Nordic cellular IoT-powered solar asset tracker provides a minimum of eight years of maintenance-free operation


Nordic’s nRF9160 SiP provides NB-IoT connectivity, GNSS, and dedicated application processing for the Vodafone asset tracker for compact design and reduced hardware cost

Grandcentrix, a Vodafone company and a Nordic Semiconductor design and solution partner, is using Nordic’s nRF9160 low power System-in-Package (SiP) with integrated LTE-M/NB-IoT modem and GNSS at the heart of its ‘Vodafone Asset Solar’ asset tracker. The asset tracker employs a photovoltaic (‘solar’) panel charging a 3.6 V, 1100 mAh NiMH battery to offer a minimum of eight years of maintenance-free tracking. In the absence of sunlight to charge the battery, the asset tracker can still register and notify more than 700 tracking events.

The solar-powered asset tracker enables simple and cost-effective tracking and monitoring of assets for logistics, equipment rental, waste management, construction equipment, and agricultural equipment companies. It includes a preconfigured Vodafone Global MFF2-SIM-card (eSIM) for LTE-M and NB-IoT operation and is ready for operation on the Vodafone Managed IoT Connectivity Services network. The company selected NB-IoT for the asset tracker’s connectivity because the technology offers low power consumption, wide coverage, and global availability.

Designed for harsh conditions

Originally designed for tracking shipping containers, the Vodafone Asset Solar has been subjected to a series of challenging environmental tests and has been proven to work reliably under harsh conditions on the high seas. But its affordable cost also makes it suitable for tracking simple equipment like trailers, generators, carriers, or other portable equipment. An integrated three-axis accelerometer triggers the asset tracker when the asset is moved. This saves battery power by limiting location reporting to only the times when the asset tracker is in transit.

The SiP’s low power consumption is also very important because it allows for extended operation of the asset tracker
Sebastian Boll, grandcentrix

The asset tracker employs the nRF9160 SiP’s built-in GNSS to determine its location and then periodically reports the location—and other data such as temperature as determined by a built-in sensor—via the SiP’s embedded multimode modem to the Cloud. It uses Nordic’s nRF Cloud Location Services Assisted GPS (A-GPS) to reduce the time-to-first-fix (TTFF) of communication satellites. A-GPS helps to reduce the asset tracker’s power consumption by limiting the time GPS need to be switched on.

Grandcentrix is currently testing nRF Cloud Location Services' single- and multi-cell locationing. The technology will allow users to locate assets when GNSS is unavailable or give them more options to trade-off power savings against positional accuracy. Once testing is complete, the feature will be available to all Vodafone Asset Solar trackers already in the field via a firmware-over-the-air (FOTA) update.

Certified for global cellular IoT applications

The nRF9160 SiP is certified for global cellular IoT applications, and comprises a dedicated Arm® Cortex®-M33 application processor and memory, LTE-M/NB-IoT modem, GNSS, and power management. The SiP’s modem supports both SIM and eSIM, and offers 700 to 2200 MHz LTE band support. To maximize battery life, the SiP supports both PSM and eDRX power saving modes. For both LTE-M and NB-IoT the PSM floor current is as low as 2.7 µA, and with an eDRX interval of 655 s the average current is 6 µA for LTE-M and 9 µA for NB-IoT.

“Nordic’s nRF9160 SiP with its integrated application processor, modem, and GNSS enabled us to develop a compact hardware design for the Vodafone Asset Solar while reducing the unit’s hardware costs,” says Sebastian Boll, Product Manager Asset Tracker, grandcentrix.

“The SiP’s low power consumption is also very important because it allows for extended operation of the asset tracker. Other key factors that narrowed our choice down to Nordic were easy integration of the SiP’s modem and GNSS by using nRF Connect SDK libraries, and Nordic’s renowned documentation and technical support,” adds Boll.

“We are glad to have a strong partnership with Nordic,” says Kai Froese, VP Products at grandcentrix. “Nordic’s IoT solutions leverage synergies for us across all our IoT products, for example, Modbus Cloud Connect. As a result, it leads to a product offering with high quality standards and market-oriented prices for our customers.”