This week's Wireless Noodle looks at the announcements from Amazon Web Services' reInvent event, and what it tells us about the strategy of what will be one of the most important companies in IoT, AI, edge and other digital transformation technologies. Also on the agenda this week, a look at a recent article from Matt about the use of diverse technologies for IoT, particularly unlicensed LPWA, and some thoughts stemming from an interview he did recently with Ross Gray of Sierra Wireless.
The full transcript of the podcast is available below.
Welcome to this week’s Wireless Noodle. This week I want to give a quick update on AWS’s re:Invent virtual conference which I spent a lot of time enjoying in December. In particular I want to focus on a maxim that I believe is a good one to live by in the tech world, and one which AWS has demonstrated its aptitude for. Don’t make them come to you, serve them as you find them.
Plus, I want to talk a little bit about a couple of contributions I made to the latest edition of IoT Now magazine, one looking at the requirement for diverse connectivity options, and the other based on a quite interesting interview I did with Ross Gray at Sierra Wireless.
During December I tuned in to a stack of the content of AWS’s re:Invent conference, which this year was held as a virtual event. As you can probably tell from the previous podcasts, I’m very keen to keep a beady eye on AWS and what it’s doing, not least because it cuts across so many of the technology areas that I’m interesting in, including AI, IoT and edge. Last week at Transforma Insights we published a report called ‘AWS re:Invent showcases a broad portfolio focused on solving industry needs’ https://transformainsights.com/research/reports/aws-reinvent-showcases-broad-portfolio which gave my views on the myriad of new product launches and developments. If you want to get the full view I recommend checking out the report, but I thought it was worth giving the high level perspective.
The announcements came thick and fast, covering AI hardware, enhancements to its SageMaker AI offering, end-to-end IoT offerings, enhanced edge computing capabilities and many more. CEO Andy Jassy filled his keynote to the brim with announcements and there were more to follow, particularly from Swami Sivasubramanian, the General Manager for Machine Learning Services.
The overwhelming sense I got from watching the re:Invent keynotes was of a company that thinks very carefully about the practical application of technology. As one which more-or-less stumbled across its profitable cloud business as a by-product of its main line of business, perhaps that’s not too surprising. It doesn’t do technology for technology’s sake. It does it toe achieve a particular goal. IoT, AI, edge computing and connectivity are crashed together in user-friendly services aimed at delivering predictive maintenance or some other similar capability. They obviously live and breathe the maxim of ‘users don’t buy technology, they buy solutions’.
‘Applied technology’ is the buzz phrase, or should be. AWS is great at delivering accessible and applied tools, and particularly at ‘brownfield’ type solutions, meeting client needs as they exist today rather than hopefully building a perfect solution that may be decades off being suitable for any real world user. Take the examples of Monitron and Panorama.
Monitron is a vibration monitoring solution for industrial equipment that is designed to be slapped on the side of an existing piece of equipment and will then monitor it for abnormal behaviour. It’s nothing new technologically, but it’s nicely packaged and keenly priced and most importantly it’s ready to go now.
Panorama is a video processing technology for applying machine vision to video streams from surveillance cameras. Again, this is for brownfield kit, where the analytics is applied to existing devices without any need to change how they are deployed.
Both of these recognise that their respective opportunities are retrofit ones. There’s also a similar approach to the machine learning proposition, which considers the fact that there are a wide range of entry points for using ML, from SQL programmers to data scientists to BI analysts to complete novices. Don’t make the users come to you (learning Python for instance), but go to them and develop tools they can use.
The term I’ve used for this in a recent blog post is this: don’t make your users change, serve them as you find them. The world of technology adopters is incredibly messy. There are skills gaps, embedded systems (in every sense of the word), monolithic organisations averse to change and any number of other barriers to technology adoption. Some will not be easily overcome. It’s good practice to build a set of products that reflect the weaknesses in the client base.
In his keynote, CEO Andy Jassy talked a lot about the need for constant reinvention, most notably his own organisation. He spoke about things like having the courage to change, creating a culture of urgency, solving real customer problems and setting top-down goals. All very hard to argue with. The pace of change within AWS points to the fact that his own organisation has clearly embraced his principles on constant reinvention. But most other organisations won’t be so easily transformed.
Something well illustrated by re:Invent was that AWS is a company with a phenomenally rich and expanding product offering. Just this year’s additions, including AWS IoT Core for LoRaWAN, Greengrass 2.0, SageMaker Clarify, HealthLake, Data Wrangler, Monitron and Panorama SDK, and many more. This is an impressive array of capabilities that would be the envy of any other technology provider.
I wrote a blog post recently in which I said that I thought that AWS would be probably the single most important vendor in the market where AI, IoT and edge computing intersect. I think every other company’s strategy will be defined by AWS. Either in terms of competing with it or in terms of their abilities to harness its capabilities.
One other notable thing about some of the announcements is that they seem to be about positioning AWS as a trustworthy vendor and different from its competitors. If the announcement of long-term support for FreeRTOS was a sly dig at Google’s short-termism, so too is HealthLake (Google’s equivalent Google Health having been shut down in 2011). The message is: we’re in this for the long haul.
I’ve really only given you a very simple overview of what I thought of re:Invent. If you want more you’ll need to take a look at the report. Contact me for details on how you can get hold of a copy.
Want to talk about an article I wrote for IoT Now the other day. It relates to diversity in the landscape for IoT connectivity.
The connectivity landscape for IoT has changed significantly in the last decade. 2G and 3G networks are on their way out, 5G, low power wide area (LPWA) and private networks are on the way in, limitations on permanent roaming and demand for supply chain efficiency led to the arrival of eSIM, network disaggregation, cloud cores and openRAN promises a new generation of connectivity services, edge computing is set to deliver greater functionality for automation applications, and hyperscalers Microsoft and AWS loom large in the consideration of anyone in IoT. The world has changed.
CSPs have also rapidly evolved their strategies, moving to be much more significant participants in the machine-to-machine, and then IoT, value chains. As highlighted in the recent Transforma Insights ‘Communications Service Provider IoT Peer Benchmarking 2020’ report CSP capabilities span devices, device management, connectivity, applications, data management, systems integration, and many other areas. These are diverse players, with diverse offerings, seeking to address a broad swathe of the IoT opportunity.
In light of the breadth of offering it is perhaps a little surprising that CSPs haven’t focused more attention on having as broad as possible an offering in their sweet spot, connectivity.
There is a diverse range of access technologies being used for connecting IoT devices today. In the last few years the technology landscape has pushed back the boundaries of what is possible, offering new options in a number of directions. The higher bandwidth connectivity options of 5G and WiFi 6 open up opportunities for video-based applications and autonomous vehicles. A new generation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites promise to expand the geographical reach of connectivity. It is, however, in the arrival of technologies supporting very low bandwidth applications over wide area networks that promises the greater revolution in connectivity.
CSPs have a virtual monopoly on cellular technologies and the 5G mMTC LPWA-type technologies. There might be a few instances of new entrants, or private network deployments for NB-IoT, but ostensibly the established Communications Service Providers such as Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Telia, Verizon and Vodafone ‘own’ those markets. This contrasts strongly with the non-mMTC licence-exempt technologies where very few CSPs have a significant play. Orange has been perhaps the most active, with LoRaWAN networks in France, Romania and Slovakia. Elsewhere in Europe KPN has deployed a LoRaWAN network in the Netherlands, Bouygues Telecom (under the Objenious brand) in France, and Proximus in Belgium. Around the world, other existing CSPs that have rolled out LoRa include SK Telecom (South Korea), NTT, Softbank (both Japan), and CAT Telecom (Thailand).
The licence-exempt non-mMTC technologies today are largely deployed as private networks, which account for well over 90% of devices. However, over time this will change, with public networks supporting over 55% of non-mMTC devices by 2030. In total almost 750 million devices will be connected using public non-mMTC technologies by 2030. A significant opportunity, and one that is directly adjacent to the sweetest of sweet spots for CSPs: rolling out and operating public wide area wireless networks. This is inherently a CSP task, yet surprisingly few have yet pursued it with regard to non-mMTC technologies. After all, the biggest barrier to deployment of such networks is having ready access to sites and infrastructure, and access to an appropriately trained field-support capability, which mobile network operators certainly do.
It is also worth noting that even private network deployments of licence-exempt technologies shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out for CSPs. They are already making forays into the market for in-building private connectivity through their sale of Mobile Private Network (MPN) services, which has been one of the hottest targets for CSPs in 2020. In that case, they are using cellular technologies, specifically LTE and 5G, to compete with licence-exempt technologies such as WiFi6. For CSPs with a big professional services business, or aspirations to one, being able to support all relevant public and private network technologies that an enterprise customer might need, is clearly an advantage.
Transforma Insights therefore sees a big opportunity for non-mMTC technologies, and that CSPs are in a good position to pursue those opportunities, predominantly through deploying public networks, but also private as a counterpart to an MPN offering.
The main argument for CSPs not deploying licence-exempt non-mMTC technologies as public networks is that they already have their own equivalent technologies. Both NB-IoT and LTE-M were, to an extent, developed to counter the competitive threat of Sigfox and later LoRaWAN. However, the implication is that all of these technologies have very similar performance characteristics. That is not the case. Just considering three basic parameters of battery life, price and maximum throughput we can see that they all behave quite differently. LTE-M, for a start, certainly cannot deliver the 10-year battery life that the other technologies can provide; its capabilities will be measured in the months, rather than years. In terms of bandwidth, this can be as low as 1KB/day effective rate for Sigfox versus up to 127kbit/s for NB-IoT. LoRa sits between the two, with a peak speed of 50kbit/s. Turning to device costs, NB-IoT currently costs around USD3-5 per chipset, although with prices coming down. LoRa’s equivalent price is USD1-2.
With variable performance parameters, it stands to reason that different applications will be more appropriately addressable by different technologies depending on their bandwidth, range or power consumption requirements. Similarly, some applications will benefit from the mesh network capabilities of technologies such as DECT 2020 NR for resiliency/ In the wonderful world of IoT the demands of the various applications diverge significantly, and some are best addressed using each of the technologies.
Applications with high bandwidth requirements and high power consumption, fall clearly to LTE (and in future 5G) networks. Those with middling requirements are going to be addressable by both existing cellular networks and by the new licensed LPWA networks, LTE-M and NB-IoT, both of which to an extent will fulfil the role that the old 2G/GPRS networks have until now. There is also a range of applications with relatively low bandwidth requirements and low power consumption, which might be addressable by more than one of the LPWA technologies, either licensed or licence-exempt. Smart metering and remote monitoring applications in particular represent a market that could equally well be addressed by licence-exempt technologies, and potentially more cost-effectively given disparities in unit prices. Such a consideration will, of course, depend on the incremental cost of deploying a new network to address them.
CSPs may take the view that they have an appropriate technology for addressing all of the technologies illustrated in the chart. That is true. However, NB-IoT or LTE-M may not be the optimal technology. They may instead find that LoRaWAN, DECT 2020 NR, or any number of other technologies, offer a cheaper or more easily deployed and scaled alternative. Dogmatic aversion to considering non-cellular technologies is certainly not the optimum approach.
Communications Service Providers would be well advised to consider all options for deploying networks. The addition of, for instance, LoRaWAN would make a certain element of the IoT opportunity more cost-effectively addressable. This must, of course, be measured against the various other costs of supporting that technology, most notably the cost of deploying and maintaining a network. Every technology is worth at least doing a cost-benefit analysis.
On a wider note, any CSP which is keen to focus more on being a solution provider for enterprise customers rather than simply a network operator, will want as wide a portfolio of products as possible. This will include both public and private, licensed and licence-exempt technologies..
One of the things I do every so often for a few magazines is act as a guest interviewer, talking to some technology experts. Last month, for IoT Now, I interviewed Ross Gray, VP Product for Integrated IoT at Sierra Wireless.
He talked a lot about a how Sierra Wireless is trying to make application deployment as simple as possible, which makes sense in the context of how most IoT adopters need as many helping hands as they can get. They just want to focus on their own competency. It fits very well with what I was talking about in the context of AWS.
He talked about how the simplification takes a lot of different forms, including easing global deployments, providing quality assurance, maximising coverage, increasing security and ensuring the end-to-end connectivity between the device and the cloud, and also single SIM giving the best quality and coverage for an end-to-end offering. Plus how a single point of contact is very useful if things go wrong..
Another interesting area was discussion around context and application awareness, particularly for connectivity. That might involve adapting connectivity to the location, type of data (e.g. firmware update vs regular data) and so on.
It was a pretty far ranging conversation. I recommend you check it out.
But the thing that set me thinking the most was about the concept of a one-stop-shop. That’s what Sierra claims to be. You can get hardware, connectivity, platform and so on. Yes, that might drive out complexity. But is it really the best for the customer? The idea of an all-in-one device-to-cloud data delivery system is an appealing one. Some of you might have seen the webinar I did with AWS, Eseye and Thales a few months ago. That’s a nice hardware, connectivity and cloud services combo. Also with a lot of moving parts it’s nice to have only one company to go to when things go wrong. And it’s doubtless simpler. But I keep coming back to HiFi separates vs Midi systems. If you know what you’re doing you buy separates (or rather bought, it’s all a bit of a 20th century discussion now), whereas if you don’t, you buy an all in one midi system. Ultimately the best quality is delivered by separates, but whether or not quality matters to you depends on whether you’re listening to Pink Floyd or Baby Shark.
Just a reminder: if you’re enjoying the podcast I’d be obliged if you could leave a review. It’s much appreciated.
Next week I am expecting to unwrap a couple of pieces of interesting news that we’ve been directly involved with here at Transforma Insights. I’ll be able to share more then.
Links to some of the research that I’ve refered to in this week’s show, as well as a transcript of the recording, will be available on the podcast website at WirelessNoodle.com
Thank you for listening to The Wireless Noodle. If you would like to learn more about the research that I do on IoT, AI and more, you can follow me on Twitter at MattyHatton and you can check out TransformaInsights.com.
Thanks for joining me. I’ve been Matt Hatton and you’ve been listening to the Wireless Noodle.