of drawbacks which jeopardize effective IoT communication. Wi-Fi, for instance, suffers from a limited coverage range (typically a few tens of meters); 3G / 4G / 5G technologies are often too expensive, completely overdimensioned, and drain sensors’ batteries.

LoRa tackles each of those issues: it is a communications technology for devices that occasionally transmit limited amounts of information; on top, it is energy efficient and cost-effective.

The Antwerp 'City of Things' initiative gets its own LoRa network

"As part of the Antwerp 'City of Things', thousands of devices and sensors in the Antwerp city center will eventually be connected to the Internet," says Prof. dr. Steven Latré of iMinds - Antwerp University. “As such, it becomes a unique laboratory to test, evaluate and optimize different communication technologies in a real IoT environment. Hence the need for our own LoRa network – on which we can conduct all sorts of experiments without negatively impacting any operations or offerings from commercial partners."

The deployment of the Antwerp LoRa network – the second one in Belgium – has already started. The network’s hardware is being developed by researchers from iMinds - Antwerp University. They also take care of installing the various components, and ensure that all collected data are stored at one central platform. Digipolis, the city of Antwerp’s ICT partner, provides connectivity with the city’s fiber optic network. Experts from iMinds - Ghent University process all data and make them available to the various City of Things partners for experimentation purposes. Finally, the Living Lab researchers from iMinds - VUB will use the infrastructure to conduct large-scale user studies.

A combination of entrepreneurial and technological support that is unique in Europe

The Antwerp LoRa network will provide researchers and entrepreneurs with virtually unlimited possibilities. Two concrete cases are already being developed: first, a number of cars from bpost are equipped with sensors from Brussels-based start-up Communithings to measure air quality in the city in real time. Secondly, sensors are installed to measure the amount of traffic on two pre-determined routes.

"As such, we can start to tap into the Internet of Things’ full potential – opening up a world in which everything is connected," says Bart De Wever, mayor of the city of Antwerp. "When the bpost vehicles cross those traffic routes, we can examine the relationship between traffic and air quality. And that's just the beginning: we want to connect a lot of sensors with the LoRa network – so that we can efficiently gather intelligent information about what is going on in Antwerp. That is information we can then use to make living in Antwerp an even more enjoyable experience."

“In a second stage, it is our intention to open up the LoRa test bed to international researchers, and position Antwerp as the 'smart city' par excellence. The scale on which we can conduct network, data and user tests – covering a surface of 80 square kilometers – and the thriving ecosystem of start-ups and SMEs that can use the network to test their services, make for a unique value proposition," concludes Prof. Latré.