34 posts categorized "Internet of Things"


CES 2016, Part 3: Wireless IoT Technologies Proliferate

Another of the trends that stood out most to VDC at this year’s CES was the ubiquity of wireless technologies. It was rare that any connected product on display did not include wireless, the most prevalent types being Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi, and ZigBee.

Bluetooth Smart, also known as Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), is ideal for many wearable devices that will communicate with the user’s nearby smartphone. Wi-Fi is best for IoT devices in a home or small business environment, leveraging existing routers and networking for other PC and Internet communications. ZigBee is a short range mesh network with a communications protocol adopted by numerous device makers, primarily in the smart home market. But none of these technologies is suited to longer range communications required in many industrial, commercial, and government IoT applications. Fortunately, there is no shortage of alternatives that are well-suited, the two most widely known being the Low-Power Wide-Area Networking (LPWAN) technologies Sigfox and LoRa.

Both Sigfox and LoRa send low bit-rate data (kilobits per second) over long distances (miles) from sensing devices to antennas and base stations which are often co-located with cell phone infrastructure. Sigfox has established nationwide public networks in its native France, as well as in Spain and Netherlands, with partial coverage in Denmark, Germany, Italy, UK, US, and other countries. Endpoint devices can run for years on battery power. Sigfox owns its infrastructure in France, but relies on partners elsewhere. The biggest knock against Sigfox has been the technology’s limited ability for bi-directional communications, so it is not suitable for sending over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates.

LoRa is similar to Sigfox, with the most notable difference being better bi-directional support, but it is based on patented technology controlled by semiconductor supplier Semtech. Both Sigfox and LoRa use unlicensed sub-gigahertz spectrum in the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) bands with frequencies that vary by region (Europe vs. US vs. Asia).

(The finer points of these networks are beyond the scope of this blog post, but VDC Research will delve further into IoT wireless technologies in a forthcoming market research report.)

Here are some of the other IoT wireless technologies that we investigated at CES.

LTE-M – as the naming implies, LTE-M uses Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular networks, but intended for M2M applications with lower cost chipsets, longer battery life, and reduced data throughput. Two “categories” of LTE-M have been defined, Cat 1 (10 megabits per second downlink, 5 mbps uplink) and Cat 0 (1 mpbs bi-directional). Service costs are lower than conventional LTE cellular data services, but still higher than for LPWAN and other options.

Ingenu (formerly called On-Ramp) – Another LPWAN, but running in the 2.4GHz frequency band worldwide, and therefore not in need of separate ISM frequencies for each major geographical region. The Ingenu company owns its own network infrastructure.

GreenWaves – Not a specific network, but a radio communications technology that can be applied to other LPWANs to reduce power consumption and increase efficiency of bandwidth use. It reduces the peak power required to distinguish signal from noise, and is suitable up to 1 mbps.

DecaWave – Small, battery-powered radio chips that can be embedded in devices to provide location information precise to within centimeters, as well as data throughput up to 6 mpbs. Location is measured via beacons, either indoors or outdoors, with range up to 300 meters (direct line-of-sight). The DecaWave company says it’s accurate enough to measure speed of moving objects, up to several hundred kilometers per hour. It's based on patented technology that DecaWave plans to license to other chipmakers.

And lastly,

enOcean – Energy-harvesting technology to communicate low data volumes (up to 32 bytes at a time) up to 1,000 feet with no battery or other external power source. Small amounts of electrical current are generated by the devices, using one of four methods:

  • Mechanical – the act of physical movement, such as pressing a button
  • Thermal – temperature differences between dissimilar semiconductors (Seebeck Effect)
  • Magnetic Field – energy radiated by electricity passing through other wires in close proximity
  • Solar – photo-voltaic cells which charge a super-capacitor

By completely eliminating batteries or wired power sources, enOcean has the potential to ease the burden of installing and maintaining IoT connectivity for many types of sensors and actuators. enOcean licenses its technologies to partners (the enOcean Alliance) who design and manufacture products such as those shown below.

EnOcean devices

enOcean wireless energy harvesting devices on display at CES, including rocker switches, window sensor, ampere meter, temperature/humidity/light sensor, radiator water valve, CO2/temperature/humidity sensor, occupancy sensor, and water sensor

None of the many wireless technologies shown at CES suits all applications, and they undoubtedly will co-exist. Nevertheless, we expect more to pop up in the coming year. As they say in the radio business, stay tuned.


CES 2016, Part 2: Automotive Technologies Move Forward

At this year’s CES, booths were brimming with IoT products such as home automation devices, connected audio and video gear, pet trackers, and fitness monitors. But one of the trends that stood out most to VDC was the prevalence of automotive technology, which came to the forefront as never before.

Two of the keynote speeches at CES featured heads of major carmakers. One of the keynotes was by Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, although more than half of her presentation was essentially a live infomercial for the 2017 Chevy Bolt all-electric vehicle, including a bit of a cheap-shot at Tesla—without mentioning that company by name—due to its lack of “neighborhood dealerships.” (Many consumers consider Tesla’s direct sales model to be a benefit over the traditional dealership business model.)

Dr. Herbert Diess, Chairman of Volkswagen Passenger Cars, also keynoted, and began his presentation with a lengthy apology over the diesel engine scandal. Then Diess highlighted four key tenants of “New Volkswagen”: electric mobility; fully connected; automated driving; and user experience. We note that all four of these relate directly to electronic technologies, and the automaker used the show to introduce its latest all-electric e-Golf Touch. In addition to the technical merits of its touch-screen dashboard, the vehicle’s name represents an interesting marketing leap for the automotive industry by making user interface such a prominent selling point. VW also introduced the Budd-e, an all-electric, 21st century concept microbus, loaded with more electronic features than VW’s own staff could readily recall.

On the topic of touch screens, we were impressed by Bosch’s neoSense haptic screen technology, which not only provides tactile feedback when pressed, it generates different tactile textures that can be used to represent button positions. This technology could help bridge the gulf between physical buttons and virtual ones by enabling drivers to feel for touch screen buttons without taking their eyes off the road.

Bosch neoSense buttons
Bosch neoSense Demo Display

Also notable to VDC was the sheer plethora of vendors, large and small, from the automotive industry’s tiered supply chain. Many of these companies, such as AllGo, Covisint, DENSO, Elektrobit, Magna International, and QNX, will never be household names, but they play important roles in technology development for the automotive market. They are among the vendors we seek to see forthcoming automotive features and functions.

Digital dashboards make compelling demos at trade shows (not to mention dealer showrooms), and many were on display throughout the automotive hall at CES, although they represent just the surface of digital technology. The more revolutionary technologies lie in advanced driver assistance and autonomous driving systems, which were widely discussed and demonstrated. Ford and Kia both announced plans to bring fully autonomous vehicles to market, the former highlighting Velodyne’s LiDAR Puck, the latest and smallest version of the laser-based technology used in many autonomous vehicles for detecting and ranging nearby objects in real time. However, conspicuously absent from the automotive area at CES 2016 was the company furthest along in autonomous driving, Google.

If it hadn’t been evident already, CES 2016 made clear that the future of the automotive industry lies more in electronic innovations than in mechanical ones.

For the second technological trend which stood out at CES 2016, look for Part 3 of our blog posts.

(For more on automotive electronics, see VDC’s recent market report, Automotive Cybersecurity: Meeting the High-Stakes Challenge.)


CES 2016, Part 1: Drills, Holes, and Holemakers

CES_LogoSince long before the turn of the millennium, every January has brought to Las Vegas the humongous trade show and conference known as CES. Those three letters no longer officially stand for Consumer Electronics Show, but that’s how many people in the industry still refer to it. The very term “consumer electronics” is usually considered a category of devices, as in a department in retail stores where consumers buy their boxes of TVs, audio and video players, cameras, etc. But as the industry has evolved, more and more of the products have included (or in some cases wholly become) intangibles and/or services. In recognition of such trends, two months before this year’s show the organization behind CES, the Consumer Electronics Association, officially changed its name to the Consumer Technology Association. Although CTA says it has no plans to change the CES show name, the industry shift is evident.

As Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt famously put it, “People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Levitt’s principle is behind, for example, the migration of music consumption from purchasing of physical media (CDs and vinyl records) to purchasing of digital media (iTunes downloads) to streaming digital media without ownership (Pandora and Spotify). Which raises another important question: When people want a hole, what determines whether they buy or rent a drill to make the hole themselves, vs. hire someone else to make the hole for them? Increasingly, at least a portion of consumers are opting to hire someone else, and vendors who previously built and sold the drills are offering to make the holes or even devise alternative methods of affixing things without requiring holes. Although many makers of devices for commercial applications have long offered their devices as a service, this phenomenon is relatively new to consumer markets (with the notable exception of vehicle leasing).

In the market for actual drills and holes (as opposed to metaphorical ones), this trend would be equivalent to the likes of power tool makers Stanley Black & Decker and Bosch providing carpentry and architectural design services. This is not as far-fetched as it might seem, as Stanley Black & Decker and Bosch both have substantial commercial services groups, and presumably could expand into consumer services if they deemed it sufficiently profitable. (Bosch is also one of the world’s leading suppliers of automotive technology, but more on that in Part 2 of our CES 2016 blog posts.)

However, the reason Google bought Nest wasn’t because it wants to sell thermostats or even provide heating services. Google wants to leverage thermostat data into new types of services. In other words, Google wants to collect, use, and monetize information about who’s buying drills and how and where holes are being made. This is a very different mindset from the way the consumer electronics industry has historically operated.

Most of the traditional consumer electronics vendors are inadequately prepared for such business transitions, either because of limitations of their legacy corporate skills, or because of vested interests in maintaining the status quo (e.g. potential conflicts with existing business). Sony, despite owning one of the world’s largest music production and publishing companies (now called Sony Music Entertainment), failed when it offered and later shuttered the Sony Connect music download store, partly because of its insistence on digital rights management (DRM) and its proprietary ATRAC music format. And Apple and Samsung won’t likely become cell phone service providers if they want Verizon, AT&T, et al. to continue to subsidize mobile handset purchases.

So how does all this relate to CES 2016? Three ways. First, an estimated 20,000 new products were featured at the show this year, many of which were touted as "IoT." Back in the days when products were just products, when we received briefings on new products we would typically ask about specifications, pricing, and marketing. Now, we almost always have to ask about ancillary services (such as monthly fees to effectively use the touted features) and data rights (who can do what with which data derived from the product’s usage). We usually get acceptable answers to the former, and poor or no answers to the latter. Today it is simply not within the purview of a consumer electronics company’s sales and marketing department to address users’ data rights issues. As the market evolves further into data about making holes, that will need to change.

Second, the prospects for each new product now need to be evaluated in the context not just of the competition, but also of the vendor’s own existing products and business relationships. Which startups have adequate funding and partnerships to achieve critical mass with their innovations? Which established vendors have the intestinal fortitude to cannibalize their own revenues when vying for an early stake in a future market pie? The latter point is especially relevant when the existing revenues are device-based and the future potential is service-based.

And third, the mainstream press is often justifiably enamored with all the latest consumer electronic gizmos being pitched for sale. But more interesting to us at VDC, and where we focus more of our attention, are the technology and business trends that will be shaping consumer electronics products that won’t become prevalent in the market until future years. For more on a couple of such key trends, look for upcoming Parts 2 and 3 of our CES 2016 blog.


IoT Market Complexity Demands Buyer Personas

The complexity of the market for IoT products and services creates enormous challenges for the IoT solution marketer. An unlimited set of applications, a complex ecosystem of partners and channels, a wide range of decision makers and influencers, and a continuously changing competitive set can leave the marketer forever chasing his tail. Critical decisions about the content, placement, and timing of marketing messages become extraordinarily difficult in the face of these complex and dynamic conditions. 

Observing these challenges, VDC undertook a disciplined search for tools and methods that could help IoT marketers think and act more strategically, and achieve better results. Given how critical content marketing is in the IoT space, we focused on identifying tools and methods that would improve digital marketing effectiveness, defined as improving lead generation in terms of both lead quantity and lead quality. The tool we identified as being the most valuable – when deployed correctly – was the buyer persona.

Download our new whitepaper on the benefit of buyer personas for IoT marketers to learn more about they can help your company supercharge its marketing, sales, product development, and customer service.



Community Development Critical for IoT Success

The IoT has democratized product engineering and innovation. Increasing device connectivity and open APIs are enabling new types of organizations and developers to innovate in a world previously confined to engineers with highly specialized skill sets. While the traditional embedded ecosystem and its engineers will remain at the heart of the IoT device movement, this new cadre of potential developers and entrepreneurs comprise an important part of the creative base designing future IoT systems.

And from giant conferences to local maker fairs, the technology ecosystem has recognized the importance fostering the growth of this “citizen developer” community. In fact, VDC is involved in an upcoming developer tournament focused catalyzing innovation for the IoT – the Global Mobile Innovators Tournament. I will be serving as one of the judges evaluating submissions.

What is the Global Mobile Innovators Tournament?

IBM, 4YFN (4 Years From Now) and four global telecommunications companies have joined forces to bring you the Global Mobile Innovators Tournament (www.glovators.io). In a worldwide global effort to foster innovation in technology, this tournament empowers developers and startups to create mobile and cloud applications that provide innovative solutions for how businesses and individuals operate and interact with the world around them.

Centered around three Internet of Things topics, the tournament includes fifteen virtual challenges and five regional demo days, culminating with a grand finale on stage at the 4YFN (“four years from now”) conference in Barcelona in February 2016 (http://www.4yfn.com/landing/attend.html). 4YFN, the global conference for mobile innovators, is affiliated with the Mobile World Congress, which takes places concurrently in Barcelona.

This tournament runs on Bluemix (https://console.ng.bluemix.net/home/), IBM’s platform as a service software. The tournament fosters industry innovation, world-class skill development, and mentorship programs for developers and entrepreneurs.

Registration opened on September 16 for the virtual challenges that kick off the Tournament. Demo days will happen December 9th – January 20th and winners will be announced February 22-24th at 4YFN 2016.

Please let me know if you have any questions about how to participate.

The Battle for the IoT is Being Fought in the MCU Software Ecosystem

System resource restrictions around memory and processing power were one of the fundamental issues that first fueled the development of the embedded operating system ecosystem. Overtime, however, the relative importance of these issues diminished in favor of more robust offerings capable of enabling sophisticated user interfaces and more advanced device connectivity. Now, however, the IoT has catalyzed a new level of market demand for OSs that can operate on MCU-class devices.

Most Important Characteristics When Selecting Primary Operating System
(Percent of Respondents Indicating MCU Used on Current Project)

Footprint OS graph

The sheer volume of small-footprint devices is enticing to silicon and software vendors alike, even if they are also accompanied by lower ASPs. The potential for this ecosystem extends far beyond traditional attached hardware and software stack components, and market leaders are responding in kind with extensions to their portfolios.

This week, Wind River (Intel) announced two new operating systems:

  • Rocket - a small-footprint RTOS capable of being deployed on systems with as little as 4kb of memory.
  • Pulsar - A small-footprint Linux OS. Less than 1/3 the size of WR's traditional Linux offering.

And both commercial-grade OSs are free. (Wind River will sell support and maintenance, etc.)


To continue reading VDC's analysis on this industry announcement please log-in to your VDCConnect account.


LogMeIn Helps Grow the IoT Pie at Xively Xperience

Cloud service provider LogMeIn hosted its first Xively Xperience conference on October 1-2, 2015 in Boston. As an invitation-only event, it attracted approximately 200 C-level executives and industry experts for keynotes and panel discussions on the current and future state of the IoT. Although the conference included several demos of technology from LogMeIn and it’s IoT cloud service Xively.com, by and large it was devoted to the IoT as a whole, and not merely a sales pitch for LogMeIn/Xively. As such, it was more an early market effort to help grow the whole IoT pie, rather than carve out a bigger slice for the host company.

Sean Ford LogMeIn CMO at Xively Xperience 2015

Sean Ford, Chief Marketing Officer of LogMeIn, kicks off Xively Xperience 2015

Keynote speakers included Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize Foundation (among his many accomplishments), and renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil (now a Director of Engineering at Google). Speakers and panelists representing a cross-section of Xively customers and ecosystem participants discussed the real-world benefits and risks of implementing IoT.

In a sign of how broadly the IoT can stretch, one panelist was Tim O’Keefe, CEO of the plumbing parts maker Symmons. O’Keefe advised the audience not to try to do everything in the first version of a connected product, but to get customer feedback and iterate. In the demo area of the conference hall, Symmons was demonstrating an Internet-connected shower, in which an electronic device sensor inline with the shower head measured water flow rate and volume, transmitting the data wirelessly to a (waterproof) touchscreen panel in the stall, which then submitted it to a central system. SymmonsConnectedShower

The Symmons connected product was intended for hotels to monitor shower usage and detect leaky plumbing. O’Keefe noted that guests are likely to use less water in the shower when they see how much they’re consuming, and hotels could even offer them a share of the money savings. In VDC’s opinion, the Symmons demo exemplifies non-obvious applications of the IoT, and we think that the concept could be expanded even further. A connected touchscreen in hotel bathrooms could be used for additional services, such as a panic button (“Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up”) or for guests to report bathroom issues (buttons for “Fix Running Toilet,” or “Bring More Towels,” etc.).

An especially eye-opening presentation came from James Lyne, Director of Technology Strategy for security firm Sophos. Lyne performed live hacks of an Android tablet via Metasploit Meterpreter to view the contents of the tablet’s directories, and via an automated password guessing tool he took control of a consumer-grade webcam. He also showed a video clip (non-live) from a closed circuit TV camera inside a convenience store, in which customers could be seen entering their PINs on a credit card reader. He had been able to access it over the Internet without needing any username or password. In relating such vulnerabilities to the future of the IoT, Lyne gave the audience serious food for thought: “We are about to hand over unprecedented power in the physical world to hackers in the digital world.”

In VDC’s view, such demos exposing poorly protected devices are great for scaring the bejeezus out of observers and motivating product makers not to be that low hanging fruit. But the greater challenge resides at the opposite end of the spectrum, keeping protected the high value devices and systems whose designers have already put considerable time and attention into security in an effort to remain at least one step ahead of the most sophisticated groups of organized hackers.

In the conference’s closing keynote, Ray Kurzweil explored the trends of biological systems becoming information systems, and information systems evolving through wearables and implants on increasingly microscopic levels, to the point that eventually “...the Internet will be directly connected to our brains.” (In light of James Lynes’ demos, that immediately brought to mind the popular question of the Internet era: What could possibly go wrong?)

Overall, the Xively Xperience highlighted many ways in which IoT developments are inspiring (see below) and accelerating change in business and the world at large. We look forward to next year’s edition.



Security Comes to the Forefront at IoT Security Conference 2015


Members of the VDC Team spent the last two days at the inaugural IoT Security event on the beautiful Boston waterfront, where Steve Hoffenberg, VDC’s Director of IoT & Embedded Technology, spoke alongside a diverse and distinguished panel of guests that included various leaders of government, research, and industry.


One of the main themes that emerged throughout the two-day conference was the growing importance and adoption of Security as a Service. If it makes more sense from both a financial and an operations perspective to outsource computing, storage, applications, and infrastructure to specialized providers in order to capitalize on economies of scale and aggregated outside expertise, then it follows that portions of IoT security can also be outsourced effectively.  As devices are connected to each other, and to the internet, the attack surface of the IoT software environment grows exponentially. Managing this complexity requires solutions that may be lacking in traditional embedded security software. We see a clear trend towards the addition of connected security features such as network data anomaly analysis and constant threat definition updates being built into device security at the OS level. The recently-announced Lynx & Webroot partnership is a clear example of how IoT security companies will be able to provide added value through reduced end-user complexity and enhanced safety to OEMs in the near future.


Another interesting thought came from Carl Stjernfeldt, Senior VP at Shell Venture Technologies, a division of the energy/oil giant. He suggested that Shell was looking to purchase many more sensors in the future, not only for machines, but also for “sensorizing” its people, blurring the line between inert and living assets and the data that could be collected from each. Of course, Shell is not the only company thinking of adding sensors to different production assets, including its human resources, but this comment did lead to the interesting question of how we might see a trend of convergence and growing complexity in the management of device and human directories and their corresponding authentication protocols, which are currently two separate worlds.


One more thought that we would like to leave with the reader is that of the continued overreliance on perimeter security: placing too much emphasis on stopping attackers from gaining any access to the system at all, and not enough emphasis on minimizing damage that could be done if an attacker gains access. In many cases, perimeter security may secure a device or a network extremely well from a technical standpoint, but a simple social hack, shortcut, or human error can render the entire system vulnerable quite easily. The principle of least privilege– properly assigning only necessary access privileges to each user and system element – is a core security principle that will be fundamental in implementing safety-critical IoT networks in the future. 


VDC's Steve Hoffenberg Speaking at IoT Security Conference in Boston


VDC's Director of IoT & Embedded Technology will be speaking at the IoT Security conference in Boston, September 22-23. He'll be hosting an Analyst Breakfast Briefing roundtable discussion on Wednesday, September 23, and also on that same day, he'll be participating as a panelist in the session entitled, "Maximizing Technology to Safeguard the Business of IoT."

Check out the full conference info at www.iotsecurityevent.com. If you plan to attend and would like to connect with Steve there, contact him at shoffenberg@vdcresearch.com.


Lingering Thoughts from NIWeek 2015

VDC’s IoT and Embedded Technologies team recently attended NIWeek 2015 in Austin, TX. National Instruments (NI) put on an excellent conference and we had the opportunity to take in a great deal. There were inspiring and informative keynote presentations, great partner stories, the heat, interesting panel sessions, helpful one-on-one meetings with NI executives, the strange layout of the Austin Convention Center (it allegedly has a floor 2, but I’m not buying that), demos on the exhibit floor…and, well, did I mention the heat?

The IoT / IIoT Centric Focus of NIWeek

Regardless of the format – keynote, panels, demos, 1:1’s – much of the discussion tied into the Internet of Things, or the Industrial Internet of Things in NI parlance. This focus is well justified; with all due respect to Marc Andreessen, it is time to update his famous quote. Today, “IoT is eating the world.” In fact, a majority of engineers surveyed by VDC in 2014 were already leveraging the IoT. By 2017, 81% expect to use the IoT in their projects, which represents a truly remarkable shift in the engineering world!

Iot eating the word

National Instruments’ Position within the IoT

NI’s IIoT focus, and I believe it to be the right one for the company, is to provide their customers with distributed compute intelligence that would sit between the data generating nodes and the cloud or legacy enterprise systems in the IIoT architecture.

To date, media attention has focused disproportionally on greenfield IoT applications serving the home, business, and building automation. There’s a lot of innovation to be excited about in these devices, but they represent only a slice of the total available market for the IoT. NI is aiming at this broader IoT picture that includes countless applications in all of the traditionally embedded industries, like automotive, energy, medical, industrial, and others. Deployments into these markets will be brownfield opportunities needing to traverse complex environments and interact with a host of existing devices that vary in age and capability. Moreover, any new equipment will need to connect or integrate with numerous earlier M2M systems.

At NIWeek 2015, National Instruments demonstrated that their modular, platform-based portfolio has the functional capabilities, flexibility, and strong hardware/software integration necessary to support engineering organizations as they deploy the next generation of intelligent IIoT systems. The challenge however, is for NI to broaden the mindset held by many traditional customers. Engineers will need to more often consider their platforms as appropriate for deployed systems rather than only for development and test & measurement if NI is to advance their positioning in the IIoT ecosystem.

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