‘LPWAN is a Key Factor Driving Practical Adoption and Exponential Growth of IoT’

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IOhertz Technologies Pvt. Ltd. is a Delhi based IOT Infrastructure provider serving the IOT Industry through Network Equipment manufacturing, providing Network deployment for devices and smart city applications through their IoT platform. It provides unique turnkey solutions for smart street lighting, smart agriculture, smart waste management  while adding more to their tally. The company is committed to providing cost effective solutions for smart cities in a managed end-to-end package.

Gulshan Sharma, Co-founder, IOhertz Technologies

In an exclusive interview with Electronicsforu, Gulshan Sharma, Co-founder,  IOhertz Technologies, discusses among other things the emerging IoT trends, challenges of IoT adoption and India’s position in IoT arena.

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The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. In your opinion, which are the top 3 technologies that are shaping the future of IoT? How are they influencing the future of IoT?

IoT has always been unorganized and fragmented because the previous generations of technologies were just not good enough. The challenges like ubiquitous connectivity, low power requirements, high security, low cost of maintenance and ownership have hindered the rapid adoption of IoT enabled systems. However, that is set to change with three major paradigm shifts –

First, the Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWA) have made it possible to create and maintain IoT systems which can actually cover entire cities at a fraction of a cost than previously possible.

Second, the industry has realized that IoT is a serious value addition and not just a fad. So, we are seeing a strong focus on IoT security and things like edge computing which are encouraging signs. Microsoft, of all companies announced the use of Linux kernel for its Azure Sphere IoT offering keeping security as a priority.

Third, the steep growth of Machine Learning in the last few years have allowed us to uncover actionable insights into the data collected. The power of these ML algorithms with IoT data can predict a flood before it arrives or alert a factory about a faulty machine before it injures a worker or use the apt amount of energy for city operation so that we can light even the remotest of villages.

Q. Between the cellular and NB-IOT/LPWA families of wireless technologies–which one are you betting upon? Why?

All the LPWA technologies have similar concepts but the execution strategies have been contrasting. Currently, the space has three major contenders in LoRaWAN, NbIoT and Sigfox. Sigfox provides the networks themselves and therefore have a linear expansion model. NbIoT sets out to build on the existing telecom infrastructure and is promising. Both these technologies are reliant on the network providers.

However, LoRaWAN has done something different. It works on an Open standard and Open business models which bring the focus back to the stakeholder providing the kind of flexibility required in IoT. Anyone can deploy a LoRaWAN network anywhere, anytime at a fraction of a cost with no external dependency. We think this is amazing for the IoT ecosystem.

IOhertz is aiming to play a big part in expanding the LoRaWAN infrastructure and we have developed the Ng-BTS LoRaWAN gateway which provides the network for 10 km in rural and 2-3 km in urban areas. Further, we are developing smart city applications on LoRaWAN which take advantage of this infrastructure and keep an open end for the 3rd party devices to innovate on this platform.

Having said that, we believe all these technologies have their own use cases and we are open to using the ones most suitable for our clients and community. Therefore on the engineering front, we have taken an approach where our software and surprisingly hardware too, is modular and adaptive to future changes in the technology trends and I commend our engineers on that.

Q. How’s the development of standards (or lack of it) affecting the adoption of IoT?

Standards in IoT have been less defined, again due to the diversity of things we are looking to connect which have varied power, connectivity, latency, bandwidth and maintenance requirements. There has been no repeatable business model or technical head start for IoT projects unlike other IT domains.

Moreover, the multiple layers involved increases the cost. As we have observed being in the IoT industry, the projects overshoot their budgets and cost to value ratio is less. So despite the innovation, the adoption has been linear rather than exponential. There is a concern that IoT is not well adopted but the fact is that is huge money is being put into project by enterprises internally and though its effects are not on the surface yet, it’s just a matter of time.

However, these challenges drove the industry towards acknowledging them, understanding them and defining some loose standards. The IoT solutions in the market now offer minimal upfront cost, flexible architectures, end-to-end accountability and an instant value addition to the whole ecosystem.

At IOhertz, we are looking to work with other IoT companies to tackle these issues and using an open standard like LoRaWAN certainly is a big step towards solving these challenges.

Q. How ready is India’s tech eco-system to develop and deploy IoT solutions?

India has been bit slow to start off but has really caught up well in the past few years. People now understand the power of internet more than ever. The quality of life is on a one-way rise. Still, it is a price sensitive market.

Due to the challenges I discussed above, the cost of deployment and maintenance of IoT solutions has been significant. With the advent of LPWA networks, it is about to change. When we displayed our products and solutions in the Startup India Expo on October 6 and a lot of top tier companies revealed the exciting opportunities and projects they are looking to work on with us, we realized the maturity of the industry in general.

The smart city councils in India are prominently adopting the IoT solutions. Enterprises are gaining effective insights into their premises. India’s tech ecosystem is probably the litmus test of IoT technologies because the key doctrine of IoT, namely automated connectivity at scale, will be best put to test by the Indian market.

If it succeeds here, it has a pretty good chance of propagating to a large part of the world. Seeing the ecosystem warm up, understanding and adopting the technology is a huge positive.

Q. Do you foresee India’s tech industry developing its own IP and branded products/solutions in the IOT arena?

Yes, we do. India has its unique use cases which require even more innovation to work around the caveats. Coupled with an abundance of talent, it is a matter of time before we see products and solutions coming out of India which solve legitimate problems.

In an attempt to keep the upfront network setup cost low, IOhertz’s ngBTS LoRaWAN gateway is available at 40-50% lower than other gateways and will be available for other countries in the second quarter of 2019.

We already have some potential clients in Asia and south-east Asia. We are seeing some other companies in IoT which are setting a benchmark in terms of quality and competing with global brands on the most difficult of use cases. Indians, as a community have a sense of ‘jugaad’, essentially a knack for making things work by not giving up and being persistent – a kind of approach IoT requires. I see a good amount of contribution in IoT coming from India in recent future.

Q. Do you see the Open Source phenomenon play an important role in the IOT arena?

It has.Most of our technology stack utilizes open source. Open source has allowed the developers close to the problems fill the gaps in technologies leading to wider adoption with more assurance. It has acted as a catalyst for innovation, development and maintenance of these technologies.

IoT has benefitted as well as other IT domains. We notice a priority for security, an increased code quality, uncovering diverse use cases, collaborations and a solidarity in the industry which allows everyone from an enterprise to a startup to have a voice and have a common higher objectives. Open source has democratized the industry, made it more robust and adaptive to change.

Q. How do you see the role, technologies like AI/ML will play in the evolution of IoT solutions?

Combining AI/ ML and IoT will establish one complete, interdependent and distributed ecosystem. This intelligent ecosystem is nothing but IQT which will help companies avoid unplanned downtime, increase operating efficiency, enable new products and services, and enhance risk management.

AI/ML has made rapid strides recently and added a sense of insight into everything we experience. IoT produces a constant stream of data and we need tools to pluck the parts which could affect the system in a positive or negative manner. With AI/ML achieving such mainstream attention and so much wonderful work being done on it, it ties in well into the need of such intricate analysis to aid in the end goals of IoT to have impact over our quality of lives on a large scale like a city, a country or the world as a whole. With the data from IoT systems, we can fairly accurately predict events before they happen minimizing the risks we face with the failure of technology.

With Google releasing the popular Tensorflow library for embedded devices, the power of AI/ML can be leveraged in some IoT devices now. We think AI and ML will play a big role in the value addition aspect of IoT.

We are integrating ML algorithms at IOhertz for our street lighting solutions to monitor the health of light with the current and voltage data we get from the sensors, working on route optimization for waste management pickup vehicles for smart waste management in cities and a lot more. It’s great when the technologies fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Q. What’s your opinion on the state of security available for IOT solutions?How do you see the evolutions from hereon w.r.t threats and counter-measures?

Security has been a prime concern for IoT but it is being addressed well recently. Cryptography is computation heavy and most IoT devices are not capable to use these algorithms. But with more intelligence imparted to the end nodes and even gateways, the out of the box encryption support in the protocol specifications like in LoRaWAN uses AES ( Advanced encryption standard ), distributed key based architecture implementation, Hardware Security Modules (HSM) based chipsets in devices, we have significantly secure systems now. The device doesn’t simply join a network.

A proper cryptographically secure mechanism is used to include a device into an IoT
system. The keys are baked into the hardware of the device which diminishes the vulnerability of getting hacked unrealistic. For every malice, the strong ecosystem has an answer which has brought the security of an IoT system as good as, if not better than other software systems.

 

We make it a point to use SSL(Secure sockets layer) for all our high power communications, the standard behind the HTTPS and work with best security standards to ensure we protect the data of our customers in the best way possible.

Q. W.r.t. edge vs cloud–where do you think will we see faster development in the next year or two?

Edge computing is just picking up steam with more emphasis on filtering the unimportant data to decrease the massive load of processing on the cloud. The trend is set to occur at a faster pace as IoT becomes more prevalent around us because we’d been able to track down what really interests us as stakeholders of the system and deploy miniature algorithms which can help us in sieving the data before it reaches us.

This frees up some computing power at the clouds and they can be used for more important tasks like predicting the trends. More and more manufacturers are developing edge devices which are aware of their surroundings and fulfilling on the promise of an intelligent IoT system.

Q. What are the key technologies missing, which when made available, will accelerate adoption of IoT across the globe?

The presence of an ubiquitous network connectivity is the primary factor behind the linear growth of IoT. With private and public, completely Open business model enabled LoRaWAN, we may as well be on a path to solve this issue. The end-to-end solution availability is a challenge. A part of a solution is difficult to sell opposed to solution which can add a value to the stakeholder from the first day itself. So, the more IoT becomes compliant standard and companies collaborate, the more ready the systems will be available.

Extremely power efficient IoT devices (end nodes) and long km level range were some issues which LPWAN is countering admirably. The integration into current systems using a common interface for 3rd party device and software companies is what we’re out to achieve in our software offering.

Q. Any thoughts on where to go edge versus where to go cloud?

The edge computing will see a surge but that doesn’t mean cloud computing is going to become less important. Cloud is the foundational block of an IoT system and while the intelligence at the edge level is surely going to ease the load on the cloud, the cloud is going to be more important.

Edge computing has arisen as a response to the filtering of the humongous amount of data
coming in from the devices. It will save power by cutting down on transmission and receive by taking some decisions themselves. The most used cases are fit for just an intelligent cloud and a dumb device. But, edge computing becomes a priority if your devices transmit very often and the cost of sending it over the internet is significant. Both edge and cloud will shape the IoT systems to put the intelligence in the Internet of Things.

Longjam Dineshwori

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