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Internet of Trees: Vodafone uses NB-IoT to aid climate change research

Vodafone IoT
(Image credit: Vodafone)

Vodafone is trialling Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) technology in two English forests, helping researchers understand the role of trees in tackling climate change.

The Newbury-based operator is working with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and Forest Research on the project, which will also serve as a demonstrator for the potential for NB-IoT.

NB-IoT is a licensed Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology designed for use by mobile operators who want to capture part of the IoT connectivity market. Although cellular networks have a clear advantage in terms of coverage, they consume more power than Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Sigfox.

Internet of Trees

The propagation characteristics of NB-IoT ensure it can connect devices that need to be in place for more than five years, increasing the suitability of mobile networks for mass deployments of sensors in utilities, agriculture and other industries

This latest trial will see sensors attached to trees in two forests – Alice Holt Forest in Surrey and Hardwood Forest in Northumberland – delivering data to Defra who will be able to assess the impact of temperature, humidity and soil moisture on tree growth and function.

These insights will allow scientists to estimate how trees can mitigate climate change by absorbing or storing carbon from the atmosphere. Defra and Forest Research will then have findings to share with policy makers and the public.

Defra’s 25 year environment plan includes an ambition to increase woodland cover in England while the government has committed to increase tree planting to 30,000 hectares across the UK by 2025.

“Trees are a unique natural resource that play a crucial role in combating the biodiversity and climate crises we face,” said Malcolm McKee, Defra CTO. “The new technology provides better quality data and importantly, allows us to monitor places that current technologies cannot reach.

“This innovative collaborative project has the potential to transform the way we are able to collect and analyse data, and to reduce the need for frequent site visits, especially at remote rural locations,” added Matthew Wilkinson, Research Scientist at Forest Research.

“The project also will help us gather more data which is critical to targeting efforts to measure the contribution of individual trees to climate change. If the trial is successful, we hope it will expand to other areas of environmental monitoring and signify a step change in the amount of data we are able to collect and analyse.”