The Internet of Things (IoT) has enormous potential with countless companies from many different sectors now applying their creativity. Dramatic falls in the cost of wireless communications, computing and sensors are all combining to make it feasible to “wire things together over the Internet”. While many products are targeted at the consumer market where price is key, there’s also increasing growth in industrial applications. Here, says Andreas Thiel, while price is still important the truly critical issue involves the need for extremely high levels of reliability.
In the industrial IoT space, u-blox finds itself in a unique position. Rather than having to change our business to meet these criteria, much of what we’ve always been doing is already a perfect fit. Building on our historic focus on quality and reliability, u-blox has made a conscious decision to concentrate on “business critical” applications. We refer to this as the “The Internet of Things that Really Matter.”
IoT covers a wide range of applications and products, but the common function they all share is communication between “end points” (the devices that are the “things”) on the one side and data and control systems on the other. This type of communication, often referred to as machine-to-machine (M2M), has traditionally been done using closed hardwired networks. More recently it’s moved to the internet and now increasingly it’s done over wireless links.
IoT. With M2M, two devices exchange data with each other. The IoT takes this concept a step further: data is sent into the cloud where information gathered from numerous independent sources can be aggregated. Now it becomes possible to perform new management and analytical tasks, such as paying for services like car insurance on a per-use basis, or maintaining equipment on demand. At the same time, deep data analysis of “big data” can reveal previously unseen insights and trends.
The market moves to u-blox
So why is the IoT market moving toward u-blox and not viceversa? The reason is simple. For quite some time we have been heavily involved in M2M communications – the building blocks of the IoT – and we continue to follow that core strategy of developing the components behind the IoT’s infrastructure. As companies invest in IoT, they require M2M as the base technology and we have extensive expertise in the chips and modules needed to get devices communicating with each other, whether over long distances using cellular or using short-range radio, or for location using GNSS satellite signals.
Furthermore, much of the hype around IoT is associated with relatively “lightweight” applications – ones where the actual value added by IoT is slight. However, there are good business reasons for adopting this technology. Companies can move from merely selling products to selling services with the recurring income that brings. Companies in the industrial sector can offer their customers totally new functionalities, as shown in the following examples. We’re now concentrating on these markets and for us they fall under the heading of “The Internet of Things that Really Matter”: areas where performance and robustness are mandatory.
Some IoT applications require the highest reliability
To show that reliability is critical in The Internet of Things that Really Matter, consider two examples:
The first involves an automotive telematics company that sells a UBI (usage-based insurance) service where in-vehicle positioning and wireless connectivity allow the collection of location, speed and acceleration data for use in insurance telematics applications that may dramatically reduce insurance costs and reduce fraud. The same company also provides services to automotive companies such as automatic alert assistance when a car is involved in a crash, theft alert assistance, plus breakdown and roadside assistance. In some cases, human lives might even depend on reliable communications. These services require both location information from one u-blox module along with cellular capability delivered by another u-blox module. If there are any malfunctions in these two devices, the customer’s business model falls apart.
This application highlights another factor that makes u-blox stand out: its ability to create synergies from its multiple communications technologies: cellular, short-range (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and location/positioning.
Another application from the manufacturing sector involves an assembly tool that downloads settings for a specific job over wireless from a nearby controller. Any failure of the comms link will quickly bring the production line to its knees. This particular customer defines our wireless links as being “more reliable than a cable”.
Both of these user cases illustrate requirements that all business-critical applications share: very high quality, robust performance, long service life and expert applications support. More specifically, u-blox focuses on the Connected Car (safety, vehicle diagnostics, infotainment, navigation and fleet management), Connected Cities (metering, parking, traffic control, lighting, electric-vehicle charging and real time analysis) and the Industrial Internet (aviation, oil and gas, transportation, power generation and distribution, manufacturing, healthcare and mining).
Companies often struggle with implementing wireless products
Many companies see the potential of adding wireless communications and location capabilities to their products to exploit the IoT. While they might be specialists in their particular sectors, they don’t have the expertise needed to create a reliable wireless solutions. Furthermore, they’re often not aware of exactly what they are able to do with their data and how they can benefit from tagging it with very accurate time and location information.
As a result, these companies need a strong, competent partner such as u-blox who can provide not only high-quality, reliable products but also comprehensive applications engineering support from the conceptual level down to detailed designs.
We produce chips and modules; we do not provide end-user products or services. We do not make the products to handle big data, storage or service delivery. A simpler way of saying this is that while we provide the enabling technology for IoT devices, we don’t operate in the cloud — we simply make it possible for devices to send their time, location and other data there, data that describes the what/when/where of an event or task. When we provide application support, you can trust us completely with your design information because we don’t compete with our customers.
Controlling core technologies
We continually invest in controlling our core technologies. For instance, third-party chips aimed at products for the consumer market, such as smartphones, often aren’t the best choice for IoT and M2M. Instead, by controlling all our chipset and software technology, u-blox can quickly change product functions to meet new requirements, creating product differentiators through both performance and features. We offer products in several quality grades: standard grade for cost-sensitive applications; professional grade for after-market vehicle mounted devices and industrial products; and automotive grade for sophisticated first-mount vehicle applications where high-end features and tolerance to environmental stress are the highest priorities. Products also undergo 100 percent outgoing testing following our zero-defect policy. Finally, because we control the technology, u-blox can guarantee the long-term availability of our products.
Ultimately, there’s a big difference between the IoT we are all familiar with and the Internet of Things that Really Matter. With our experience in wireless communications, a broad product range and an emphasis on quality, u-blox is in a perfect position to help companies across the automotive, industrial and consumer markets who want to enter the world of the IoT.