There’s a fairly new phenomenon that will have its break-out year at CES 2016: mobile IoT, or M2M as some call it. That is when devices communicate to the cloud directly through cellular networks — no traditional broadband connection required.
This is the true meaning of “Internet of Things” and it’s beginning to take off, starting with CES where we’ll see cellular-enabled smart devices and dedicated low-bandwidth cellular networks created especially for these devices.
Just after CES 2011, I wrote a piece called, “How 4G LTE Will Change Home Control,” after seeing a consumer video camera with a cellular connection that would tap the Internet without the need for broadband service.
I explained how a cell-enabled camera in the pasture could be integrated into the same control and monitoring system that also includes indoor cameras, not to mention other smart systems. I wrote how cool it would be for people without broadband Internet service to still be connected.
Soon it won’t be so cool, just the way it is.
mIOT at CES 2016
Consumers and the press went wild when Panasonic introduced its consumer-friendly Nubo camera with 2G/3G/4G LTE roaming service last year (available February 2016 in Europe for €349.00). The camera, by the way, includes a ZigBee radio to communicate with smart devices in the vicinity, making the camera a mobile IoT hub for otherwise unconnected homes.
Panasonic Europe intends to become the first major consumer electronics manufacturer to launch its own mobile virtual network in Europe.
mIOT is particularly appealing in the health and safety market.
Nortek Security & Control (booth 70936) recently acquired Numera, a mobile PERS device that lets users roam anywhere, while still enjoying the benefits of a personal emergency reporting system, which previously had been tethered to an in-home hub. Nortek uses AT&T as its carrier for both Numera and traditional alarm services. The company fabricates its own cellular radios.
Virtually all of the major carriers are working on special channels or networks for narrowband service. Verizon is committed to the category, launching a development platform last year called ThingSpace that lets developers create IoT products and services that attach to the Verizon network.
Verizon already has plenty of customers in the home security market, where cellular service is the primary or secondary vehicle for alarm systems.
The company generated nearly $500 million in 2015 from connected devices, but it’s only just beginning. With such high volumes, Verizon could sell cellular modems to high-volume device manufacturers for about $15, Fortune reports (good article):
[Mike Lanman, SVP Enterprise Products on Verizon’s Product and New Business Innovation] says that through a partnership with chip firm Sequans, and because Verizon is such a large buyer of the modems, Verizon can offer customers the chips for about $15—or half the cost of the chips if the developer were buying them outside Verizon’s program. While many connected products rely on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and then use the customer’s mobile phone for any mobile connectivity, there are entire classes of devices such as dog trackers, luggage trackers, and automotive applications that would benefit from an always-on cellular connection.
But the added cost of a cellular modem, plus the cost of a cellular subscription can make the final price of the device untenable for the consumer, or even corporate market. Which is why the lower-priced chip, and Verizon’s plan to offer flexibility on new data plans for “things” will help as well.
The other traditional mobile service providers are following suit. Verizon and AT&T are duking it out in the U.S. home-security business, and Rogers Communications owns Canada.
In addition, several start-ups are building narrowband networks from scratch.
Qowisio, Sigfox Demo Low-Bandwidth mIOT at CES
At CES 2016, look for Samsung-backed Sigfox in booth #81224 at Eureka Park in the Sands, as well as meeting room Toscana 3710 in the Sands. Sigfox is building out a narrowband cell network, starting with San Francisco, just for low-powered IoT devices. Meanwhile, Samsung is building Sigfox connectivity into is Artik chips, which are designed for low-powered IoT devices (Good article from Forbes).
Near the Sigfox booth at Eureka Park is Qowisio (#80844), another developer of low-bandwidth cellular networks, now serving 29 countries throughout EMEA. The company, which touts is success in remote monitoring and energy management, was named a Deloitte Technology Fast 500 company last year.
In other mIOT news, Sigma Designs (owner of Z-Wave technology) acquired a stealthy IoT developer called Bretelon last year for $22 million. We should expect some interesting news on that front. Sigma has a suite at the Westgate hotel at CES.
Also at CES, look for mIOT-enabled products, chipsets, cellular networks and ecosystems. And please drop me a line with your findings.