Spark ready to launch LoRa IoT network, has first customer signed

spark levno lora iot
Image credit: Spark

New Zealand telco Spark says its LoRa IoT network will launch later this month and Levno has signed as its first customer in a partnership targeting rural areas.

As part of the agreement with Spark, the LoRa network (originally scoped to cover New Zealand’s top 20 urban centers) is being extended to Levno’s customers in Manawatu, Canterbury and Waikato.

Levno plan to use the network from April, initially for their fuel tank monitoring service. The system consists of a battery-powered sensor attached to the fuel tank, which immediately reports any change in volume. This information gets sent in real-time, via the cloud, to the customer’s device. When levels get low, the fuel distributor is notified that a delivery is needed.

Levno CEO Ray Connor says that when the company created the monitoring system in 2012, a suitable low power network wasn’t available in New Zealand. It tried using existing cellular networks designed for higher power, higher data uses, but they weren’t an ideal option back then for a start-up.

“LoRaWAN lowers the cost of infrastructure for us. This is great for our business, but also for our customers because it means we can focus more resource on the stuff that directly impacts them— like building great user experience through our dashboard,” says Connor.

With sensors connected to a low-powered network, Connor also expects batteries to last twice as long—up to ten years instead of the five years they currently run for. The new network is also able to reach a wider area, enabling the company to extend its service into areas it is not currently able to reach using cellular technology.

Farm case study

Farmer James Griffin is one of the first customers to use Levno’s fuel tank monitoring service over Spark’s LoRa network. Griffin manages the 200-hectare Griffin Family farm in Rangitikei. He has two diesel tanks and two petrol tanks which service three tractors, a truck and ten motorbikes. With some fuel tanks as far as 3.5 km from the farm house, Griffin has experienced the difficulty of keeping tabs on the valuable resource. As soon as Levno brought out its monitoring service, he got on board.

The system provides him with three main benefits: stopping fuel theft, managing fuel allocation and stock reconciliation.

“The potential in the original system for milk monitoring and fuel, I could just see it working on our farm,” Griffin recalls. “The way we have it set up is that when there are any deliveries or removals from the tank, I have emails sent to me – particularly with removals. I have a text set up as well.”

Griffin says the system allowed him to stop fuel theft – something common on large farms. It gave him visibility of when fuel was disappearing unaccounted for. It also meant that when fuel was removed during the night, he could know straight away and investigate.

It also saves him time: “I don’t have to proactively tell anyone that I need more fuel. We were constantly running out of fuel a few years ago. Now we can adapt to and monitor seasonal use better, and when we do need more, the system sends a message to Allied Petroleum and they come by with a delivery.”

With fuel being monitored so closely, farmers like Griffin have a view on which vehicles are needing fuel more often and which are running the most economically. The ability to reconcile stocks also helps with fuel excise duty claims. For many farmers, this has meant huge savings.

Spark’s GM of IoT Solutions, Michael Stribling, says that when Spark announced plans to build two IoT networks in New Zealand last year, the huge potential of these for businesses soon became evident.

“Organizations across the country reached out to us, keen to be at the forefront of IoT,” Stribling said. “We know that for many, this is the technology they need to take their business to the next level—whether it’s by keeping better track of their resources, moving off cellular technology to lower their infrastructure costs, or testing the new IoT product they’ve been developing.”

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