Predator-Free Punakaiki has engaged a new weapon in its war on possums, stoats, and feral cats and rats: Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology.
IoT tech helps machines and gadgets talk to the internet. Things like smart power meters, water quality sensors, soil moisture monitors and - in the Punakaiki case - traps that automatically send a signal when they catch a predator.
The traps are supplied by German company MinkPolice, and send alerts to a smartphone app of the same name.
Predator-Free Punakaiki's Grant Parrett says Vodafone IoT network allows "a huge number of traps that are checked by a very small number of volunteers," for his Department of Conservation-backed project, which targets introduced pests that endanger native birds.
"The benefits for our volunteers have been fantastic. Rather than the volunteers committing to walking through arduous terrain to check on traps hoping to find one that's been triggered – a process that takes up to four weeks to cover the trap lines - they can target traps they know have been activated," he says.
Ultimately, we will be using Vodafone's IoT technology to help save native species, support our hard-working volunteers and work towards achieving a Predator-Free Punakaiki and beyond that, a Predator-Free New Zealand by 2050."
Vodafone, Spark, Kordia and others are currently deploying IoT networks around New Zealand, and many pundits see it becoming The Next Big thing in mobile and wireless data use.
Vodafone is launching two Internet of Things network technologies this week, Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) and Long Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M).
"Initially, the traps used Vodafone's [older] 2G IoT network, but we're about to move to the NB-IoT network, which will enable the volunteers to set traps in more remote areas of the sanctuary knowing they'll still have reliable connectivity," Predator-Free Punakaiki's Parrett says.
Vodafone NZ IoT country manager Scott Pollard says his company's 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks, plus celltowers and wireless broadband infrastructure put in place as part of the Rural Broadband Initiative, is used for IoT signals.
He says NB-IoT transmitters have a longer reach and up to ten years battery life, making them useful for the likes of soil moisture monitors and other sensors that will are best left undisturbed for long periods.
LTE-M devices have shorter battery life but the technology supports higher rates of data transmission and (unlike NB-IoT) voice calling.
That means LTE-M technology could suit a tracker for an Alzheimer's patient, Pollard says, given it would include the ability to call them and ask if they were okay if it detected unusual movement patterns.
Vodafone New Zealand has deployed its NB-IoT coverage across its 4G mobile network with 97.5 per cent population coverage and 48.2 per cent land area coverage at launch.
While it only covers about half the country, Pollard says the coverage area includes nearly all of NZ's arable land.
The LTE-M network is currently at around 60 per cent population and 40 per cent land coverage, but Pollard says it should catch up with NB-IoT around March.
Today, around 1.6m IoT devices such as smart power meters, smart home alarms and sat-nav devices are connected to the internet.
Spark is forecasting that to reach around 20 million by 2020.
Vodafone also sees huge growth ahead.
And the company says it will come not just from new devices, but by connecting gadgets with internet capability that are out in wild today, sitting offline.
Vodafone NZ Technology Director Tony Baird says currently less than 1 per cent of all the devices that could be connected are connected. He sees the new LPWAN-based networks changing that for the better.