D6 Labs' Post

"Proof of scalability: the key to success in the IoT space"

Posted on Friday, January 8, 2016. Steve Montgomery

Market projections from researchers and industry giants predict a huge growth in the IoT space by 2020: anywhere from 35 to 100 billion connected “things.” A large part of that is going to consist of wireless devices that must operate from battery power, and the industry is going to have to solve some key problems to make those projections a reality.

Today, by my estimates, many companies are actively trying to create IoT strategies for their businesses and customers, but they face some serious issues. First, there is no clear definition of what the Internet of Things is, so companies must figure that out for themselves. Second, they are faced with the challenge of making a solid business case for the use of IoT technologies, wherein that process is confounded by 1) a lack of understanding of available IoT solutions, 2) limitations of existing wireless technologies, and 3) the status quo.

In most cases, the process of proving a business case involves building a proof of concept (POC) prototype that can be tested and evaluated over time. It seems that currently a good number of companies are locked into this evaluation state.

Growth in Internet and Cloud technologies has given entrepreneurial firms like ours the ability to rapidly prototype web applications. In a short time, D6 Labs developers could integrate our advanced remote sensor technology with several existing Cloud technologies to produce a complete web-based solution for applications such as smart trashcans. Such an application would let service providers know when the trashcans are full and remind homeowners to put the trashcans out when the service vehicles is servicing the area. Moreover, it could advise homeowners after the trashcans are emptied. Such a solution makes an industry of manual processes and multiple points of failure smarter, more efficient, and more reliable.

The challenge in creating such an infrastructure is found in the need to connect a piece of equipment, like a trashcan, to the Cloud. Since wires cannot be feasibly connected to a trashcan, the only remaining solution is some form of a wireless, battery-powered sensing device. Furthermore, such a device must be easy to use, durable, and last a long time or the entire system breaks down. As such, both Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity are out ruled because they use too much power, require a substantial infrastructure, or cost too much to operate.

Consider the burden on a small city to change thousands of trashcan batteries every month or so. Consider further that every cellular connection comes with its own monthly fee. Add that to Wi-Fi having major connectivity issues, and you have an untenable situation. Wi-Fi range, consequently, is measured in hundreds of feet, which means that a huge supporting infrastructure would have to be used to complete connectivity.

POC projects, from my perspective, are being pursued by the tens of thousands using technologies like cellular and Wi-Fi, which, as stated, leads them down a trail of heartbreak. Such projects are likely to stall after proof of concept is confirmed as these technologies simply cannot scale and are not reliable.

What is needed is not merely proof of concept, but proof of scalability. Without understanding the latter, the former is a pointless operation.

Here are the key factors of determining scalability:

  1. The technology must:
  2. be affordable;
  3. be durable;
  4. offer very long range;
  5. offer very long battery life; and
  6. be very easy to install and to maintain.

If any one of these five attributes are missing, the resulting solution will face scalability challenges that will ultimately result in total failure. New technologies like the LoRa radio chips from Semtech offer solution developers the tools to address some these problems; LoRa, for example, is a very long-range wireless technology with the potential for long battery life if properly designed into a solution.

Combining these new technologies with proper system design will allow IoT solution providers the ability to build products and applications that can survive “proof of scalability" and, in turn, will enable the IoT space to grow to the projected 35 billion devices by 2020.

About Steve Montgomery and Digital Six Laboratories

Steve Montgomery is the founder and CEO of Digital Six Laboratories, Inc. He has more than 20 years of experience with developing embedded wireless technologies for a broad range of consumer, commercial, and industrial applications. For the past 10 years, he has been focused on M2M and now IoT applications.

Digital Six Laboratories LLC is a cloud-to-device wireless connectivity company specializing in helping enterprises connect their "things” to the Internet. They have developed a long range, battery powered wireless solution called Whisker.io™ that is capable of 4 miles of range and 5 years of battery life from 2xAA batteries. Whisker.io™ is a fire-and-forget technology that requires nearly zero infrastructure (one gateway) and zero on-going maintenance.