Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cellular Data Network for Inanimate Objects Goes Live in France

A startup hopes to connect millions of low-power sensors worldwide to the Internet, making everything—from power grids to home appliances—smarter.

By Tom Simonite on November 13, 2012 (MIT Technology Review)

Why It Matters

A cheap, long-range wireless service could make it far easier to connect devices to the Internet—leading to smarter appliances and infrastructure.

All of the apps, movies, and games consumed on tablets and phones are only available because cellular networks deployed wireless technology to connect people to the Internet wherever they are. French startup SigFox thinks it can help usher in a second mobile Internet boom—by building cellular networks to serve not people but, well, things.

SigFox is focused on connecting cheap sensors and “dumb” home appliances to the Internet. The goal is to make all kinds of appliances and infrastructure, from power grids to microwave ovens, smarter by letting them share data. The general concept, known as “the Internet of Things,” has been discussed in academic circles for years, but it has yet to come to life.

The networks that serve humans are based on technology that isn’t suitable for sensors, says Thomas Nicholls, chief of business development and Internet of Things evangelism at SigFox. “If you compare with a GSM [cell-phone] network, then our solution is much cheaper, provides much lower energy consumption, and operates over a much longer range,” he says.

SigFox builds its networks in the same way as a cellular provider, using a system of connected antennas that each cover a particular area and link back to the operator’s central network. But the antennas use a different radio technology, developed by SigFox, known as ultra narrow band. This technology would not be of much use for streaming video to an iPhone, but it allows devices connecting to the network to consume very little energy, says Nicholls, and it allows for very long-range connections.

SigFox claims that a conventional cellular connection consumes 5,000 microwatts, but a two-way SigFox connection uses just 100. The company also says it is close to rolling out a network to the whole of France—an area larger than California—using just 1,000 antennas. Deployments are beginning in other European countries, and discussions are under way with U.S.-based cellular carriers about teaming up to roll out its technology stateside, says Nicholls. “SigFox can cover the entire U.S. territory with around 10,000 gateways, whereas a traditional cellular network operator needs at least several hundred thousand,” he says. This should make deployment significantly faster, and cheaper.

Further cost savings come from operating the technology on parts of the radio spectrum that are free to use. Cellular networks are operated on licensed spectrum, and as competition for data services has intensified, carriers in the U.S. and elsewhere have spent billions of dollars on such licenses. (SigFox uses 868MHz in Europe and 915MHz in the U.S.; frequencies are often used by cordless phones.) Nicholls says it should be possible for SigFox to offer its service to a connected device for as little as $1 a year.

The features that make SigFox’s network cheap to install and maintain have the downside of limiting the network’s speed. At best, it can currently transfer information at the rate of 100 bits per second; 3G mobile networks move data at least 1,000 times faster. That rules out some visions for the Internet of Things, such as distributing cheap video cameras or microphones across the world. But Nicholls says that his company’s focus is on making it cheap to install Internet-connected sensors.

Craig Foster, an analyst who follows Internet of Things technology for ABI Research, says that it makes sense to create extra networks. “Cellular won't be feasible in many instances,” he says. “For one, there is not always universal coverage. Think rural smart meters.” Satellite connections or long-range technology solutions like SigFox’s have a better chance at extending the Internet’s reach to remote areas.

SigFox reports seeing most interest in its technology from companies trying to roll out so-called smart grids, an approach to electricity distribution that uses data from sensors throughout a power network—including in customers’ homes—to help improve efficiency and reliability. That tallies with Foster’s experience. “Government stimulus, environmental legislation, and the desire of utilities to increase operational efficiency have been key drivers,” he says.

Nicholls says that projects in other areas are also under way, and that he expects completely new ideas to surface once his company’s network is fully deployed. “We have clients that want to connect with water pipes underground, or monitor parking spaces to detect occupancy and power billing—they just can’t do that with GSM,” he says. A smart parking lot system based on SigFox’s network is coming soon in a “large European country,” he says, and a project in central Africa will use a SigFox network to monitor endangered animals at risk from poachers.

The technology could also find use in home medical devices and gadgets. Wi-Fi has been used for early projects such as Internet-connected bathroom scales and inhalers, but this wireless technology is far from a perfect fit. To save battery life, gadgets don’t keep a Wi-Fi connection active at all times, which can mean waiting a few seconds for a connection to be reestablished before using the device. A device with a SigFox connection could send data instantly, says Nicholls, without any Wi-Fi configuration or network.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"This is M2M" - Telefonica Video Explains M2M

Here is a short video produced by Telefonica explaining M2M

Daimler Participating in Field Test of Car-to-Infrastructure Communications

From New York Times, August 6th 2012
Daimler AG announced on Monday its participation in a field test of a communication system that would enable participating vehicles to communicate with one another as well as with networked traffic infrastructure.

The trial, to be conducted on public roads in and around Frankfurt, Germany, through the end of the year, includes 120 vehicles equipped with the system.
To optimize traffic flow, vehicles will communicate with one another and with traffic infrastructure consisting of roadside communication devices. Should a hazard be detected by one car, drivers in similarly equipped vehicles would be alerted as they approached. The technology also can communicate with networked roadside devices, alerting drivers whose vehicles are not equipped with the system to be vigilant.
Beyond its safety features, Daimler said the system would provide convenience functions like directions to the nearest parking facility, a common feature among in-car telemetry systems like Ford’s Sync, General Motors’ OnStar and Daimler’s own Comand Online.
Daimler’s experiment in Germany is part of a project called simTD, or Safe Intelligent Mobility, Test Field Germany, involving the local government along with universities and research institutes. According to the simTD Website, the initiative is intended to determine whether systems like this can be smoothly integrated into the existing transportation infrastructure. The field test is also being undertaken to determine how, and in what form, messaging can be used to effectively aim at a fleet of communication-enabled vehicles.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Top 10 Predictions for M2M in 2012

Research advisory service Machina Research recently published their top 10 predictions for M2M in 2012 on their website (www.machinareserch.com).  Here they are for your reading pleasure.

1. A clear top tier of operator alliances will emerge 
Today Vodafone sets the benchmark in terms of global coverage with a huge facilities-based footprint and a long-established set of 'Partner' operators. However, other operators are looking to extend their footprint through alliances and affiliations. Most prominent of these is the emerging Deutsche Telekom/ FT-Orange/ TeliaSonera/ Everything Everywhere alliance. Telefonica has also established some interesting agreements with Etisalat and China Unicom. The most interesting things to watch is what Telefonica and AT&T do during 2012. Based on their decisions we expect to see two or three global groupings emerge.

2. Satellite operators and Systems Integrators will join global M2M alliances
As CSPs seek to extend their global coverage and increase scale, they will start to forge agreements with non-MNOs. The most obvious candidates are satellite operators such as Inmarsat and Iridium and systems integrators such as Logica. Machina Research expects a number of announcements that will see the emerging alliances diversify their memberships in order to boost coverage and/or improve their capability sets.

3. Android @home products will hit the marketplace
There is a huge opportunity in mass-market home automation, and Andoid@Home can potentially offer two key attributes: that it can be adopted by householders on a piecemeal basis over a number of years, and devices will benefit from an already-existing ecosystem of control devices (Android handsets and tablets). Google is unlikely to hold back for much longer

4. 2G will become accepted as a long term technology option 
It is clear that the M2M world is, at best, grudging in its acceptance of 3G.  M2M revenues are typically low, margins are thin, and the cost premium of 3G chipsets and modules over 2G is significant.

5. Some M2M platforms that currently partner with CSPs may begin to look like competitors to CSPs
Generic M2M platforms will naturally seek to provide an ever more comprehensive service to their CSP partners. The more capabilities such platforms develop, the easier it will be for them to compete for end-user revenues directly.

6. Huawei will launch an M2M platform 
This would be a tactical move to drive sales volumes of devices, rather than a long term strategic play. In the short term, a device platform capability would afford Huawei a lot more flexibility to ‘sandbox’ devices and solutions, and support sales of the resulting commercial offerings through operator channels.

7. There will be further restructuring in the module/chipset market
The traditional M2M module vendors (Cinterion, Telit, Sierra Wireless and SimCom) will face continuing pressure on margins and there will be further consolidation. Most likely this will take the form of M&A with other players in the value chain to find economies of scale and increase capabilities but we don’t rule out mergers between those players.

8. MNOs will position themselves to take advantage of the growth in connected CE devices
Connected consumer electronics, such as cameras and portable games consoles, will remain the biggest category of M2M connected devices, accounting for 35% of the global total in 2020. Mobile network operators are increasingly keen to generate revenue from this segment. With a few exceptions, such as the Playstation Vita, the vast majority of these devices will be connected via WiFi rather than with SIM cards. MNOs will increasingly embrace MiFi-type devices, move to sell more CE devices through channels, and develop multi-device tariff options.

9. True standardisation proves harder than expected
This year has already seen initiatives around open standards from the ITU and a grouping of the major standards development organisations with the ‘One M2M’ initiative. Standardisation faces a number of challenges. M2M is fragmented, with numerous different technologies and several existing industry-specific sets of standards and a diverse range of companies, with different requirements. As such, it is likely that standardisation in 2012 will focus on achieving relatively modest objectives rather than developing an all-encompassing set of M2M standards.

10. The mobile industry will agree on a definition of M2M, and start counting
One of the key difficulties with the M2M industry is its extreme fragmentation. This is compounded by the lack of existence of any generally agreed boundaries. We think that 2012 will be the year that the M2M industry starts to reach consensus over definitions around devices, applications and platforms, which will provide some kind of basis for starting to measure performance.

The Internet of Things MindMap

Many thanks to Joseph A. di Paolantonio and his blog post at http://www.constellationrg.com/blog/Joseph-A.-di-Paolantonio for this great mindmap that shows the interconnectedness of the Internet of Things.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Standards bodies launch oneM2M service layer for Internet of Things

A consortium of ICT standards development bodies (ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TIA, TTA, and TTC) has set up a new global organization to ensure the efficient deployment of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications systems.
M2M is the technology behind the Internet of Things that could enable smart cities of the future. It allows electronic devices to communicate with one another via wireless/cellular/wired networks and the internet for management and monitoring, services delivery.
The number of worldwide M2M connections is growing exponentially, with some forecasts as high as 50 billion by 2020. These connections are expected to reside within virtually every major market category - from healthcare to transportation and energy to agriculture.
The specifications developed by oneM2M will provide a common M2M service layer that can be embedded within various hardware and software, and connect the myriad of devices in the field, according to the consortium.
The organisation will also develop global end-to-end specifications for M2M, with the aim of lowering costs, shortening time-to-market, creating economies of scale, simplifying the development of applications, and avoiding standardisation overlap.
The consortium is made up of seven standards development bodies, including ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TIA, TTA, and TTC. All of these organisations are working to develop technical specifications and reports to ensure M2M devices can successfully communicate on a global scale.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Intelligent Building and Home Energy Management
-- One of the areas that has seen considerable development of intelligent device technology is the historically difficult application of managing multiple disparate systems that make up a typical office or commercial building.  These buildings have HVAC, security, lighting, refrigeration, and energy consumption as just some of the systems that could and need to be centrally managed.  Furthermore, many of these systems would benefit from being able to act on each others data -- e.g. the lighting system using the motion detectors of the security system to determine where people are and turn on/off lights.  Most automated lighting systems require proprietary motion detectors to do this, but with intelligent networks of smart things the lighting system could leverage the security system for that telemetry.

To build these types of integrated systems, one must first enable the device to communicate with each other, then enable a control system to manage them and software that programs the interactions and reports back to the operators on the status of the building and its systems.

In the case of energy management, Serious Energy has build the software solution that manages the various subsystems to maximize energy efficiency.

Their web-based application enables a building manager to monitor energy usage in real-time at an individual device/system level, monitor to make sure that systems and devices are functioning properly, reset systems based on weather and outside temperature, and provide customized internal departmental billing based on actual energy consumption.

What enables this application interface with all these subsystems is an intelligent device by Echelon called a SmartServer -- a versatile smart energy manager that connects to IP-based applications such as enterprise energy management solutions, demand response programs, streetlight management systems, and high-value remote asset management programs, and link thousands of electronic devices to control centers.

A number of other companies make similar intelligent devices including Cisco and Tridium.

In the consumer space, a former Apple iPhone engineer has developed the first intelligent thermostat that learns from the homes occupants.  The NEST learning thermostat is a revolutionary product that bring intelligent energy management of HVAC to the home.

The NEST thermostat learns in one week how the manage the temperature in your home and provides both web based and smartphone based management tools as well as a very slick user interface on the device itself.