LPWAN is the hottest topic in IoT 2017

March 7, 2017

connected catI dived into what I called narrowband networks for IoT 2011 since there was an obvious need for an infrastructure that didn’t exist. I used to say “think cat, bicycle and smoke detector” to put the finger on the need. Or translated into requirements: low cost and often small and light communication modules, low cost connectivity and very low energy consumptions. The answer to that would be inexpensive infrastructure which is providing primarily heart beats, events and when needed position. The first solution I found was Sigfox and after a training in Toulouse I wrote this post.

There are four key alternatives for LPWAN emerging: Sigfox, LoRa, 6LoWPAN and NB IoT. Each have it’s strengths and weaknesses and it’s likely they all will play a significant role in the rapidly emerging new generation of Internet. 
 
Sigfox is a proprietary solution with national networks built with Sigfox base stations operated by national Sigfox operators using the same back-end system operated by Sigfox. Sigfox has networks in some 30 countries today, with over 8 million connected devices and have a well developed eco system of developers and vendors on the terminal side.  
 
LoRaWAN is a global LPWAN specification created by the LoRa Alliance to drive a single standard for seamless interoperability across the industrys. Networks are built with LoRa Gateways and LoRa Network Servers available from several different vendors. LoRa alliance has some 400 members and continue develop the standard. LoRa could be compared with WiFi since networks can easily be built with one base station covering an area like a campus or square and expanded to cover cities and countries. But there is no common back-end arrangement for roaming, service level agreements etc. 
 
6LoWPAN is a concept originated from the idea that IP, the Internet Protocol, could and should be applied even to the smallest devices, and that low-power devices with limited processing capabilities should be able to participate in the Internet of Things. It’s worked on by an IETF working group. 6LoWPAN is similar to LoRa since networks typically are deployed independently in a campus, city or building with no global back-end service. 
 
NB-IoT is the narrowband bet by the mobile operators. It differs since it is using private spectrum and typically the infrastructure already in place in mobile networks. The initiative has been developed in record time and most mobile operators are planning roll-outs. The first NB IoT networks are expected mid 2017 and we have just started to see modules, developer tools etc. It is also interesting to follow how NB IoT relate to 5G since support for narrowband has become a key part of what is targeted. 
Due to the very big interest and potential for narrowband networks there are several other vendors and efforts to address this need.

LPWAN is now the hottest of questions in IoT since manufacturers, vendors, users, developers, consultants, operators, teachers and journalists all need to understand what it is, the different solutions available, how to develop applications for LPWAN and when to choose which solution. This is why I try to run as many “Get On Top Of LPWAN events” as I can to ensure Swedish IoT will remain leading edge.
Finally, I’m glad to let you know that we finally have a Sigfox operator also in Sweden! IoT Sweden was just announced and have started to roll out their network in larger cities already. They run their launch event at THINGS March 21 if you’re interested.

Respect!

December 10, 2016

volvo-productionTechnology driven innovation continues to challenge and change our world. Internet is the single most important enabler and the last big thing is the smart phone, which gave us new ways of using the Internet including apps. The iPhone is about 10 years old now and it’s time for the next big thing: connecting things to Internet, where we already have people, organisations and services. This will once again change lives, organisations, industries, companies, cities and governments in the same way and magnitude that the arrival of Internet made last time. But this time it will happen much faster since most of the bits and pieces already are in place. We call this IoT right now but soon it will just be Internet again. 

I always think that everything is a science. Regardless of what you look into in more details, it proves to be very complicated. I love the massive opportunities Internet brought and believe these will be even bigger now when we add things to it. But Internet has created a trend which I dislike: by leaving out the physical part of the equation (like running a taxi business without taxis or hotel business without hotels) we are dependent on others doing the hard “physical” part which is connected to places, people, boarders, re-cycling, communities, manufacturing etc. Not that there is anything wrong with entrepreneurs executing on these opportunities, not at all, but we all have to think a little further before celebrating or investing in these initiatives. I see a whole range of challenges, including the vulnerability of these businesses when it comes to policymakers and not the least when the incentives to provide the underlying activities or assets disappear. The Internet part alone also tends to become global leaving only one or few companies in the market (Facebook, Twitter, Google…). Put differently, we simply have to think about the type of society we want to live in.

With Internet of Things this becomes quite obvious. Data is the gold of IoT and a lot of companies are focusing on building business on that data. But without anyone connecting the things, the T in IoT, there will be no data. And when companies make the effort, I don’t think it is obvious that they will share all their gold with anyone anyway. At least not for free. On top of that I’m convinced human beings as well as organisations will become much more cautious with their data and how it is shared and used. Security and privacy are the two big challenges to IoT!

Another dimension of this is that the opportunity to disrupt using Internet has made a lot of people completely lose the respect for the underlying assets or activities. A good example of that is all IT/Internet companies announcing plans to build a car. There is nothing wrong with that, if you have funds to buy all skills and other assets it takes. But I have still to see a car manufacturer announcing that they will start make fridges, shoes, smartphones or Internet search engines. Maybe traditional companies have more respect for the complexity of other industries. 

I believe we all would benefit from a little bit more respect for how difficult it actually is to do different things. A hackathon with youngsters to innovate healthcare over a weekend is great education and fun but makes no sense from a healthcare point of view. An app to keep track on parking spaces is easy to do compared to building the infrastructure to provide all the information needed. The how of IoT is about collaboration and eco-systems, where all relevant players have an important role bringing their experience and know-how to the solution.


Ecosystems is the new HOW in IoT

November 13, 2016

br-internet-of-things-ecosystemAll IoT solutions span at least three industries – collection of data (sensors, gateways, datacom, telecom, etc), managing data (cleaning, matching, analysing, combining, etc), distributing information (IoT value is created when a piece of wanted data is delivered to the right place at the right time, i.e. apps, signs, ERP systems, warning lamps, etc). In the early days of IoT clever people were able to put together all these things to solve a specific problem for a customer or even a number of customers in similar situation. The problem is that any single piece in an IoT solution is quite complicated, so in order to make a really good solution all bits and pieces need to be top-notch. If you need a CO2 sensor you will have to turn to someone who offers the right functionality, quality and price for you solution, at any given time. If you need to have the wanted information from your solution delivered in an app, you need to provide your customer with a top notch app with great UX at any given time. If not your entire solution will look bad in the eyes of the users, even if it’s actually the best one in the market.

The IoT market develops very fast and complete solutions from one vendor, often with a couple of years success behind, are now meeting stiff competition from solutions created by several companies in tight collaboration. These ecosystems are collaborating to provide the best possible solution to industries, applications and customer segments and like if it wasn’t bad enough for the “early stars”, these ecosystems are adapting much faster to customer needs, technical development, legal requirements, policies and trends due to their combined resource.
I don’t believe single companies, industry groups, alliances or standard bodies will determine how IoT will be deployed in different markets or applications. I believe successful ecosystems will. Ecosystems is simply the new how in IoT.

Shift of power in Industrial IoT and events

November 12, 2016

Just back to Sweden from IoT Solution World Congress in Barcelona where 15 of the 65 members of my alliance for Swedish IoT Startups, SMSE, participated in a joint stand, had two Meet Swedish IoT sessions at the fair, a great Meet Swedish IoT Roof Top Cava Reception and participated in an IoT For Real Breakfast event organised by Mobile Institute. The 25 or so persons in our “Swedish Army” at IOTSWC had hundreds of partner and customer discussions, went on many of the presentations, studied the ten test-beds and visited most of the 200 or so exhibitors. Based on all this input I have made a couple of observations:

– The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) arranged this event in partnership with Fira Barcelona for the first time a year ago, and already the second year it was more than twice the size with almost 10.000 visitors. All my 15 companies were very happy with the professional quality of the people they met at the show, the show was well organised, and the keynotes and presentations Iistened to were good. I believe IOTSWC already has taken the role of the most important show for industrial internet in Europe.
– Everybody talks eco-systems and giants like IBM, SAP, Accenture, Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, Telefonica, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Intel are doing what they can to build and defend their eco-systems. Bold moves like the 3B$ Global IoT HQ that IBM is building in Munich together with presentations of impressive reference cases makes me believe that we are seeing a shift of power from telecom to IT and Services when it comes to building and orchestrating echo-systems serving industrial internet customers.
– Spain is becoming a power nation for European Tech business fairs. After Barcelona having taken over MWC from Cannes and now established IoT Solution World Congress as a leading European event in Industrial IoT it is likely Madrid will make Digital Enterprise Solutions (DES) a leading enterprise event. Sweden is country partner to DES 2017 and SMSE and THINGS are collaborating to make everyone visiting the Swedish Pavilion remember that Sweden is a great place to look for IoT experience and solutions.

Inspiring example: Lightflex prints active light

September 3, 2016

lightflex-sports03Victoria and her team are true entrepreneurs! After many successful years, their current market weakened and through serious discussions with their customers they found the “next big thing” – printing active light. Sounds crazy but that’s what they do to respond to serious needs for people to be seen when falling into the ocean, running in the evenings, skiing, working in dangerous environments or simply to look fantastic. The material they have developed is connected to a battery and can be washed and applied on wearables, helmets and so on. When they won 2015 Outside Gear of the Show together with POC at Interbike 2015 in Las Vegas, their journey really took off.

Today Light Flex Technology are involved with a number of global brands who see great and innovative opportunities in their respective markets. The POC ski helmet is one of my favorites. Light Flex moved to THINGS from Barcelona about a year ago, have won a lot of awards and continue to excite people they get in front of like at the Grand opening of the Olympic Games in Brazil.

Small and big companies must learn how to work together

July 22, 2016

thingsenterprisecircleThe pace of technological development remains vivid and it takes great people and sharp focus to understand what to use it for and how. Like if this wasn’t challenging enough, a new generation of internet is rapidly emerging where things are added to the people and organisations already connected. The three key deliverables from IoT are efficiency, security and sustainability and this alone will make huge impact on business and society. Almost everything will be affected why it’s vital to start work on risks and opportunities in all fields now. The only big difference from when Internet arrived is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse this time.

Imagine combining 3D scanning, Internet, data analytics, design software and 3D printing. What would that do to fashion, retail, healthcare and distribution? Or heat cameras, drones, Internet, cloud computing and data analytics. What could that do to fire fighting, border control, building management and search for lost people.

We are facing huge change in the magnitude of when we went from farming to industry and it’s really time to start working on all the opportunities and issues.

Most new solutions involve connected hardware which makes life somewhat more difficult. Hardware adds complexity and time, requires financing, impact the environment directly and increase financial risks. Large scale manufacturing has moved to developing countries and with that also experience and skills. It’s quite easy to see the value added by data from the connected things but unless someone connect them there will be no data. We simply will have to cope with the fact that things will stay in the physical world even if the virtual world is much easier and faster to work with. One important implication of that is that innovative and successful startups with hardware as part of their solution hardly can scale up to become global since it will take too long time. This is why we have to learn how to transform innovation in sharp startups to value creation in large international companies.

We started the hardware hub THINGS downtown Stockholm in March 2015 to learn how to make this transformation. We have some 30 carefully selected startups and Sweden’s biggest maker organisation in our 2000 m2 building at the campus of KTH Royal Institute of Technology. And we have a handful of export companies including ABB, Assa Abloy, NCC and Husqvarna as main partners. Since hardware is too broad we focus on themes agreed with our partners and these are IoT, sensors, wearables, 3D scanning/printing, automation and robotics. We have been practicing for over a year now with all types of meetings, events and workshops with our industry partners and other enterprises including Deutsche Telekom, Daimler, l’Oreal, Airbus and Nike. By now we have learnt enough to scale up our efforts and involve more startups and enterprises. The current startup community involved includes some 150 startups now and in June we launched THINGS Enterprise Circle to build a community of Swedish and international enterprises who want us to help start or accelerate their technology innovation and digitalisation efforts.

At this point it’s clear to me that efforts to learn how to transform innovation from small to large companies have to be based on processes not one-off events, absolutely common interest (i.e. IoT and hardware are far too generic but battery technology and energy harvesting or wearables are ok) and really careful selection of companies and people for workshops. The purpose of a workshop is to inspire and bring new ideas and approaches to the enterprise and the aim is to have the enterprise to buy projects and prototypes from the startups to get the collaboration going.

Small and large companies who learn how to work together in an efficient and mutually beneficial manner will be the winners in the networked society. We are determined to figure out how to make this happen at THINGS and welcome enterprises and startups who want to be part of our journey.


A great way for IoT companies to cross the chasm

July 19, 2016

Man jump through the gap. Element of design.

Crossing the chasm is hard for start-ups which Geoffrey A. Moore explained so well already 1991. It is also a well-known fact that going from a consulting business model to a product model is really difficult. There are practical challenges like cash flow sales and marketing but the mind-set related ones are the most difficult ones. In essence a consulting sales person always tries to sell at least what a customer is asking for while a product sales person have to manage customer expectations to release dates, price and features. Still companies are trying since the ability to scale faster and more profitable is seducing and the ones who succeed can end up in a much more interesting situation. No risk no glory! There are also examples of bets where companies separate the platform they use as consultants from the consulting and SAP is a great example of that.

In the IoT space I believe we have an additional strong argument for going from consulting to product. All IoT solutions include hardware, connectivity, data collection, data analysis and distribution of information. Customers want to leverage these systems to improve their business why most IoT solutions are customer, application or industry specific. The traditional way to develop an IoT company is to “get hold of” a platform to develop customer applications on. So most IoT companies come with a technical asset which they try to turn into a solution for a specific customer need. The challenge is to learn enough about an industry or application to make customers impressed and eager to buy. Wherever I go today I meet IoT startups with solid but quite generic platforms and some customers, often in different industries to make it even more complicated. They might have invested a couple of million dollars to develop and maintain the platform most often using external money. The combination of IoT rapidly becoming an international business and quite local and not really specialised IoT platform companies will unfortunately create problems in many IoT startups.

I have now seen a couple of IoT startups successfully going from consulting to product and believe it is a great way to go. By taking the de-tour as consultants they can finance their company themselves as long as they need. In the consulting stage they might test different potential markets for their product, they build relationships with customers, partners and potential recruits in the target market and they can develop their product back home in stealth mode if they like.

The most dangerous point in the development of a company like this is when they decide to jump from consulting to product. A clean-cut is required to make sure all resources are focusing on the product from day one and to manage legal, ethical and practical issues. It has to be well planned to secure cash flow and a fair chance to have paying customers. Marketing and sales have to be ready to roll right away. The end result is a well focused, prepared and customer centric IoT company which founders still own. If it fails, it is still painful but clean and quick.

It is still challenging to go from consulting to product like this but if this is the plan already from start one can mitigate risks by hiring product people and structure the company as a product company. And again, no risk no glory!


%d bloggers like this: