All Things CC:

All things Commuication & Computing….

Archive for the ‘Internet of Things’ Category

Connectivity and Protocols in IoT: Thoughts on picking the right one

noun_internet-of-things_143916

There’s lots of ways to move from Point A to Point B: trains, ships, and planes. We instinctively assess the logistics of travel by basing our decisions on factors like distance, cost, and urgency.

If we have to ship goods, similar logic comes into play. It is cheaper to plan in advance if you are importing goods from China to the US. If the delivery of a good is important enough, you would have your product air-shipped.

Barring specific nuances, the same approach needs to be taken for picking up IoT protocols and connectivity options.

  • Range between the communicating nodes – for example between the sensor and the gateway.
  • Reliability of signal between the communicating nodes – range alone is not enough.
  • Latency (time it takes from one to another)
  • Throughput/Bandwidth – how much usable information (not the raw rate) can you send through at a time
  • Power Source: is it battery powered or not?
  • Security: while security is extremely critical – it needs to work at a system level based on the rest of the parameters
  • Ease of use, installation and maintenance: these translate to cost, and impact profitability

 

Note – ‘Node’ above implies all types of physical entities involved in interacting and communicating with each other – devices, sensors, gateways, cloud etc.

Things to keep in mind:

Don’t be myopic when making decisions! For example when addressing the cost of the solution – evaluate more than the COGS (cost of goods). Address, for example, costs associated with installation, provisioning and subscription for data network. To quote a British saying – “don’t be penny wise, pound foolish”.

Do make your decision with eyes wide open – tactical business pressures may prevent you from making a strategic decision – do make a note of the reasons and document them. For example if you are reducing requirements to meet a deadline – make a note of it. Be clear on the reasons you are making so as to adapt the architectural evolution of your IoT application.

Don’t get stuck in an analysis / paralysis. This is a counter-point to the first one. Don’t be stuck in an endless cycle of analysis. Take a decision. Ensure that your system design and development approach is in sync with decision. Make sure trials are rapid, especially in real world environments.

Written by Ashu Joshi

December 5, 2016 at 8:11 pm

Verizon is on a roll…

leave a comment »

Verizon is getting aggressive in growing its IoT business. Verizon’s first foray in IoT was in Smart Home when they launched a service around the solution from 4Home (acquired by Motorola, my guess is that the acquisition was influenced by Verizon?). It was a DIY service unlike its peers who had launched managed services (Comcast, AT&T, Cox, ADT), and IMO it was dead on arrival. It limped along for 4 years and finally shut down.

Verizon’s strategy also seemed uncertain when they acquired Hughes Telematics back in June of 2012. Hughes Telematics is based in Atlanta – and I have only heard of anecdotes and rumors of that division constantly losing people or being laid off since 2012. It felt that their Connected Car strategy was falling apart.

However recent events point to a different story – they are getting serious about this space. They have announced two back to back acquisitions. First with Telogis in June of this year and it was followed by Fleetmatics in August. Verizon certainly has heft between the three acquisitions in the Connected Car & Telematics space.

And to keep the momentum rolling – Verizon announced that it is acquiring Sensity Systems, a Smart City startup last week.

The question though is does it have the internal organizational strength and discipline to make the most of all of these acquisitions. Remember that they have also announced that they are acquiring Yahoo!

List of all the VZ Acquisitions as compiled by Crunchbase: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/verizon/acquisitions

 

Here is list of analysis on the acquisitions worth reading:

CRN on the the reaction of VZ Partners

CRN on the Sensity acquisition

TechRepublic on the Sensity acquisition

 

 

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

September 18, 2016 at 3:58 pm

4 ingredients needed to get started with LoRaWAN

leave a comment »

 

Introduction

LoRaWAN™ defines the communication protocol and system architecture for the network while the LoRa® physical layer enables the long-range communication link. The protocol and network architecture have the most influence in determining the battery lifetime of a node, the network capacity, the quality of service, the security, and the variety of applications served by the network.

Note that LoRa is a proprietary protocol – and the rights of the IP belong to Semtech (they acquired Cycleo – the company that invented LoRa).

You can read up here (PDF) on the distinction between LoRa and LoRaWAN, and more about the technology in general at the LoRA Alliance website.

This post will give a quick overview of the ingredients into building a complete LoRaWAN-enabled application. The software development or rather the details of it on each ingredient are topics for another day.

4 Primary Ingredients

To get started on building solutions using LoRa/LoRaWAN this is what you going to need:

  1. Thing: A LoRa radio module that you can hook up with a sensor… the challenge, especially in the US, it’s not easy to get something like that. The easiest, I think, is to get a dev kit such as the one from Multi-tech (combine the mDot with the UDK). It has a Arduino shield socket making it easy to plug in sensors and play around. Of course if are serious about using LoRa to enable your IoT applications you will end up making sophisticated devices such as the ones from Decent Lab.
  2. Gateway or Concentrator: You will need a Gateway or a Concentrator that speaks LoRa to the sensors & devices, and IP Connectivity to the Cloud – that can be for example Wi-Fi, Ethernet or 3G. LoRa Alliance is making a concerted effort to get everybody to adopt LoRaWAN as the protocol. I say that because if you wanted to you could build your own like Link Labs has decided to. My primary point is that while one side of the LoRa Gateway speaks “LoRa” – the other side will connect to the Internet (over TCP/IP or UDP/IP). The piece of software that interfaces with the backend is typically referred to as the Packet Forwarder – and has been open sourced by Semtech. Once again the choices are limited but while I used the Multi-tech Gateway – you could also get the gateway from Link Labs.
  3. LoRaWAN Network Server or Backend: This is the entity that speaks LoRaWAN to the Gateway and gets you the data to your application. Semtech the company behind LoRa hosts a backend that you could leverage. Multi-tech runs a “network server” on the Gateway itself. Or you could connect to the The Things Network (TTN for short, open-source, crowd-funded backend). On that note TTN is also going to be delivering cheap gateways. I first used the Network Server running on the Gateway, then made changes to make use of the TTN Backend. And finally I hacked using a combination of several open source backends – and ran it with my application backend.
  4. Application or Application Backend: The actual IoT application – that does something useful with the Thing – is most likely running on a private or public cloud would interface with the LoRaWAN network server and do the application-specific processing. The interface between the LoRaWAN backend and the Application Server is driven by the LoRaWAN backend provider – that is not a standard. TTN uses MQTT to do that, so does Multi-tech. This one is the easy part because you could use your own PC or Mac to run it or use any of public clouds for it. (Or may be a Smartphone App).

Note that if you (for the prototype or production) end up using a Network Service Provider such as Senet then you could skip on the Gateway. This is because companies like Senet want to offer LoRa as a Network Service, akin to how AT&T or Verizon provide cellular (both voice and data) service,  and they set up “gateways” to cover a certain area with the LoRaWAN network. You could use TTN – but either you will have to be within the coverage of a community-hosted TTN Gateway or buy your own and hook it up to the TTN backend.

Getting all the 4 ingredients in place will enable you to truly understand the details of LoRaWAN and guide you on how to build solutions that address use cases well-matched with the attributes of LoRaWAN.

This is how the device kit looks like – it has a BME280 (Pressure, Temperature, Humidity), Light Level and GPS sensor attached to it. Also attached an NFC tag reader that I use for provisioning.

File_000

Written by Ashu Joshi

September 1, 2016 at 8:23 pm

50B Devices by 2020: The Math Behind The Number

with one comment

Internet of Things or IoT has been a megatrend worldwide for the last decade or so. I have seen a frequently quoted number from Cisco that indicates the number of connected devices will be 50B by 2020. But what is the math behind the number? How did Cisco arrive at that number? How many analysts, companies, presentations, and blogs have used that number?

I read through, again, the Cisco IBSG report which was published in 2011, and here is how the number was computed:

  1. Cisco started with a report from Forrester (actually in the Cisco IBSG PDF Report – the reference is to a number quoted by George Colony of Forrester Research in a post published by InfoWorld – March 2003) that states there are 500m Connected Devices
  2. Next take the number of connected devices in 2003, and get the number of devices per person – 500 Million divided by 6.3 Billion – resulting in 0.079 Devices per person.
  3. Using data from US Census Bureau and their internal IBSG data for 2010 – the next step was to state the number of Connected Devices was 12.5 Billion, and dividing that by the world population (6.8 Billion) results in 1.84 devices per person. Please note that per Cisco the 12.5 Billion number includes Smartphones and Tablet PCs.
  4. Cisco then used the work done by a team of researchers in China that showed the size of the Internet doubles every 5.32 years. The reference in the report is to the following: Internet Growth Follows Moore’s Law Too
  5. Next step was very easy – multiply the number from 2010 every 5 years – you don’t even need a calculator now – you get 25 Billion for 2015 (double from 12.5 in 2010, and that leads to 50B in 2020.

The 50B number does not get into a bread down by categories on the devices. We cannot make out from this number the percentage of sophisticated devices such as Smartphones or the percentage or low-power, low-cost number.

This number probably (and anecdotally) is one of the most cited number to show the growth of IoT. The math behind it looks simple and abstract but it helped propel the market forward!

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

July 18, 2016 at 9:26 am

IoT Platforms: Dominance of AWS

with one comment

687474703a2f2f692e696d6775722e636f6d2f597961394149792e706e67Needless to say there is no dearth of IoT Platforms offering you the opportunity to get your “things” and “devices” connected, and reap the benefits of IoT.

It is interesting to note that Amazon continues to dominate in this segment of Cloud Computing as well. I ran a rudimentary script to lookup up where the developer sites are hosted for different IoT platforms, the results were pretty interesting – 8 out of 10 are being hosted on AWS (Disclaimer – it is not clear to me if their entire platform is on AWS or only the developer front end). This is actually 8 out of 9 since I wrote the script originally because Thingworx and Axeda platforms have merged (all three URLs, the two old ones, and the new ThingWorx.com resolve to the same IP – 104.130.163.78).

And the surprise was Nest – an Alphabet/Google Company is still (after more than two years of being acquired) – has its Developer site running on AWS!

Take a look at the screenshot of the output below, and if you want to run the script yourself, and try other sites – copy the script at Gist.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.03.38 PM

Implications:

It also brings up an interesting challenge for these companies now that Amazon has AWS IoT – Cloud Services for Connected Devices.  AWS IoT may not offer the level of completeness that others may offer such as Ayla or Exosite but the AWS IoT feature set is comprehensive enough to reduce the differentiation between them. The other choice is to go with Google, Microsoft and IBM – and all three of them also have IoT enhancements and features to their cloud offerings.

The choice of not going with Cloud PaaS is equally devastating because it is going to be costly for IoT platforms or they will lack the scalability.

I feel this will accelerate consolidation in the IoT platform space (like Microsoft’s acquisition of Solair) or companies being unable to offer the scale that is needed for IoT.

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

May 5, 2016 at 2:27 pm

8 Attributes of a Full Stack IoT Company

leave a comment »

noun_internet-of-things_143916Chances are, if you are in the business of technology, you have come across the term “Full Stack”. It started few years back with the notion of a (software) developer being able to program all layers for web applications – you can find a great description from 2012 here: What is a Full Stack developer?. The momentum, and market for Full stack developers kept going up. And then it started being discussed at the level of a company or rather a startup – and I would attribute it to the VC firm A16Z to define it at this level. A16Z has dedicated a page on the Full Stack Startup as a part of their ‘trends‘ in investing. The ideal full stack company is Apple – they do everything top to bottom, providing the best user/consumer experience to their customers (readers may be familiar with the previous iteration of full stack – the Vertically Integrated Company – I’m not sure how it is different from the definition of Full Stack).

This got me thinking on what are the attributes, skills, expertise needed by a Full Stack IoT Company – a company that build a complete solution based on the benefits of IoT, and here they are:

1. Hardware design, development and manufacturing: This may or may not be part of a full stack IoT company but the reality is that the T in IoT stands for “Things” – physical things. And interfacing with them requires hardware. Full Stack IoT companies will own or control significant aspects of the hardware required in their solution. This implies the Full Stack IoT company needs skill around design, development of hardware. And as many delayed Kickstarter hardware projects prove – these companies would need expertise and experience in manufacturing, and supply chain. The hardware would involve both the sensor and the gateway being used.

2. Embedded / Firmware (resource-constrained) Programming: IoT has re-surfaced the lost art of an embedded programmer. Imagine the code running inside the wearables or sensors – it is all embedded code and in some cases running without any real operating system. Design, development and debugging is fundamentally different than cloud or mobility or application level programming.

3. Application-level & Middleware Programming: Programming on the IoT Gateway, Cloud and the distributed middleware to integrate all of the elements together

4. Cloud development, and operations: All IoT applications require a cloud component, you would need the cloud infrastructure (e.g. Amazon AWS), the IoT middleware portion running on the cloud and the IoT application which provides the functionality.

5. Management – of devices, of applications, of network (even though the network belongs to a third party): as the solution provider – managing devices, and apps – for version control, updates would be needed as a part of the integrated offer and solution. Once again – the Full Stack IoT company may license or integrate a third party solution but would own the responsibility.

6. Smartphone & Tablet Apps: Do I really need to justify this? You would need apps to both for management of the IoT application and also for consuming the experience provided by the application.

7. Analytics, Mining, Business Intelligence: ideally the company provides basic analytics with its solutions, and can be integrated with other products and solutions for advanced analytics. Full Stack IoT companies may leverage analytics solutions from other companies, but would still retain control of the data.

8. Integration with IT & other systems – to interface, and integrate with business applications in order to deliver the contextual value provided by the IoT system. Your IoT application may also need to integrate with other services to enhance your service – for example you may need to integrate with a Weather reporting web service if you are offering an application that controls/manages air conditioning (HVACs).

Bottom line – IoT applications are distributed across multiple systems and that is both a challenge and an opportunity! Whether your company is a “Full Stack” IoT company or not – if you building IoT applications – you cannot escape the 8 attributes described above. You will have to partner, build or integrate that help address all the 8 elements.

Full Stack Reading

The Rise And Fall Of The Full Stack Developer

A16Z’s Ben Horowitz did an interview (in Jan 2014)  talking about Full Stack Startup

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

July 12, 2015 at 7:49 pm

IoT Click Bait: Be Wary of Investing Advice

leave a comment »

I am generally accustomed to Click Bait especially related to Internet of Things – after all it has been the buzzword in the Technology industry for the last few years:

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 1.25.45 PM

However I was surprised to find investment advice being provided at a reputed site like Fool.com. It is titled: “Intel Corporation’s New Internet of Things Chip Looks Like a Powerhouse“. I read through the entire article, and found the following justification for why the new chip is an “IoT Powerhouse”:

I suspect these new chips should help Intel further grow its already rapidly rising Internet of Things business, as the substantially better performance in both graphics and computing should be quite attractive to potential customers.

Clearly the Click Bait worked because it made my weekly Google Alert – it probably has enough shares or enough page rank that it made it my list of weekly alerts.

Now don’t get me wrong – Intel is investing heavily in IoT, and all the news indicates that they are serious about IoT. What I am taken aback is that the article is encouraging readers to invest on the basis of this new chip – indicating that it will change the “game” but no real evidence on how the attributes of this chip are suited for the IoT market. No discussion if it will be used in the 50 Billion things connected, and if so how do the “graphics” core help the IoT scenario.

 

 

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

June 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm