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.

LPWAN suddenly needed for IoT

January 11, 2016

fire-alarm-detectorThe need for a narrowband wide area network devoted to IoT was obvious but it is only recently it has become obvious for many. We need them to connect cats, bikes, fire detectors and things like that. We only need to send heart beats, position and events but the devices often need to be tiny, with low cost and most importantly very very power efficient. The connectivity to connect a pet can’t be more than maybe 5-10$/year. Many have developed such network solutions but until Sigfox came up with an operator model and a global ambition, nothings was there to attract developers.

Now these networks have got a category name: LPWAN – Low Power Wide Area Networks – and numerous articles and reports explain, compare and calculate business opportunities. As always within IoT the numbers are huge. While Sigfox is a proprietary network with base stations from Sigfox but modules and tools from a range of vendors, LoRa is a more orchestrated approach. A couple of mobile operators including Orange, Bouygue and KPN have declared publicly that they plan to build LoRa networks and I know several others looking into LoRa and other LPWAN network options. Sigfox has networks deployed in several countries including France, Holland, Spain and UK.

Also 3GPP have been working hard to come up with a standard for narrow band IoT data – NB IoT – which is expected to be published as part of 3GPP’s Release 13 in early 2016. The first networks are supposed to be deployed late 2016. Orange recently said that they will trial NB IoT technology alongside their launch preparation of a LoRa network. Also 5G seems to include a LPWAN solution, LTE-M.

LPWAN has quite rapidly gone from “not needed” to an obvious part of the communication mix for IoT. Now Telefonica and SK have invested in Sigfox, others look into deploying Sigfox,  LoRa and the 3GPP NB IoT. This reminds me of Wi-Fi which was “not needed now when we get 3G” and now Wireless Broadband Alliance, started some 10 years ago by a couple of mobile operators, gather some 600 delegates for their Wi-Fi Global Congress events.

The development of several LPWAN solutions is a sign of a grown up IoT industry. But let’s remember that building the infrastructure is only the beginning – getting it used big way is the real challenge. LPWAN is a low cost high volume business and the winning technology will be the one who gets the developers excited.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the different camps will address the IoT developers and will do my best to ensure that the Swedish IoT developers will get well served and successful also in the LPWAN space. LPWAN will be a focus area 2016 both for my alliance of 48 Swedish IoT start-ups – SMSE – and our hardware hub in Stockholm – THINGS.


2G + 4G = True!

June 2, 2015

2G-nokia-3310In August 2012 AT&T announced that their 2G network would be shut down latest January 1 2017. This was somewhat surprising to me since roughly 90% of all M2M devices connected to mobile networks used 2G. (https://connectcompute.com/2012/08/08/what-will-be-the-impact-on-m2m-of-announcement-to-shut-down-2g/) Given that 3G is something of a compromise I would have believed that 2G and 4G would be a better bet – one with cheap modules, low bandwidth and great coverage and one focusing on data intensive terminals and applications.

Since two years, we have started to see mobile operators taking different roads for IoT. Good examples include Tele2 who only provide connectivity and great partnerships, Telenor Connexion who was the first to use both Jasper and EDCP (because they follow their customers) and KPN who returned back to Holland, building their business from there with excellent roaming.

And here we go again! Telenor Norway’s CTO, Magnus Zetterberg, said at an investor meeting in London that the company plans to completely shut down its 3G network in 2020, five years before it closes 2G in 2025. “It’s better to retain 2G than 3G because all the devices today are still embedded with 2G, so you will lose out without the network,” he said. “2G is still important for the M2M market.”

I believe this is a good approach since replacing all 2G M2M modules installed across the country to something else, even if only a SIM-card from someone else, is a disturbance and cost the customers neither expect nor like. The labour cost involved in changing are typically far bigger than the hardware. And Telenor is creating yet another criteria for customers to evaluate when picking mobile operator for their IoT applications. And with a 2G/4G approach an operator probably has a better answer to a customer who want to deploy a large IoT project today with an ROI calculation for 8-10 years.


We still need another infrastructure for IoT!

February 11, 2015

SIGFOX LogoI’ve been talking for years about the need of a network to connect “cats, bikes and smoke detectors” in order to reach the billions of connected devices people talk about. The only thing it needs to provide is heart beats, position and events, thus very very little data. The requirements are very cheap connectivity, very small and light hardware and tiny power consumption so batteries can last maybe 4-5 years. This infrastructure will complement the other ones we have and it will allow me to connect my dog for maybe 10€ a year without any over-night charging of batteries.

I have been in favour of Sigfox approach to this issue for years why todays announcement that Telefonica, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, Air Liquide, GDF Suez, Eutelsat and U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management together with existing investors Elaia Partners, iXO PE, Partech Ventures and Idinvest invested 102 M€ in Sigfox came as really good news.
This gives the muscles for Ludovic and his team at Sigfox to really start conquer the world. And this is something many of my 36 members in the Swedish IoT Alliance SMSE have been waiting for.
Avanti!

Smart Homes For Real

January 7, 2015

_799128_pursepad300Smart Homes is a much talked about opportunity for IoT. It has what it takes to attract a lot of companies and people including those owning, managing, visiting and living or working in them. And beyond that also companies selling products and services for them. And the concept of smart homes is fluffy enough to include the three big deliverables of IoT: sustainability, safety and efficiency, as well as things like economy, comfort, fashion and entertainment.

We all know that a specific solution for every single task or device isn’t good enough. So the approach to make a remote controller for the toaster, one for the fridge and one for the kitchen fan (I actually saw a dedicated remote controller for the fan in Italy and I’m still thinking about the use-case) will not make the job. And we also know that “this is THE network for the SmartHome” approach isn’t taking us there since we already have a lot of different infrastructure and networks in houses and we have a number of different more or less technical requirements on them.

The combination of these two insights makes it hard to come up with Smart Home solutions that will capture large parts of the market, especially if we leave aside new buildings where one can start from scratch. I suggest something like a cluster approach to the challenge where we try to combine infrastructure, applications and tools to provide attractive solutions for larger parts of the Smart Home challenges. Let me give you a couple of examples what that could look like:

  • The ultimate Media solution which uses IP networks to stream content easily and flexibly to and from devices and services (bring the best from Sonos, AirPlay, Spotify, Netflix, etc). Once installed you could add, change and remove hardware and software components easily.
  • A really secure managed infrastructure with a tough SLA for applications and services that require an infrastructure to really trust. Applications could be alarms, door locking systems, smoke detectors and other things you are ready to pay extra for if the service is guaranteed.
  • A kitchen app that interact with all your favourite Internet services for cooking and shopping, your kitchen appliances regardless of brand (or not?) and maybe energy monitoring and advice relating to the kitchen.

I have concluded that we will have at least three networks in our homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi network which is already there, a managed very secure network with top-notch quality of service and a more generic but still managed network for things like home appliances. WAN solutions will generally speaking be too expensive and will just complement the LANs the way they always had. But some devices connected directly to a mobile network and/or narrow band WAN infrastructure like Sigfox will most certainly be part of the solutions.

One of the most interesting projects I’m currently involved in is a joint effort between a number of Swedish real estate owners and members of our alliance for Swedish IoT entrepreneurs (SMSE) with real estate focus. The request from the real estate owners was “a secure, robust and open service platform for multi-dwelling buildings” which they can install now, keep for years and have app developers to start bringing innovation to tenants, owners and maintenance staff.

We’re working with several technologies and one of the most interesting one is the well established Internet chat protocol XMPP since it provides a promising open architecture to deal with data integrity and privacy issues. We have already pulled together the bits and pieces required to run our first hackathon creating mobile apps on building automation systems talking XMPP. I’m looking forward to the next few months of this project which hopefully include a major hackathon demonstrating the power of this approach.


No news is good news – M2M will remain fragmented!

December 5, 2013

gold-bars-3Data is the gold of M2M! This remains the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to understand where the industry is going. When collecting the data from sensors and sub-systems of all sorts, we need to understand the context in order to turn the data into useful information. Data analysis without understanding the context opens up for poor conclusions and decision-making down the road. No news here! The value of the information created appears when the information is properly integrated into business systems, decision-making systems, etc. No news here either!

The good news is that the need to understand the context for the data collected and the fact that value materialize when the information is integrated into ERP systems, processes and decision-making systems clearly points towards a fragmented market with successful players focused on industries or functions. Good news is that this is how the software industry has been structured for years. And efficiency is achieved by generic platforms, tools and API:s which specialized applications can utilize.

Since M2M will have to become an international business to benefit from scale this brings us a “glocal” value chain like this: customized or specific software provided to customers by local integrators, resellers or consultants working with specialized international M2M Service Enablers. Software used is based on generic platforms, tools and API:s – this is where Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, SAP and others come in. And the M2M Service Enablers are agnostic to devices and connectivity. And sensors are provided by a variety of specialized companies. 

Voila!

So which conclusions could we draw? The three most important conclusions to me are that:

  • M2M Service Enablers need to be agnostic to connectivity and device
  • there are many M2M Service Enablers in each country today and only the ones who are really specialized, context aware, will survive when it becomes an international market
  • generic software companies as well as connectivity providers need to figure out how to work with the best M2M Service Enablers

The obvious need for network agnostic M2M solutions

November 10, 2013

Monnit2.pngData is the gold of M2M! Today even “monkeys” can connect a couple of things, collect the data in the cloud and present it in an app. And now, in its teenage, the M2M aka Internet of Everything industry is splitting up in three distinct parts: collecting data (sensors and devices), managing data (analyzing, manipulating, combining data) and distributing data (apps, web, integration in business systems, decision-making systems). Each of these three parts have to be perfectly resolved to make a great M2M solution: efficient and sensitive sensors connected using relevant networks, secure and efficient data management where understanding the context is absolutely required, and great, sticky UX in apps and web interfaces are examples from recipes of culinary M2M dishes.

It is when the collected data cautiously has been transformed into information and delivered into business applications that the value of M2M appears. The cold chain for the lobsters from Canada just delivered to the store is uninterrupted. The car that just alarmed the response center of an accident has three passengers. The route suggested by the navigator has risk for ice on a bridge 2 km from here.

With data transformed to information and delivered in relevant applications being the key for M2M solutions it is obvious that the access networks are secondary. Each solution in the hands of customers should ensure proper information delivery using the best available network option given the situation. Requirements on bandwidth, QoS, cost, latency, SLA, power, size, investment horizon, etc should determine which access network to use for each device and sensor. I see only two ways to deliver on this: either the service providers provide a portfolio of access options to serve the clients  or the M2M Service Enablers will have to get access from a mix of service providers. At M2M Summit Scandinavia last week I was glad to hear that both Vodafone and Deutche Telekom share this view and aim to provide a solid portfolio of connectivity options for M2M customers.

Talking about access networks for M2M: Connode was just awarded M2M Company of the Year in Sweden by Mobil Business. Once again a great winner, once again a member in Swedish M2M Association.


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