Tropos acquired by ABB – going for private networks

June 4, 2012

ABB acquires the Wi-Fi mesh pioneer Tropos Networks to strengthen its Utility Communications product group. California based Tropos Networks has delivered a large number of wireless metropolitan and campus networks over the last ten years or so and I would even say that they made Wi-Fi mesh a viable metro network solution to the market.

This acquisition by ABB is very interesting and underline the grande potential for especially smart grids but also other private network applications. Tropos has deployed private networks for applications like meter reading, ITS, mobile workforce, public safety, telemedicine, parking meters, etc.

M2M is required to solve the efficiency problems, the security issues and the sustainability challenges in the world. And many of these applications will use private networks for financial and/or security reasons. Each of these areas will develop to become ICT systems in the size of the Internet which is why really large global players invest early on. I suggest you keep an eye at GE, ABB, Siemens, IBM and similar players.

Interesting move ABB!

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M2M for the rest of us?

May 18, 2012

M2M solutions using Mobile operator’s networks are growing quite aggressively. According to Berg Insight we have some 110 Million M2M SIM cards active today. But even if this impressive growth continues we will never reach the connected society within my life time unless generic, cost efficient, easy to install and use alternatives comes to market. It is not primarily a matter of communication technology – it is a matter of connectivity together with services enablement making it cost efficient to develop applications. Such solutions will use fixed or mobile wan connections to connect to the Internet.

At May 16 I stumbled over the first potential solution to the “M2M for the rest of us” solution – Electric Imp. They just left stealth mode introducing a line of Imp cards that can be installed on any electronic device to put it online and control it. The cards connect to the Internet and a cloud based service using Wi-Fi. In their own words: “take the best implementation of hardware, firmware and cloud service, build them into a single mass-produced product, and apply them to any device in the world”. The word Imp is borrowed from Arpanet’s Interface Message Processor. Developer preview Imp cards and developer kits will be available this summer and Imp cards will retail for $25 when available in the market. Electric Imp claim they have invented a solution for configuring Imp devices for Wi-Fi networks in seconds using iOS or Android smartphones.

I find this exciting since it sounds like Electric Imp has what it takes: a generic, cost efficient, easy to install and use solution for connecting things to the Internet. As an evangelist and investor in the early Wi-Fi days I am also exited to see bets on Wi-Fi in the M2M field.

Electric Imp has a great idea, strong founders, capable investors and address a massive market opportunity. Their success will be determined by how fast they will get hardware vendors to adopt their platform and put Imp-slots in their devices.


Local M2M Gateways

April 12, 2012
The mighty mobile industry is a major force behind M2M today. They have what it takes to connect things, they need to find growth beyond the six billion active SIM cards today and they are promoting the concept of M2M aggressively. But at the same time it is quite obvious that a lot of things will be connected without SIM card. We already have a lot of connected devices in the PSTN network, many electricity meters are connected using PLC or other wireless network technologies than the mobile networks and wireless technologies like W-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and RFID are already used in many applications. Different technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, new ones are coming to market while old ones are fading away. But the concepts of wide area and local area networks remain. Generally speaking it takes technologies optimized for LAN or WAN to build cost and capacity efficient networks. Sometimes even a shorter range network structure is needed like a Personal Area Network.I believe the mobile networks will be used for some connected devices, especially moving things or if one want to avoid dealing with Firewalls. But more so as the preferred WAN solution for things connected to a local area network solution. I have come across estimates that one out of ten connected devices will have a SIM card and I think that could be a reasonable estimate. If Ericsson’s “50 Billion connected devices by 2020” would be reality, 5 Billion of them would have a SIM card. That is a lot more SIM cards than the 108 Million mobile M2M SIM cards that Berg Insight estimate are active today world-wide. But what about the other 45 Billion connected devices? How will they be connected and managed and how will relevant data generated by these devices become easily available for application developers and integrators?

The most immediate challenge for the M2M industry is to establish a rich assortment of M2M services enablers in order to make development and maintenance of M2M application more resource and time efficient. M2M Service Enablers will have different features and specialities and they can be deployed in three different ways: on top of operator connectivity services, as in-house solutions or in independent service providers.

But another very interesting area to be addressed is how to connect devices in a local infrastructure in order to enable resource efficient development, maintenance and monitoring as well as a structured way to deal with relevant data. I use to refer to “Local M2M Gateways” and I have started to look for clever ideas and solutions in the market. I am convinced there is room for a whole range of different products optimized for different situations, still providing a quite standardized interface to M2M Services Enablers. In some cases we need to connect locally using only one technology and in other situations we need to support a mix of several technologies. Connecting sensors or things with sophisticated embedded systems put different requirements on the Local M2M Gateways. The choice of WAN-connection, with or without backup, is yet another area where we will need different solutions. And whichever solution we end up using, it has to be cost efficient, easy to deploy and maintain and robust. These will be important tools when helping organizations to design relevant M2M solutions to meet their challenges and opportunities.


Utilities and M2M

December 27, 2011

Utilities normally come up first when talking M2M. Primarily electricity but also water and gas. It’s huge global businesses and infrastructures dealing with things that are closely related to the sustainability issues as well as safety and security, everyone on the planet including politicians are involved one way or another and on top it’s one of few areas where M2M solutions already have been used in large scale. Many utility companies have telecommunication business experience which makes them knowledgable buyers.

Smart Grid is the white paper or vision for how the electricity industry will cope with the new world where production, distribution and consumption of electricity is managed in real time all around the grid and where usage is optimized over time. The basic idea is to connect everything and add computing on top. If the smart grids happen we are looking at a new industry of “Internet size” in 30-50 years which has made many large corporations starting to dig there already.

Given the limitations of our globe it is obvious that we have to do something and I am convinced “connecting and computing” is a major part of it. But the scale of the project means it will take a lot of time, financing has to be sorted out, concepts and solutions have to be proven and so on, which explains why we still see primarily pilot projects and trials. And when it happens big way, most of it will be a game for large players with big projects and thin margins like most infrastructure business.

The first step towards the smart grids are connected electricity meters for automated meter reading (AMR) and we are in the middle of that huge roll out project right now. Global shipments of smart meters exceeded 100M 2011 and is estimated to be 250M by 2016 (ABI Research). EU wants 80% of the meters to be smart by 2020 and Italy and Sweden are already done. North America has already more than 50% meters connected (Berg Insight) after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which included US$ 43 Billion plus tax incentives for the energy sector. Also Asia is speeding up their efforts with Japan having the most advanced power grid monitoring systems in place, China announcing a five year AMI plan, Singapore working on their Intelligent Energy System and South Korea their Smart Grid Demonstration Project. Some 1,5B smart meters will be deployed during the next 10 years and meter manufacturers like Landis & Gyr, Sensus and Itron and communication module providers like Telit, Cinterion and Sierra Wireless are all working hard to capture this big business opportunity. But since the traffic per smart meter is tiny (probably less than half MB per year) it is not obvious that the smart meters is the salvation for network providers. A mix of different technologies is used to connect the meters to the central applications. Reportlinker estimates 38% of M2M connections in the utilities industry today to be cellular connections growing to 57% by 2020. MAN, including power line communications (PLC) and community WiFi, accounts for 53% today and is estimated to 28% by 2020.

Even though energy companies and governments are keen on rolling out smart electricity meters some consumers are not. Several US consumer groups like in Naperville, Illinois, are fighting the smart meter roll-outs in order to give the consumers the option to stay with the old meters. But more often consumer groups are pushing smart meters to put the consumers in control.

Replacing meters for electricity, water and gas with smart ones is only the beginning. Making the grids smarter will require a lot of relevant networks and IT systems to be made available. The grids are also part of the national critical infrastructure protection efforts why I believe we will see governments getting very much involved in how to build, operate and protect this infrastructure onwards.


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