We recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with Chris Guest, CEO and Founder of LightBug, and Anders Buchmann, CCO of Onomondo, featuring practical advice for IoT success.
This article is a summary of the webinar and some of the helpful insights gained during the chat. Would you prefer to catch the full replay? No problem, you can catch the webinar in its entirety on-demand:
- Common pitfalls to avoid when starting an IoT project.
- Key considerations for taking an idea from POC, to deployment, to profit.
- A real asset tracking use case example.
- IoT buzzwords to ignore.
- Why it’s vital to prioritize connectivity early on.
Watch the webinar
Essential factors to consider before starting an IoT project
LightBug makes small tracking devices for B2C and B2B. The use cases are diverse, ranging from vehicle and asset tracking to pet and even eagle tracking. With over 15 years of experience in IoT, Chris is a fountain of knowledge, making this is a must-see webinar.
We kicked off by discussing some points around Chris' article: Essential factors to consider before starting an IoT project. Focusing on location, you can break this down to local, national, and global, then split those down into static or mobile.
Here's how that looks:
Monitoring room temperature throughout a building
Tracking high-value items through manufacturing stages
Tracking of shipments to distributors
Tracking of high-value international shipments
Today it's most helpful to talk about global mobile applications. If you can handle mobility and crossing borders, then you'll likely cover all of your use cases going forwards.
Future-proofing is vital
On the one hand, once you have something working, you'll start having lot's of people ask could we use this here? Could we use it there?
This "wouldn't it be cool if" factor can be problematic and make you lose focus. But it's crucial to cover likely eventualities. If you think later on that you might want to deploy somewhere else, this needs to be covered from the outset. You can't easily tack on functionalities as the scope of your IoT project expands.
What can you do to prep for scaling?
Cost is generally the one where you have to start. First, you need to know the value of the sensors for the business. If you're trying to stop the loss of, e.g. 5 million GBP of assets a year, then your sensors will have up to that value.
Working back from that value will help figure out your budget. From there, you can figure out the type of sensors and connectivity you can use.
Security is a factor that is diverse and constantly evolving. It's hard to scope out at the beginning of a project, but generally, you need to consider:
- Encryption in transit.
- Some form of authentication system.
- A way of updating devices.
This can be drastically simplified using Onomondo's Connectors.
The Bakers Basco use case
Bakers Basco rents out bread baskets and trays to bakers around the UK. Annoyingly, many were going missing, and although each one isn't worth a lot of money, the cost added up.
They decided to use LightBug tracking devices to track their fleet and find out what was happening to the missing baskets.
Initially, they tried out more-or-less off the shelf devices. Unfortunately, it didn't work quite as expected (penetration of signals indoors under stacks of plastic is tricky). So LightBug modified the devices, pushing up costs, but only deployed them on less than 1% of Bakers Basco's assets. This tweak was enough to get the data they needed, and Bakers Basco could recover a significant amount of assets.
Top 5 considerations when choosing IoT connectivity solutions
The second article discussed focused on the connectivity selection question. You can read the full article here Top 5 considerations when choosing IoT connectivity solutions.
Let's start with the question of what the perfect IoT device looks like. This exaggerated description comes from years of Chris receiving device requests:
- Size: The size of a coin might be a bit too big.
- Range: Functions globally, underground, and everywhere else.
- Power source: Never needs charging.
- Price: Cheap enough to track a piece of paper.
How do you then move to the right device?
You'd generally start by focusing on a feature or a price point. Typically, you start with the price point. Then you look at the range, size, and power. But it's often that the answer to these considerations come down to your choice of connectivity.
“The most important factor is connectivity”
Chris Guest, CEO and Founder LightBug
There's no "one size fits all" in IoT. Instead, you have to make several trade-offs when building connected devices. And connectivity is often the deciding factor.
Let's examine some common questions and buzzwords that you hear in the IoT connectivity space.
NB-IoT or LTE-M?
LTE-M is the choice for Chris. It's unfortunately still not fully deployed in the UK (LightBug's home market), so 2g or 4g is still necessary as a fallback there. Globally, LightBug has seen a 2-4x reduction in power consumption with LTE-M compared to 2g.
There's no need for NB-IoT in LightBug's case. When you have a global device, it needs to search for active network bands, which can take a lot of time and use more power than 2G.
Also, there are currently no roaming agreements with NB-IoT. So if you want to use NB-IoT, then it needs to be confined to a national deployment.
Audience question: Do you have any experience with power-saving features for NB-IoT and LTE-M? - Jussi R, CTO at Loopshore.
Answer: LightBug doesn't use PSM or eDRX. They are great ideas, but they often don't work. So instead, LightBug has taken the strategy of managing the disconnect/reconnect logic themselves.
What about 5G?
5G is just an expansion of the long-term evolution (LTE). For IoT purposes, NB-IoT and LTE-M will be part of 5G going forwards, and they're already (mostly) available.
Unless you're planning on working in a mmWave level that might be available on street lamps in 5-10 years, today's devices will be compatible with future 5G deployments.
What about eSIM?
There is some confusion about what eSIM is. Some see it as an embedded MFF2 SIM, some see it as the eUICC software, and some see it as Soft SIM (a completely software-based SIM card).
For Chris, eSIM means eUICC. In his experience, he has been looking at eSIMs for the last couple of years, but the providers talking about them never really delivered.
In Chris' opinion, eUICC wasn't consumer-driven; it's business-driven. It was a way for businesses to say how they want to do roaming, but didn't solve many headaches around roaming.
How has Onomondo helped?
Onomondo has built a service completely tailored to IoT, one enabled by a new network core infrastructure built from scratch.
One global network
For LightBug, Onomondo offers all of the benefits that eSIM (eUICC) purports to have. For example, the ability to manage networks, and add and remove them at will, without the costs of eSIMs.
LightBug has experienced issues with multi-IMSI SIMs (SIMs which have applets on them). In their experience, that was almost always where devices had fallen over when they went offline (e.g. the modem didn't execute the applet). Therefore, adding logic to SIMs is something you want to avoid.
Pay for use and its importance for LightBug
Traditional providers use archaic models where you don't have much control over how you're billed and leave you stuck in a subscription.
Onomondo offers a granular commercial model where you can pay for what you use. You can pay for individual networks and KBs of data. If a device is turned off, you don't get billed.
Using the Bakers Basco example again, if a device gets (illegally) shredded and stops sending data, then LightBug stops getting billed by Onomondo for that SIM, and LightBug stops billing the customer. You get a much easier fleet of devices to manage that way.
Real-time access to any device
In terms of support tickets, LightBug sees 50-70% of device connectivity issues coming from the network. In the past, it was incredibly tricky for LightBug to get network logs out of the MNOs or MVNOs.
It could take up to three days to figure out what went wrong, and by that time, LightBug's customer would have left a negative review.
With Onomondo, Chris can log into app.onomondo.com, see instantly see what's happening in the network, and debug. And, for example, see that a network isn't configured for a device and immediately fix it online.