The perfect role for operators in IoT?

July 17, 2016

goldThe telecom industry got a head start in the early days of IoT aka M2M. Ericsson took the lead with the 50B connected devices mantra which translated well into an obvious role for huge operators with millions of connected users and massive investments in wireless networks. And it went without saying that the obvious providers of technology and solutions would be the telecom vendors already in the family. This was a clever and well executed plan by primarily Ericsson since the operators were looking for the next massive growth opportunity after having connected most people and given them data buckets. Operators went for it with one primary caveat – we will not only provide connectivity.

Now, only few years later IoT has gone from a connectivity focused baby to a data centric young adult. IoT is only a new phase of Internet – we’re adding things to people and businesses already connected – which explains the speed of development. From a usage point of view, Internet including IoT and the enabled services and solutions will remain customer focused and very fragmented and the operators will continue working hard to figure out their role beyond connectivity.

Here’s what I would do. The two major challenges for IoT are security and privacy. The smaller one is security since we are used to repair and plug holes as we go, and since we tend to have a very short memory. But privacy is really challenging since nobody knows how the requirements will develop over time. When your data is out you can never get it back why any service will need a solid privacy architecture to cope with future requirements without having to rebuild from scratch. The user must own his or her data and decide who should get hold of it.

But privacy is not only a technical issue why we need trusted partners to help us manage our data. Today most of us trust serious banks to manage our financial data as an example. Our trusted partner needs big muscles to force and enforce proper agreements and obviously have to walk the talk themselves. Operators already manage a lot of our private data and provided they do that well, this is a great position to build the trusted partner role on. The trusted partner role can also be required to build and orchestrate a fair and robust sub-eco system in a specific market like smart homes or connected cars.

So why is privacy of importance anyway? Today most users of internet applications sign up without even reading the agreements. One often hear “I’ve nothing to hide” as the key argument to avoid the hassles of reading and thinking. But with today’s capabilities in data analytics, all digital traces and information we leave behind can quite easily be used to picture an individual, understand how a product is designed, see patterns, understand security procedures and arrangements and so on. In the wrong hands this can be really bad and this type of information is already very useful for burglars to know when people are away and industrial espionage for example. A small example of what could, technically, be in use today is recruiters knowing without asking that a female candidate is pregnant, don’t exercise or have a heart problem.

I am absolutely convinced neither consumers nor policymakers will let this development continue as today. And this is where I believe operators with a relevant brand can find their role in IoT beyond connectivity. A role which will be increasingly important and valuable as far out as I can see. Two good examples of operators I see moving in this direction today are Telefonica and Telia Company (see FAQ 6 and 7).


Startups are kids of industries

April 12, 2016

kids-835146_1280Startups is not an industry, they are kids of industries in the same way as kids are young adults. This quite simple insight provides some good guidelines for dealing with startups.

Even if you can, it’s not nice to make money on kids or startups. They need good and sometimes firm guidance, a lot of care, reasonable challenges and a lot of love to become great adults, and then they might be able to deliver some returns. But the best coaches get their kicks from seeing them grow, learn and develop, sharing their success and enjoying the feeling of having played a role in the miracle. I question anyone who see startups as a market or business opportunity by itself. I don’t include investors since their bet is to get some returns when the startup has grown up and create themselves an incentive to help.

It is very valuable for kids to be with older and experienced people since they can provide a lot of experience and wisdom. The same goes for startups – being with grown up companies in the industry they target is immensely valuable. Established companies can provide feedback to plans and prototypes, advice on choice of partners and go to market approaches and so on. But they can also pay  them little to provide a prototype, POC or study the same way my grandmother paid me 1$ to cut her lawn – a great combination of making some money, getting a reference and still do something useful for the customer. I believe, generally speaking, that this is a much better approach than giving the kids 1000$ to go figure out something great.

Technology develops rapidly why innovation requires very sharp focus on technology and application. Since building a large international company from scratch takes a lot of time it’s often a better way to integrate the innovation in an exist large company to create value. With large organisations having to bring in innovation from outside and startups having to get their innovation into established companies’ solutions, channels and marketing those who learn how to do that well will be successful. This is exactly what we try to learn at THINGS, together with the sharpest hardware oriented startups in IoT, wearables, 3D scanning/printing, automation, robotics and medtech, and our open-minded industry partners like Assa Abloy, Husqvarna, ABB and NCC.


Trusted partners are key to IoT

February 7, 2016

trusted partnerIoT will make major impact on how we do things and what can be done, across industries and borders. Adding things to the Internet creates a massive opportunity in pair with what Internet have done to us to date. The major challenges are as always to be found in organisations and processes, rarely in the technology as such. However, if we cut the cake differently, and look at it from people making bets on creating and implementing IoT products and services, I would argue that the two biggest challenges are security and privacy. And security is the smaller of these two big ones! We have always had security challenges, but they can be mitigated and fixed on the go. Fixing bugs and problems are part of the development so to speak. If someone finds a back-door and steal our jewels, we will install a lock on the door and hope people will forget it, if you see what I mean. The vendor of the door takes a hit but people have a tendency to forget quite rapidly.

But with privacy it’s a matter of architecture and trusted partners. If data that at some point in the future is considered sensitive is “out there”, it’s too late to take it back. In the digital world nobody knows how many copies there are, who has them, what they use it for, and so on. Most countries have laws and policies for this already, sure, but the first issue is that policymakers probably will shape up rules and policies down the road. Nobody will be badly punished for data that is made available before the changes, obviously, but it might take fundamental changes of systems and services to meet the new policies if the architecture isn’t there already. The second, and much more difficult challenge is that people themselves might change their views over time on what is acceptable and not. Such changed requirements are neither planned nor managed within countries or companies. They might come and go, spread across by social media and gather less or many people behind. And policy makers are always influenced by public trends, media etc. so these “unmanaged public policies” can force rapid legal changes as well.

If your clients suddenly believe that the data they “produce” in their homes or when they shop belongs to them, it will be hard to keep them happy if you don’t let them control it. And even more so if you sell the data to third parties. And to let users be in control of their data requires an architecture supporting that – it’s not something hard to add on the go.

I believe connected cars, homes, cities, cloths, pets, shops, bikes, gardens, etc. sooner or later will meet privacy requirements from policymakers and people that will be necessary to meet and very challenging for those without an architecture to supporting. The role of a trusted partner will be absolutely key and for those being trusted it will be a fantastic foundation for creating brand value and profitable business. The jury is out who can take this important and valuable role. I believe it is a national player and I put my bet on a responsible mobile operator with a solid brand.

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.


Inspiring examples: managing buildings with drones

November 5, 2015

dji-phantom-3Swedish real estate giant Riksbyggen develops and maintains buildings across the country since 75 years. Some 350.000 people live in buildings managed by Riksbyggen. Maintenance of buildings is expensive, dangerous and surrounded by a lot of  regulations and policies. Just imagine climbing snow-covered rooftops in the cold and dark Swedish winter. Riksbyggen have an innovative and business focused CIO who started study the development of drones for building maintenance 2008 to try save money, time, lives and the planet. Early this year they tried the DJI Phantom med 4K-camera and the concept worked. An inspection takes some 10 minutes instead of two hours and the result is digitally documented in 4K, ready to show the customer and to be saved for planning of future maintenance etc. Just to check the snow indicators on the roofs takes a couple of minutes for a whole block instead of having to climb up on each roof to take a look. With an IR camera mounted on the drone additional checks can be done. Today Riksbyggen has 9 trained operators and are currently running a pilot with a couple of customers. Imagine how many similar applications there are for drones to revolutionise!


What does it take?

October 23, 2015

IoT, IoE, M2M or whatever we call it has three primary deliverables: sustainability, security and efficiency. Each of these are massively important in all organisations. And like if that wasn’t enough, they are almost always interlinked – a more secure solution is often more efficient and saves a little of our planet for example. So what’s stopping all of us from running after these benefits? It actually takes quite a lot to get there but done correctly it’s almost always worth the effort. A simplistic description of what it takes could look like this:

• understand the current business well enough to see what issues or opportunities to work on
• time and mandate to work on them
• a couple of ideas on what to do
• simplistic understanding of what’s in the toolbox today
• prototyping and user testing over and over and over again
• make a business case, plan or something like that
• guts to bet on it
• development and proof of concept testing
• pilot testing
• focus on processes and people
• roll-out

IBaroundPrototyping with user testing is probably the single most important part since without a clear view of exactly what to do, what users want and so on, the projects most often become very expensive failures. And up until recently it was very complicated and expensive to make working hardware prototypes. But today we have a range of affordable fantastic devices for prototyping like iBeacons and TI sensortags. And together with developer tools like Evothings Studio a working prototype is only hours or maybe a day or two away from real life tests on mobiles and pads. Further more, it is too abstract for normal human beings to visualise what adding IoT to something will allow us to do. We need to try it out to understand.It is my experience that most organisations are stumbling on other things than technology when trying to figure out how to utilise IoT in their business. At the same time adding IoT for the right things and at the right time will be game changers across industries. The countries who can enable citizens to do a fair share of what the healthcare system is doing for them today (like the banks did) will make massive gains in efficiency. The manufacturer of fridges who figure out how to provide them as a service to their customers will change the game, increase predictability and help save the planet. Avanti!

None of these things are even close to rocket science, most of them have been done many times before and very few have anything to do with technology in general or IoT in specific. The thing that we are less used to is to actually connect the things physically. It’s about hardware and hardware is challenging by definition – ask the next VC you come across. Design for manufacturing, mechanics, design, labour cost, DOA, electronics, material, tools, power, freight, etc are typical things we need to be on top of. And that require quite many people to be involved.

PS. Don’t forget that the key difference between when we connected people and organisations to the Internet and now when we connect things, is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse.


Intelligence in the edge

September 10, 2015

ai-cropped-640x353After the Billions-of-devices-hype came even bigger numbers on the Big Data opportunity. It’s obviously so that being able to gather and analyse huge amount of data from different sources gives interesting opportunities for both good and bad guys. And the big number game always works: if airlines save 1% cost it’s a huge amount of money. Or if rescue shows up at car accidents a minute earlier on average we save many lives and loads of pain and money. If people on the planet save a minute a day on their way to work we would create mountains of time to be used for something fantastic. We have left the Billions and talk Trillions now.

Let’s come back to the view that enormous shared data power in the cloud is the only way forward. We’ve heard it before. It all started with IBM’s mighty mainframes in the core and 3270 terminals in the edge. Computing was only about central expensive machines until Apple turned it all upside down with the first personal computer. And ever since have IT managers and others had to struggle with the balance between edge and core. At 3Com we invented Ethernet and argued power to the edge. Why send data outside the office if it’s internal and only to be shared between people in the office? It’s at least not safer and what if connection to the center is lost? It has been going on like this, back and forth, Thin Clients with all power in the core was really the future for a while and most recently employees started bring their own, rarely thin, devices to work.

There is definitely a lot of economies of scale to run things from the center. But innovation often comes from the edge. That’s why we have regional and local governments for example. Culture, climate, economy, religion, desire and everything else differs from place to place, company to company, human to human.

Coming back to Big Data and IoT. First of all, IoT is most often small data, and little or no velocity, variation and all the other V’s that Big Data is supposed to deal with. Secondly, in many applications we need to make really quick decisions down there at the floor, in the edge. A home care solution which tries to identify when a person living there is about to get stroke, requires a thorough understanding of that individual, constant monitoring and learning and very rapid and correct alarms when something is about to go wrong. A retailer who need to put the new pasta somewhere need to make that decision now. With real-time support for that decision it will be a better one than without.

I believe a new wave of distributed AI applications within self-learning systems will be a really important part of the Internet of Everything. Keep an eye at companies like our THINGS member Aifloo and Imagimob, both developing AI capable edge devices for industrial, healthcare, retail and energy markets. These clever devices with their own sensors built-in, might even make it possible to avoid further integration into larger equipment to provide applications requested.


Busy doing nothing?

August 28, 2015

busy-working-quotes-6Companies who want to utilise a new technology have to work hard to get on top of it. First they need to understand how it works and what it could be used for in general and the emerging eco system. Then they need to understand how it fits into what they currently do and what could be achieved if they were able to utilise this new technology. From there on they need to make a business case quantifying what it takes and what it could give. Then comes changed processes and organisations, mitigation of risks, prototyping, testing, competitive analysis, marketing and sales strategies and plans and so on. It definitely takes a while.

With shorter cycles, fierce competition, parallel developments and challenged management comes pressure to move fast and show progress. That’s when companies typically only have three options: partnership programs, alliances and competitions.
When IoT came on top of Gartner’s Hype curve most organisations wanted to be part of the IoT revolution and get their fair share of the 50 billion connected devices. Most of us involved know that IoT solutions are very complex with several industries involved in any solution, combinations of hardware, software and communication is hard to develop and manage and huge fragmentation to meet specific industry and customer demand. By now very few organisations have figured out what to do with IoT why we probably have beaten all possible records when it comes to partner programs, alliances and competitions. This is an interesting paradox since it is quite unlikely that one alliance will standardise the intelligent buildings and that partnership programs suddenly will create a lot of business. But the biggest paradox of them all is that while tech entrepreneurs need to focus on developing their solution with customers we keep them really busy filling in applications and forms, pitching at events and twitter.

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.


Back again!

June 1, 2015

Dear readers, I have to apologise for not having posted more than a couple of posts this year. The reason is that I have worked really hard together with Linda, Carolina and Pär to build THINGS™, our new 2000 m2 co-working space for start-ups with hardware as part of their solutions, at KTH Campus dowLogo3_green+wntown Stockholm. We started last spring and opened our house officially March 26 with a great party with over 300 people. It’s been a fantastic journey  and we already have 21 start-ups in our house, and five industry partners: Assa Abloy, ABB, Husqvarna, NCC and SP.

This is a fantastic project, trying to exploit the perfect storm created when the two mega-trends IoT and Makers Movement meet. The best way of following us is by signing up to THINGS NEWS, visiting our web thingstockholm.com from time to time and following us on twitter @sthlmthings.

I remain devoted to IoT and my alliance for Swedish IoT start-ups, SMSE, now has 41 members and 13 partners. I’m now working on our annual IoE For Real™ event in Stockholm June 17 and the International IoT Get Together at THINGS the night before (sign up for free using code “connectcompute”).

From now on I will start focusing on my blog again. Nobody knows how IoT will develop and I believe it is really important with original views, thoughts and opinions from people spending their lives working with IoT. Today, on top of the Gartner hype curve, everybody want to be part of IoT and there are 13 announcements and competitions on a dozen right now. We need to put these right and put them into context. Most recently Google announced Brillo and Weave. I’m not very impressed and I will come back to that very soon in my blog.

Avanti!


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