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.


Did NFC lose it now?

September 13, 2013
EstimoteI was chairing Short Range Wireless Forum in Amsterdam 2006 and NFC was the hot topic of the day since Nokia announced the first NFC phone the day before. But the combination of its limitations and the fact that only some vendors decided to implement NCF seriously made it yet another promising technology that never took off. These days Apple is introducing iPhone 5C / 5S and iOS7. This launch is as always followed and debated by a lot of people but still very few seem to have captured iBeacon. I believe that is yet a significant enabler by Apple which rapidly will become an important building block for Internet of Things applications and could make NFC redundant.Imagine entering into an indoor location like a University Campus. Your iPhone connects to iBeacon automatically over Bluetooth and depending on who you are it will provide you with directions where to go for the next class, it will take you to the canteen and take care of the payment leaving you with a receipt. One build wireless coverage in a location quite cheaply. Lets move to a department store, shopping mall or train station and the use cases are easy to see.A beacon, or mote, is like a lighthouse for radio transmission. Estimote is s startup providing beacons supporting iBeacon. The beacons are a couple of centimeters big and include an ARM processor, accelerometer, flash memory and Bluetooth connectivity. A beacon could cover up to 50 m radius and have battery life time of around 24 months. Estimotes developer kits give you three beacons for 99$ which gives us an idea of price points.iBeacon leverage Bluetooth 4.0 (also called Bluetooth Low Energy BLE or Bluetooth Smart) which was approved in July 2010 and is told to be a stable platform to develop solutions on. With over 19.000 companies as members in Bluetooth SIG and over 2.5 Billion products shipped Bluetooth is a well supported technology across industries. I believe developers will love this technology and application enabler why pick-up will happen quickly and massively. When we look back at these announcements a couple of years from now I think we will conclude that Bluetooth 4 was the real breakthrough for Bluetooth, iBeacon enabled a new generation of apps and NFC didn’t make it.Exciting times!


Alternative WAN solutions for Internet of Things

December 7, 2012

SIGFOX LogoAt the local area network (LAN) level we have a lot of different wired and wireless alternatives for M2M connectivity. But at the wide area network (WAN) level we have few options. There are a lot of legacy solutions using the fixed switched phone network (PSTN and fixed broadband Internet access is the dominating way to connect LANs to the Internet. The mobile industry is positioning themselves as the obvious solution for wireless WAN connectivity. The mobile operator alternative includes the cheaper and low capacity 2G option, 3G and the emerging high-capacity and low latency LTE option. 2G is still by far the most utilized option with more than 90% of all M2M subscriptions. Satellite communication provides an almost complete outdoor coverage and is a frequently used alternative especially for tracking.

But there are potentially other alternatives for M2M WAN connectivity. Entrepreneurs are working on the idea to build a dedicated M2M network designed to connect billions of devices in a cost efficient and high quality fashion. One of the most interesting today is Sigfox in France who has designed and built a wireless network optimized for M2M using ultra narrow-band modulation techniques. They started roll out earlier this year and plan to have France covered by the end of this year which is amazing. Sigfox uses unlicensed spectrum (868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US) normally used by cordless phones. With open sight distances up to 40 km covered and when compared with GSM, for the same level of coverage, Sigfox’s solution requires around 1,000 times less antennas and base stations. The impact on cost is massive – it is 100 times less expensive to build, install and operate. They claim they will have France covered with some 1000 transmission sites. The radio modules embedded in the connected things are tiny and consume 1/50 of the power typically consumed by a cellular M2M module. With such low power consumption batteries could last up to 20 years before recharging or replacement is needed.

The Sigfox network is designed to connect millions of devices that only send messages occasionally – maybe once a week or once a year. The position of the object is included and data is encrypted. The bandwidth is only 100 bps which allows transfer of only small messages. And this will likely be the most common type of connected object why volumes could be very large and economies of scale could help Sigfox bring down cost to a couple of dollars per module. They predict that their efficiencies in running the network will enable them to connect devices for a couple of dollars a year.

Now you might wonder what type of mushrooms they have down in Toulouse. But already now they have announced that Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings is a customer using Sigfox to connect their billboards and MAAF Assurances just announced an agreement for their innovative connected objects’ household protection service, they have suggested to ETSI to make their proprietary UNB technology a standard and in September Intel Capital led their €10 million B round.

Friends, this is for real and companies like Sigfox have the potential to change many games onwards. Connected objects without hassle for a couple of dollars a year sounds attractive, doesn’t it? Bonne chance!


More on mobile M2M

September 17, 2012

The recent announcement from AT&T that they will shut down their 2G network latest year-end 2016 has been discussed a lot lately. It is safe to say that mobile operators in developed markets will continue transitioning their handset users and networks towards 3G and 3G LTE. But mobile operators in general have a growing number of M2M terminals in their networks and they know that over 90% of them are using 2G modules today. Many of them are recently deployed and expected to run without intervention for maybe another five to ten years. Going there, changing SIM, terminal or in worst case the entire device is a very costly thing to do. This is probably why mobile operators in general don’t talk about when they plan to terminate their 2G networks. And I don’t think we will see many announcements like the AT&T one for the next few years, especially not in Europe. Also, let us not forget that many operators in developing countries only have 2G so it will definitely be around for quite some time.

Over the air provisioning of SIM-cards will solve some of the 2G sunset problems but if you need another module in your terminal it will obviously not help. One or two operators in a market, or why not an MVNO, can gather all the 2G terminals and continue service them until the bitter end. The remaining operators would lose some clients but free themselves to go wild on 3 and 4G.

More and more new M2M solutions are using 3G and 3G LTE now. This is natural especially when applications are data rich and require low latency. At Qualcomm IQ last week in Berlin, Steve Mollenkopf, President & COO Qualcomm, stated that one million new 3G connections are added each day. Most of them are not M2M but it means that 3G network capacity and coverage is rapidly improved around the world. And modules and components are coming down in price as volumes grow. And even 3G LTE is spreading. According to Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) 96 operators have launched commercial LTE services in 46 countries so far. But the recent announcement of iPhone 5 reminds of the fragmented frequencies of 3G LTE which needs to be taken into account when looking at a specific M2M 3G LTE solution. 3G LTE uses frequencies between 698 MHz – 3800 MHz, divided in 25 bands for FDD (Frequency division duplex) and 11 bands for TDD (Time division duplex).

%d bloggers like this: