Editor’s note: The Internet of Things (IoT) is moving beyond the hype stage and now starting to deliver on its promises. Where are the network service providers, platform providers and device manufacturers headed? I spoke with Carl Ford about this, as he keeps his finger on the pulse of IoT trends. Carl is CEO and co-founder of Crossfire Media, which has produced the M2M (machine to machine) and IoT Evolution Conference and Expo for over five years. SandHill.com is a sponsor of the upcoming conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., January 25-28.
Since your last conference in August, in what aspects have you seen the most progress being made in the IoT?
Carl Ford: Progress is always an interesting function. Sometimes things progress rapidly after some catalyst. Where the catalyst seems to be driving things right now is in smart cities, but that’s not necessarily associated with the US. Also more and more people are talking to me about remote patient care and that kind of development in the IoT. Most of these solutions are still in prototype and market trials and aren’t fully deployed yet. But there is a lot of noise associated with these solutions.
I think one of the more interesting things going on is in wireless technologies. We’re at a point right now where there is an issue as to whether or not the IoT is going to truly benefit from wireless technologies such as cellular and LTE or whether there are alternative solutions.
As alternatives, we have Ingenu, which has come of age, which is going to do an offshoot of some Qualcomm technology called RPMA. We have Semtech and others forming the LoRa Alliance for wide area networks for the IoT, which is basically long-range radio. And we also have Sigfox, a French startup building wireless networks for connecting low-energy IoT objects such as smartwatches. All of these represent alternative wireless technologies that have some benefits to the IoT implementations that want to deploy in a broad spectrum, in a lot of different places without having to pay the high price of cellular.
Two years ago we started hearing from the cellular industry about small cell deployment and all the issues they were facing and the fact that they wanted to support the consumers’ broadband requirements more. Basically LTE has a lot of advantages to serve that purpose, but there are a lot of IoT solutions with small requirements for data distribution.
So now we’re seeing alternative strategies with different radio frequencies that do some interesting things with enabling low power. They have very little battery requirement, and they have a great deal of range. And some of them are very complementary to carriers that already have major cell towers.
Having said that, the overall cellular industry has come up with alternatives to drive prices down on LTE and also make it so they don’t have to worry about pricing discrimination. They’ve come up with new antenna strategies called CAT M, CAT 0, CAT 1, which are all aimed at creating a cellular solution that fits better into the IoT’s requirements.
So we’re at a point right now where there is a window of opportunity that the alternative wireless providers see, which will shape how the deployments of LTE get made for IoT solutions. Verizon has led the charge on getting a CAT 1 solution out there; they were the first to announce that they had such a device. But I haven’t heard pricing yet.
Now new devices are being made that support the alternative wireless solutions. And we have new alternatives being developed that support the future of cellular services.
The development of enabling technologies is certainly a catalyst. Is there another catalyst driving growth in the IoT these days?
Carl Ford: Compliance is a catalyst. There are only three reasons to deploy IoT: (1) save money, (2) make money or (3) be compliant. Compliance is going to drive some interesting alternatives.
For example, the FDA has a new Food Safety Management Act (FSMA). Basically they’re moving into something that’s reportable about how foods move and making sure that farm to fork we have some integrity in the food supply. This is going to expand the fleet management and cold chain market opportunities. Companies like FedEx, Locus Traxx and PakSense already have cold chain implementations. Now it’s about applying their solutions to match the FDA compliance requirements.
I still encounter naysayers who believe the IoT isn’t happening on a wide scale and there aren’t many IoT use cases.
Carl Ford: There are a lot of reasons why people feel IoT is not here yet, but it’s mostly because it doesn’t personally impact them yet. A lot of people only hear about wearables, but most of what is happening is hidden in the processes used by industry.
I saw a TV show recently about a drone being used for agriculture, doing the equivalent of crop dusting, which also provided some imagery that tracked the moisture levels in the field. The farmer realized they had a problem and their sprinklers weren’t actually hitting the right spot. This example is pretty typical of IoT implementations – we benefit but never know it.
Another example is oceanic fisheries using IoT geofencing technology to track fish in the ocean to understand where they’re living so they can manage the fish without the fishery tanks.
The insurance industry is somewhat interested in how IoT can be better utilized for buy-here/pay-here technologies. That’s happening, but it’s still in the fledgling state.
In general, the adoption trend with IoT is like the cloud, bit IoT is more about services and information. Businesses need to study use cases and apply them to their own business.
What’s the most interesting aspect to you about the way the IoT is currently developing?
Carl Ford: A lot of people like the drones. But beacon technology is more interesting to me. It’s not of age yet, but it will be in the next couple of years. Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Google and Intel all have competing Bluetooth-based beacon technology. Think of it as being a replacement for RFID type solutions.
Beacon technology will impact such things as how you get coupons for retail stores and finding out about flight delays. You can think of it as being an augmented reality using IoT. In effect, beacons make it so your phone or tablet, and whatever types of devices we end up with in wearables, is used to support your ability to navigate. Just like navigation systems for cars, imagine that your phone will help you navigate retail stores.
Companies that want to take advantage of what they perceive as opportunities to create value in the IoT space will require change management that has to be integrated across multiple functions/departments/business units. Have you heard any advice on the best way to do that or the pitfalls in trying to do that?
Carl Ford: Salesforce and Amazon both declared that they are now in the IoT space. Talk about catalysts! I think that’s where you’ll see the configuration and business process stuff flourish. Think about Amazon’s ability to do major sales functions and how they would enable a company to roll out solutions. And then think about how Salesforce is integrated into all business intelligence and operations, and you get a sense of the fact that companies are integrating IoT into their current processes.
Currently, I think operations are the people that drive IoT projects for increased efficiency. The IT team often leads when compliance or new services are required. Once again, this is a sign that IoT is happening in ways that are behind the scenes. But I think that IT is the one that will eventually make the service side of IoT happen. And IT will also be the ones that help take the Ops solution analytics applicable to the rest of the business.
SandHill.com is proud to be a media sponsor at the upcoming IoT Evolution Expo, January 25-28, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The conference draws an international audience of IoT software companies, large enterprises, SMBS, network service providers, platform providers and device manufacturers.
Carl Ford is CEO and co-founder of Crossfire Media and is focused on the impact of communications technology on consumers and industry. Carl’s 20+ years in advancing the commercial Internet focus on the impact that service cost, regulatory and marketing issues have in rolling out new services. He works closely with the Internet of Things ecosystem developing programming for IoT Evolution media properties including the IoT Evolution Magazine, IoT Evolution Expo, webinars and the IoT Evolution news portal.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com.