The recent Bluetooth Europe 2015 event in London included an expert speaker panel not afraid to speak their minds on smart homes, doubts about telcos, and the challenge of maintaining 50 billion devices.
Moderator, Martin Woolley, technical program manager of Bluetooth SIG, opened the discussion entitled Innovations around the newest Bluetooth releases, by asking the panel about how to future-proof technologies.
Chris Charles, COO of Pointr Labs (pictured left), emphasised that future-proofing means Bluetooth Smart requires integration. Nick Hunn, founder and CTO of WiFore Consulting, (pictured centre) added that there are new sorts of hardware emerging and companies using them “will have to be rather different than they are today.”
The hardware, Hunn said, is “just building blocks, it’s about how you get data off and into the cloud, and then how you get it back again. It’s like how you got here today; by car, train, bus, cycle or walking. It’s not a fight between them.”
Martin Woolley asked the panel: “I tend to think of the smart home collecting data, but is this the primary sector that will embrace this technology?”
Charlies replied, “Construction (industry) is a big opportunity, so is warehousing. Even the smart home is a diverse opportunity. IoT gives intelligence to the system.”
‘Smart has another meaning’
Hunn added, “Smart has another meaning, to hurt. Look at this hotel, there are switches hidden behind every wall. How many of us want to be network managers at home? “
Thomas Embla Bonnerud, director of Product Management at Nordic Semiconductor (pictured right), sees “massive potential” for Bluetooth Smart around “Predictor-Maintainers”. If something is about to break you’ll get notified about it. “With 50 billion devices [as forecast for 2020 by companies such as Ericsson. Ed.] we can’t interact with them all.”
Hunn seemed to be thinking along similar lines. “Bluetooth is not just connecting two things now. It’s time to think about business models, and about enabling new services. People will put together different bits out of the toolkit – I haven’t seen too much stitching together of applications yet.”
What’s the role of location in automating the smart home environment?” Woolley wondered.
“Lots of things become less useful without location,” Charles insisted. “It’s hugely powerful, with accuracy down to one metre over a 100,000m2 venue.
Bonnerud added, “Ten years ago you could track a customer round a store. Now you can track their usage patterns, stock levels in the store, and re-purchasing.
What about mesh?
Woolley asked the panel, “Why should we be excited about range and mesh?”
Bonnerud of Nordic Semiconductor was quick to answer. “Mesh enables longer range. In larger networks such as lighting networks, it could enable Bluetooth to be a more desirable technology. But mesh is a very tricky thing to do.”
Said Pointr Lab’s Charles, “We’ve developed a mesh network on top of Bluetooth. We’re not always connected to the ’net.”
Hunn took up the theme. “We’re all about talking to the cloud. Mesh is like a ‘fog’ network, it’s just above you, connecting things around you. My earpiece or tablet can talk to lots of other devices via mesh. It’ll be a long time before we see big applications, other technologies have tried to create mesh networks for years.
On the subject of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Hunn told the audience, “We’ve managed to optimise all parts of a chain to ensure low power (usage). It’s now every day that developers are powering devices with a coin cell battery. A few years ago that would have seemed crazy. Devices are now being stuck on walls that may never need their batteries changed.”
“Even five years without interaction is possible. And five years without maintenance reduces costs,” Charles commented.
At the edge or in the cloud?
M2M Now asked, “Will intelligence be mainly in devices at the network edge, or in the cloud?”
Said Hunn, “M2M is very interesting. There is very little integration. One day they (service providers) might analyse data instead of just storing it.” The audience laughed. “It’s about end-to-end services. Big Data as a term isn’t useful. They should be asking, what is the value of the data I can get from this? For example, what’s the saving in changing my boiler. That means looking at people and skills and then what chain is needed to deliver it. We need more data scientists, and to deliver to consumers we need behavioural scientists. It’s not just about saving data, but seeing what it tells us. One energy industry exec said recently that the smart meter now gives them much more information to enable them to blame the customer. It tells you a lot about the energy industry.”
The moderator wanted to know how telcos (communication service providers and network operators) will be “bound in” to Bluetooth?
Hunn had a question of his own in reply. “Do we need to involve telcos? It’s a pipe. They don’t want to be seen as utilities but their data plan route makes them utilities with better PR (public relations). In the US Comcast for example have tried to use data and BT have in the UK. They’re all pretty crap at getting involved with customers and delighting them. Telcos have the budgets but it may be Amazon and Netflix who do it. It’s not technology that drives it, it’s understanding what consumers need.”
One comment came from the audience. “We do need the distance. At the moment Bluetooth is just in the house, we need to get out of it.”
Hunn remained sceptical, however, that telcos offer the solution. “I’m not sure that telcos will see the opportunities. Media companies like Netflix are listening to customers and now creating their own content. Telcos say, ‘We are the partner’, but we need to see the evidence. Anybody can use their infrastructure for a fee.”
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