CeBIT: Narrowband radio combats bee mortality

  • NB-IoT transmits sensor data straight from the beehive to the beekeeper's cell phone
  • Digitization can make an important contribution to ensuring the survival of the species
  • Bee mortality also an issue in CeBIT partner country Japan

Timotheus Höttges, Chief Executive Officer of Deutsche Telekom, is today presenting to Chancellor Angela Merkel, as part of her traditional CeBIT tour, a technology that can help beekeepers protect their bees. The narrowband wireless technology NB-IoT (Narrowband Internet of Things) transmits the data collected by intelligent sensors, straight from the beehive to the beekeeper. This data includes temperature, air humidity, air pressure, beehive weight (= how full the combs are) and activity of the bees. The beekeeper simply needs to look at their smartphone or tablet app to find out whether their bees are healthy. 

The example shows that digitization can even make an important contribution to preserving a species. A beehive is the world's smallest industrial plant with 40,000 workers on half a square meter. As with Industry 4.0, sensors and Narrowband-IoT continually monitor and provide timely assistance before a bee colony is damaged. NB-IoT already offers a wide range of possibilities and the technology is being further developed rapidly.

Background to bee mortality

Bees are dying. According to figures from the German Beekeepers' Association, the number of bee colonies has fallen in Germany alone from 2.5 million in 1952 to less than one million today. Winter also keeps taking its surprisingly heavy toll on the bee colonies, alarming the public in the process. A ten percent depletion is seen as the norm. Winter 2002/2003, however, saw the figures soar alarmingly. Surveys conducted among beekeeping businesses revealed average losses of around 30%. The exact causes of bee mortality are unknown; possible causes include the use of pesticides, monotonous landscapes, lack of food sources, the loss of the natural habitat of the animals, and parasites such as the varroa mite. 

Pollination by bees creates value added worth 200 billion euros worldwide 

Worldwide there are an estimated 20,000 different species of bee. Yet only a nine species produce honey. Bees and other insects play an important role in around 35 percent of global food production. By far the most important contribution of the honeybee to modern agriculture is their role as pollinators. 22.6% and 14.7% of agricultural production in developing and industrialized countries respectively is associated directly with pollination by honeybees. The global value of the pollination by insects was estimated at 153 billion euros, equivalent to 9.5% of agricultural production. The Montpellier Laboratory for Theoretical and Applied Economics run by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) calculates value added of around 200 billion euros per year for the global pollination provided by bees. Without bees, not only would there be no honey, but fruit and vegetables would become luxury goods – the animals pollinate around 80% of our agricultural crops and wild plants. If we fail to maintain bee populations, and the insects become extinct, this would have devastating consequences for humans, in the researchers' opinion.

Bee mortality also an issue in CeBIT partner country Japan 

The CeBIT partner country Japan is also familiar with bee mortality and is getting to grips with this phenomenon in an unconventional way. As part of the Ginza Honey Bee Project, 300,000 bees and eight beehives got a new home on a Tokyo office tower in the Ginza shopping district. Cities offer bees greater protection, with fewer natural predators in the urban environment than in the countryside. In the very first year, the high-rise bees produced 440 kilograms of honey, which is now sold as Ginza honey in the local department stores or is even used as a cocktail ingredient in a local bar. Even local confectioners have got a taste for the urban honey, with commercial imitators setting up in over 70 locations in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japanese researchers are already thinking about a world without insect pollination and developed a mini-drone as a bee substitute at the start of the year. Despite this and similar inventions worldwide, bees are indispensable. The almond industry in California alone needs 1.8 million hives with around 35 billion animals so that three billion almond tree blossoms can sprout every year. With a current price of 100 dollars per drone, the technical alternative is an expensive undertaking.

Background to NB-IoT (NarrowBand Internet of Things)

The network absolutely has to be ready to interconnect machines, cars and countless other objects via the Internet of Things. It is no longer a question of handling only a few hundred smartphones inside every radio cell, but tens of thousands of devices and sensors. With the emergence of narrowband structures for the Internet of Things, we now have an accepted worldwide standard according to which IoT solutions will work all over the planet. 

"Normal" mobile telecommunications simply won't be able to handle the Internet of Things. Energy consumption would be far too high and the networks, burdened with the load created by tens of thousands of devices and sensors in a single radio cell, would quickly grind to a halt. That's why the road to the connected world is paved by a new narrowband radio technology referred to in the jargon as the NB-IoT (NarrowBand Internet of Things). Narrowband communication works using radio waves (3GPP) that permit particularly extensive coverage. At the same time, these waves can get through thick concrete walls and into the furthest flung corners of any building, penetrating right down deep under floors. As sensors will generally have to transmit small packets of data only on an hourly or daily basis, they can run unattended for years without needing a change of batteries.

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