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!

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We need a rock solid M2M service layer

February 18, 2012

The 10 Million dollar M2M question is how to support thousands of business processes in tens of thousands of businesses in an efficient and scalable way. Beecham Research’s M2M Sector Map (see Interesting reading) makes the point of the fragmented and complex market very well. Mobile operators typically have few services with very many users while most potential users of M2M will have industry specific or even company specific needs in relatively small numbers. This is why most connected devices in cellular networks today are terminals in large volumes (typically electricity meters or eReaders) with small ARPU but also little work required by the operator per terminal deployed. The issue with this is that the electricity meters are rolled out primarily due to political decisions and one can argue that eReaders, iPads, etc are just big mobile phones and not really M2M solutions.

The other type of deployments today are primarily those where the value gained is big enough to pay for integration, software development, customization, etc. And these are “real” M2M solutions leveraging the value of connecting things and putting computing on top.

I come to think of the “bankruptcy gap” in between the only two viable business models over time: low price/low cost/high volumes and high price/great perceived value/customization. In the bankruptcy gap you will find average products with average prices. There is an obvious risk today to address the bulk of the very fragmented M2M market: quite an effort to provide what the customer want and price sensitiveness due to not big or clear enough benefits is a scary combination.

This looks similar to the bankruptcy gap but with one big difference: the driver putting businesses across industries into the bankruptcy gap is commoditization of products and services. But in the case of M2M we are in the early days! How can this be?

I think the situation is dangerous since it threatens to once again leave us with a great idea, a lot of energy and efforts, poor results and many investments and opportunities wasted. To me the key reasons why we face an artificial bankruptcy gap in M2M now are:

– Parts of the solutions, like plain vanilla 2G data subscriptions, are more or less commodities today. Other connectivity for M2M like PLC, Satellite, Wi-Fi, Rfid, NFC and PSTN are not commoditized and combinations of them are complex to deal with.

– Today it is too much effort to develop, integrate and support the M2M applications. Robust, efficient, large scale service delivery platforms are needed supporting standardized complete development stacks, different networks and numerous APIs.

Good news is that there is progress in these areas. Most mobile operators have or will deploy Service Enablement Services (SES) taking care of horizontal requirements on top of the connectivity. Module and equipment vendors, independent start-ups and others are working on similar often cloud based offerings and some of them support combinations of different connectivity technologies. Many standards development organizations have recognized the need for a common cost-efficient M2M service layer that can be embedded in different hardware and software to provide robust connectivity between terminals and the application servers. The ITU Focus Group on Machine-to-Machine Service Layer, initially focused on e-health, announced January 16 is a good example.

The best way to avoid another M2M flop is to ensure strong collaboration in establishing a rock solid common M2M service layer with standardized protocols and APIs and to always start working on real customer problems to avoid brilliant answers to questions we don’t know.


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