Blog Post – Paris, France – September 30th, 2021.
Due to the hidden and often neglected challenges of deploying IoT projects and the growing urge of knowledge on IoT and LoRaWAN® technology, we felt the need of offering simple answers to questions which you might have asked yourself at some point: what exactly can IoT be used for? Why is LoRaWAN® the best connectivity to fuel LPWAN IoT use cases? What are the main issues when deploying an IoT project?
For this we wanted a leading opinion to shed light on various aspects of managing IoT deployments. With Actility being in the forefront of LPWAN development with major deployment experiences around the globe, we naturally turned to our own CEO, Olivier Hersent, who now unveils everything you need to know.
Through this exclusive interview, Olivier also explains more complex issues like the role cloud data storage plays in IoT, what are the necessary quality checks for a project, how to avoid problems when creating IoT deployments, and Actility’s experience in the field through different use case examples in already up and running projects.
What is happening right now is that bleeding edge mathematical analysis and optimization technologies are getting out of universities more and more and are being applied to the real world. These algorithms make our world more efficient and safer; they contribute to the transition of our economy to a more sustainable model. Of course, PHDs don’t work on actual physical objects, but on computer models from the real world: the “digital twins”.
The role of IoT networks is to keep the digital twins in sync with the physical world’s data.
People tend to think that this is simple, and the most common mistake is to handle IoT initiatives like small science projects or experiments assembling bits of open source here and there and forgetting how critical quality is for IoT.
When you have millions of devices in the field, the last thing you want is to have to revisit or to “reboot” them… perhaps the only real difficulty in IoT is to ensure rock solid stability.
If a sensor fails only once a month, when you have a million you will have over 30 thousand failures per day… of course the project will stop way before such disaster. And sometimes people conclude that “IoT doesn’t work”.
But in fact, IoT network technologies such as LoRaWAN® are now mature at scale. However, IoT is not about geek experiments, it’s all about industrial stability and security at scale and this requires hard work.
This is why we have had over a hundred engineers working on it for over ten years. We make sure that our customers’ projects are deployed on time, within budget, and above all, that they will be able to scale up to millions of sensors.
You need to do it right and from the beginning. Projects are often handled as side jobs by an engineer or an intern who only aims to do a quick demonstration for management. Few devices will be deployed in a lab in ideal conditions, and the focus will only be put on functionality, “can I measure this, can I track that…”.
Very few companies understand that the only real difficulty in IoT is scaling and keeping OPEX costs down, the opposite of a quick demo. For example, radio conditions should be the worst expected in the field, and there should not be just a handful of devices here and there, but sufficient density to reproduce the collisions that will happen in real life and test the quality of the radio management algorithms of the network supplier.
It is only such PoC projects, focused on quality and stability, which will be possible to scale successfully. These are serious projects and working with experienced partners is a key success factor.
I believe that Project Managers should clearly state what the main objective of an IoT PoC is. It should be designed to check the reliability of communication and bring the failure rate low enough to allow mass deployment with controlled maintenance costs. This is much, much harder than a quick demo.
In addition to radio management quality, I can give you two examples of check points that are frequently overlooked:
That really depends on each customer, but IoT is one of the domains where customers do not always want to use a cloud system, particularly in Industrial IoT.
When IoT becomes a mission critical system, you cannot really depend on a cloud system, and you need to deploy edge networks and edge computing.
We offer both cloud and on-premises solutions. Commercial IoT projects, serving hundreds of buildings tend to go for fully managed networks in the cloud. Comcast’s MachineQ, Orange, or Swisscom are very successful by deploying these private managed networks. However, industrial sites tend to prefer local infrastructure.
Our ThingPark platform can be deployed locally or in the cloud. We also allow these networks to collaborate with the ThingPark Exchange peering platform. For example, all warehouses in a logistic chain can cluster and form a seamless network and handover to satellite or terrestrial LPWAN networks between warehouses.
There is no shortcut or compression algorithm for experience. For the last 10 years we have been providing commercial customer support for clients on all continents. We have always been first to introduce new technologies, standard evolution, and to accumulate experience.
We have performed hundreds of live network upgrades on both small enterprise scale networks and nationwide public networks. Our systems support a 120% YoY growth in connected devices. That’s a lot of accumulated experience!
The IoT is a long tail market, with an extreme device diversity. Besides the network robustness, our customers want to leverage our experience on devices, because many of the potential problems when scaling up to multiple use cases come from interoperability issues. By being present in the market for such a long time, I believe we have already connected every possible device type and brand.
We provide test networks for free on our ThingPark Community page, as well as automated test tools for device makers to eliminate interoperability issues. Lately, we are also collaborating with device makers to provide ready-to-go drivers so data can be immediately analyzed on Microsoft Azure, AWS IoT, ThingWorx and many other platforms. All this enables our customers to focus on data analytics, while we take care of the plumbing.
LoRaWAN® is a standard, so fortunately it’s easy. Recently there was a hospital with a demanding RFID application which had been using an open source based IoT network, but under load they achieved only a 65% communication success rate, with high power consumption of the devices.
Typically, those kind of projects head for failure, but we were able to reconnect the sensors to our ThingPark infrastructure and we now achieve a 100% success rate with a much-improved power consumption, which means longer sensor battery life and lower OPEX. This was possible because of sophisticated radio optimization algorithms which took years to develop and stabilize at scale.
Our projects are very diverse, and many of them belong to industrial IoT. For example, we have automated meter reading projects for millions of water or gas meters, where LoRaWAN® was clearly the best communication technology. We have also done predictive maintenance sensors based on vibration analysis, but perhaps our most successful projects involve geolocation.
The technology from our subsidiary Abeeway is a new generation of “fused multi-technology geolocation” which works both indoors and outdoors. The Bouygues Construction Group uses it to track over 20,000 tools and toolboxes, KPN uses it to track hundreds of thousands of bikes in the Netherlands, Accenture uses it in many Oil & Gas and smart construction projects to improve safety and increase productivity, Volvo or Mercedes uses it to track cars and trucks on large parkings, and this technology is also used to protect endangered species in Africa.
Many health-related projects have also been deployed, like during Covid-19, it was used to allow patients of large field hospitals to call nurses from their beds, and Philips is also using it for patient recovery at home with their “health dot” project.
About Olivier Hersent, CEO at Actility
Recognized telecom and technology expert, who founded NetCentrex, a leading provider of VoIP infrastructure for service providers, then became CTO of Comverse after the acquisition of NetCentrex in 2006. Olivier is a recognized thought leader in Telecoms and Energy markets and is the author of several books on networking technology, VoIP, M2M, Internet of Things(IoT) and the Smart Grid. Olivier graduated from Ecole Polytechnique and has later on, in 2010, founded Actiliy, IoT solution provider. Via its ThingPark Wireless platform, Actility uses the LoRaWAN technology to enable LPWA IoT networks for countless applications.
Actility is a world leader in Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN) industrial-grade connectivity solutions for the Internet of Things. Actility provides its ThingPark™ platform and network technology to deploy, operate and maintain public and private wireless IoT networks within a unified, scalable and versatile network infrastructure. The vast majority of nationwide LoRaWAN® network service providers (over 50) and hundreds of companies trust ThingPark™ all over the world. Through its subsidiary Abeeway, Actility also provides patented ultra-low power tracking solutions. ThingPark Market offers the largest selection of interoperable IoT gateways, devices and applications to simplify and accelerate deployment of use cases.
Contact us here: https://www.actility.com/contact
Learn more about the LoRaWAN technology by downloading the Actility “What is LoRaWAN” white paper