Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Introduction to IoT
and getting more things connected, is a vital step in the journey
towards smarter buildings. An IoT strategy will allow professionals to
add additional ways of measuring the status of buildings, dig out data
that is hard to get out today, and also create data where there is
none. Improving data flow from assets will be vital in the development
of smarter buildings.
IoT special at
all? Is it possible to earn more money by doing less work? We are
about to find out! In this special, I’ll try to convey our
thoughts on the whole “Go-IoT” movement that is out there. I aim to
paint a picture of the dynamic landscape that is in the process of
forming and what we have seen is trending in the industry today, and
what will stick until tomorrow. I’ll also dig a little bit deeper into
the realm of building automation, and I will probably conclude with the
management ethos – “It depends” when it comes to what should go where.
basic definition from Wikipedia is that “The
Internet of Things” is the
network of devices such as vehicles, and home appliances that contain
electronics, software, actuators, and connectivity which allows these
things to connect, interact and exchange data.”
be honest, I’d like to talk about the BIoT or CoT instead of IoT, and
that means Building IoT and Connectivity of Things. This doesn’t
necessarily mean access to the internet, but instead allowing products
of different standards, sizes and location to talk to each other.
Internet usually comes in play in one or the other, but it doesn’t mean
that everything should be connected to the Internet and nor will it.
Connected devices outnumber IoT, even though they are heavily related.
Security is one big factor
that I won’t go into depth about, most of the “IoT-technologies” are
more secure and encrypted than WI-FI. But it all depends, and the
strongest chain has its weakest link, always.
If you want to get to the pure building automation part, skip three headlines and scroll down to the “How to keep up”- section. But if you are interested in knowing a little bit above and beyond Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN, keep reading. Because here comes the basics!
Whac-a-mole of things
co-founder of one of our partner companies iioote, Robert
Spertina, usually opens all their meetings with a game of Whac-a-mole.
It is a simplified version of the constraints that you have when
deciding on what IoT solution might be the best choice. Brilliant, and
1. How to choose IoT Technology by iioote
Basically, it all comes down to three areas, WAN (WPAN), LPWAN and LAN (WLAN);
As of today, you can have two maxed out, but never all three. If you want to have a lot of data sent back and forth, over long distances, you’ll have to sacrifice the energy consumption.
If you want to have low energy consumption and a lot of data traffic, then you sacrifice range. And as I alluded to in the beginning, it all depends. Humidity sensors and water leakage detection in buildings might be more suitable for LoRaWAN as well as any geographically dispersed meters requiring long battery times.
these bubbles above would be weighted we would clearly see that the
“bubble” to the left will be double that of the bubble at the top. And
the LPWAN bubble to the right, with the classic 10 year battery life
slogan, is but a fraction of the other two bubbles.
a major part of the growth will come from the LPWAN segment, making it
very interesting in that respect and a booming market.I will go through
some of the standards
on a very high level, skipping a lot of the granular pros and
cons. This could of course be covered in a 1 on 1 session if
interested (shameless plug)!
LowPoweredWideAreaNetwork. These below are up and coming and could be seen as the more traditional IoT networks (in my opinion). Sigfox is a French network operator, and they are the baby brother in the LPWAN segment. Great for low packet sizes, long range, not critical data, 10-year battery life (depending on traffic intervals) and great for some needs, water monitoring, agriculture. Similar to them is the baby-version of Weightless (a little bit more below).
LoRa, LoRaWAN and Symphony Link. These are the “middle” brothers and
have all an abundance of products vetted by the LoRa Alliance. Great
for smart city ecosystems and LoRaWAN, in particular, has a quite high
adoption rate in Europe and coming on strong in Australia propagated by
companies such as Meshed.
LoRaWAN has the potential to be truly open but is also seeing lock-in effects from vendors and providers managing some, if not all parts of the infrastructure. This is neither good or bad, but there’s also the rapid development of TTN (The Things Network). They are doing quite an amazing job in providing tools to create a truly open and potentially robust global Internet of Things network based on LoRaWAN and are up to 5000 gateways worldwide.
Other contenders in this area, before moving on to the “Team Telco”
part of the 3GPP organization is Weightless, spearheaded by Ubiik that
rely on Semtech technology. Great in some cases, worse in others.
The big brothers (or sisters) in this field come in the form of NB-IoT
and LTE-M, CAT-M, which are supported by the 3GPP organization as
mentioned above. Basically, these are “Telco-powered” solutions
utilizing SIM-cards with high reliability, larger data packets, and
offers a bit more flexibility at a somewhat higher price. There is an
industry-wide consensus that NB-IoT and LTE-M will overtake both Sigfox
and LoRaWAN as the most used IoT standard out there in the foreseeable
However, due to the recent Huawei scandal, we will see global ramifications in the uptake of NB-IoT and the jury is still out on this one. This is great for Sigfox and LoRaWAN, but a disaster for Telcos. But in any case2G will be obsolete in the coming years, LTE-M could be a good alternative even though it operates on a 4G network. GSM, LTE, 4G are there, and 5G will be disruptive, but the resiliency is not there yet infrastructure wise. Infrastructural challenges, not enough sensors in the market has stifled a bit of the expected growth regarding NB-IoT/CAT-M adoption, which is why the emergent LPWAN/IoT industry still is a very open field.
Emerging platforms, BACnet/Mesh and ROI focus
In the home automation space, there’s also the more classic IoT technologies that are still very much prevalent. We have Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth/Bluetooth mesh, and of course Wi-Fi, RFID, NFC and many others, Wireless Mbus, being one somewhat applicable for building automation. There’s also the “mesh” variants that most of these have in common, but with different approaches.
The aforementioned standards and protocols provide more local control
and are mostly intended for home automation or light building
automation where integrating to existing BMS isn’t a priority. That
said, Zigbee and Thread are joining dots in addressing IoT industry
fragmentation under/over a protocol called dot dot.
Industry experts have agreed that Zigbee doesn’t scale well in
comparison to other applications, but Thread is seen as an option that
is very well suited for building automation purposes of scale. It is
open, it is on an IP level, and it is rapidly gaining supporters
worldwide with vendors such as Cascoda, going where traditional Wi-Fi
won’t or can’t.
Enocean is another great protocol/product that uses battery-free,
energy harvesting technology and has some of the coolest products we’ve
ever seen. These can be used in a wide variety of application areas,
but one is for the smart hotel room as seen here.
Other solutions are Wirepas, who’s coming on strong with their
ubiquitous approach to IoT, and also LumenRadio, who’s got a phenomenal
frequency jumping, lighting controlling, offering reliable mesh
communication for industrial and building automation applications.
LumenRadio is the brain that makes the demand controlled ventilation
system from Swegon so robust.
And one of the most interesting solutions that we have seen, that are
very fitting for building automation is that of Conectric.
great solutions, focusing on simplified data collection, and thus being
affordable, reliable, robust, ultra-scalable, easily connecting to 50
000 sensors and beyond. We are in the process of joining efforts and
getting a BACnet Mesh solution to the market, where old Modbus-RS-485
meters, communicate through wireless instead of wires. Phillip Kopp,
CEO of Conectric, has a great mind in this area and he says it all
comes down to ROI. They can show ROI in 1,5 years, a clear business
model, with 10 years of battery life. Some other companies might show
ROI in 3 years and must replace batteries within the next 3-5 years,
and complicated as a service business model. Good solutions
should emphasize positive ROI by not just maximizing battery life but
being clear about how many message reporting you will actually get for
that long life. Some solutions may send 10,000 messages over 10 years,
while others may send 10’s millions.
How to keep up with all of this?!?
Let the technology experts focus on technology and let you be the
expert of your domains. Because the fact is that keeping up with the
times, these days, is a challenge on its own. I think most of us agree
that technology shifts are happening fast, and it is hard to keep up
with the times. Sustainability is a key factor, and with more demands
for dynamic workplaces, we see that even buildings need to keep up with
the times. Providing buildings that are robust, useful and attractive
these days, are more about people comfort, and it is about energy
savings. The classic too cold/too hot scenario which provides a great
average is an obsolete way of thinking. Siemens acquiring Comfy was a
great play in the direction of making buildings more suited for people,
by allowing people more control of their own surroundings. And that is
also where IoT comes in because it can enable easier access and
control, allowing companies to do more, with less.
But even for the global giants, it is difficult to keep up with the
times. And as discussed, today it is possible to create your own
solutions from open products and protocols, avoiding the cloud of both
global Telecommunication providers, as well as building automation
giants. Open hardware and open software allow for more flexibility in
the market, and that’s the great part! Freedom of choice.
The answer to how to keep up with all of this is that you shouldn’t. Well, it depends if you are a vendor agnostic company like us, yes. We need to keep track of everything that is happening because we want to enable cutting edge technology in an open, modular way. If the IoT technology you selected four years ago is now obsolete, choose another one! Don’t rip out the whole system, just the part that needs upgrading. The one thing that system integrators, real estate owners or anyone else except for the IoT companies themselves should think about is your own problems.
The most important thing right now is that companies building solutions
open a dialogue with the ones using solutions on the market. What are
you using today? What are the challenges with that? Are there any
challenges? What do you wish you could do?
It all depends, but it needs to be standardized
Considering all of the amazing technology solutions out there today,
you might think that you need to keep up with the times and know
exactly what they are good for or not. No, you don’t. But you need to
ask if your solutions can pass the test of time, or if you are locked
into something that will be hard to replace in 5 years. I recently
argued that IoT would be a subset of Facility IT and that’s the same
with IoT in reference to Building IoT. Buildings provide a much more
complex landscape than home automation, and that is why we believe that
IoT needs to be standardized underneath a device to device
communication protocol. The President of BACnet argued the same thing
at this year's AHRexpo in Atlanta, stating that “Alexa has left the
building – because Building IoT is so much more.”
That said, from a building automation perspective, you need to know what problems to solve. What is the existing technology you want to collect data from? At what intervals? Where do you want to send the data? Do you want to run analytics on it? Want to be able to have bi-directional control? Where in the building do you want to collect data?
Do you want to collect data from existing networks or do you want to be
able to collect new data in a wireless way? A lot of questions that
need answering and these need to be answered, together, through a
dialogue. The really great solutions will only come into fruition when
“IoT” companies create an open dialogue with the end user, creating
products together that are fit for purpose. We all need to collaborate
more in order to keep up with what can be done, and what needs to be
What is it (not) good for?
This article discusses the value of IoT for Smart buildings, and it
provides great information about where we are today, and the value with
“However, the value in IoT for smart buildings will likely not be in
the addition of millions of new internet-connected sensors, but in new
software applications that use existing data from existing equipment to
make buildings operate better.”
So basically, the answer to “What is it good for?” according to this
article- is absolutely nothing.
Agreeing with the argument, that existing data and connectedness might
imply little to no use of IoT. Then we’ll see the blue ocean of
everything between home automation and large commercial real estate
automation is the true sweet spot of IoT; which in fact, is 100% true.
That is an untapped opportunity that will continue to grow once the
technology becomes cheaper and more powerful.
But in my mind, the article somewhat misses the point with the Internet
of Things in a smart building context. Creating new software
applications running on an IP level of buildings is something that the
“Super” System integrators do today. Nothing new, even if it is at the
cutting edge. In fact, I had the immense pleasure of viewing the
Entrocim platform from Hepta Systems last week, demonstrated by Jason
Houck and it was the best thing I’ve seen in this industry thus far.
They have gotten the grasp of virtualization, cybersecurity, fault
detections and running analytics on real-time data. They have taken
everything from the buildings that was there to take, creating a
phenomenal looking dashboard providing insight into everything that was
going on in the building.
There are two reasons why I find this phenomenal.
They have successfully leveraged the solutions that are out there
today, and by doing that, freed themselves, and their customers, to the
lock-in effects most companies succumb to on a daily basis. That said,
they most likely utilize analytics tools and application stacks from
globally recognized vendors. But they are not dependent on vendors
supplying their total solutions like before.
IoT as a path creation tool for an open future
Not relying on existing, but instead enhancing capabilities in a smart
building context is where IoT comes in. Providing data that is not
there yet, allowing anyone with the capabilities to not only dig out
data that is hard to get, but also create data in ways we haven’t
thought about yet. IoT provides a (possibly) secure channel away from
lock-in effects, normalizing data in the way you want it to be. Path
dependency turned into path creation and a shift away from wired to
The thing is, we are talking about buildings so really it makes little
sense to do anything but very short distances inside of the building
itself. Cell phones work indoors because the radio tower is extremely
powerful utilizing many kilowatts. If you do that inside everyone will
get cancer and die from radiation. Of course, this can be
mitigated/solved by having a “miniaturized cloud” from Cloud backend,
on the edge (in/around the building) that communicates with cell
phones, caching data where it’s needed. Combined with high bandwidth
data, you can miss a lot of information and algorithmically fill in the
blanks and get a good picture, so it’s not that important to get
everything, which is the opposite of low bandwidth data that might get
lost on the way. With low bandwidth data you have small data sizes so
if you miss something, you might as well miss everything because you
will never be able to figure out the missing pieces. But again, it all
The whole premise with IoT is doing more with less, and IoT will
provide an enormous benefit to the OEMs (having dial home functions),
destroying the very idea of focus groups, bringing R&D and insights
to a real-time level. The fact is that IoT today is still emerging, and
we haven’t begun to see the applications that will be built on these
emerging standards. It all comes down to what is smart or not. Hailed
as “The smartest building in the World”, the Edge in Holland has 28000
wired sensors. Wired. Because who would want to change 28000 sensors?
I would still argue that IoT will only be special when it is
standardized underneath a building automation umbrella. Otherwise, it
will be part of the whole 1000 cuts challenge. Open hardware, open
software and an open cloud approach revolve around finding the correct
solutions for the customer, and not about finding a correct customer
for a specific solution.
If you believe for one second that Bluetooth is the coolest thing out
there, you are dead wrong. But if you also believe that you shouldn’t
start, you are even more wrong. Because the most important thing is
that you get a grip on the problems you want to solve, what you want to
do better, and get out there and start doing something! I will
cover more about the business benefits in the next article, and also
explain why the 80/20 rule doesn’t apply to IoT and analytics.
As always, if you are in doubt about anything, let us know! After all,
I am the Building Whisperer – Making buildings talk to people.
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