u-blox has a clear position in the IoT value chain

Simon Glassman, Senior Principal, Strategic Partnerships EMEA at u-blox
Simon Glassman, Senior Principal, Strategic Partnerships EMEA at u-blox

For India in particular, the IIoT is important as manufacturers and service providers want to rollout new products, reach customers and differentiate themselves in the world’s fastest-growing tech market”, says Simon Glassman, Senior Principal Strategic Partnerships, u-blox . In the interview, EM asks Simon more about IIoT emerging opportunities and u-blox offerings in this space.

Simon Glassman is a senior business and corporate development professional with 25 years’ international experience in blue chip technology companies. Prior to joining u-blox, Simon held senior roles at Nasdaq-listed Numerex, and TomTom.

  1. How do you see the adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), globally as well as in India?

Globally we see considerable potential for the adoption of the IoT in the industrial sector. The IIoT brings together sensors, computer systems and networks so that they interact with their environment to generate data to improve industrial and business processes. Key enablers of the IIoT include:

  • new cellular Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies capable of addressing industrial IoT requirements and delivering, for example, long battery life and enhanced coverage penetration to enable devices like smart water and gas meters to report from hard-to-reach locations such as underground
  • other capabilities in the IoT value chain, such as cloud analytics and big data. By using analytics platforms, manufacturing plant personnel for example can evaluate data transmitted wirelessly by connected robots to improve manufacturing processes. Sensors can transmit data that not only alerts technicians to initiate preventative maintenance, but also helps managers speed up or slow down production based on market needs.

Heavy industries such as oil, gas, utilities and manufacturing are already investing extensively in IoT. They are doing this to improve efficiencies, optimise asset use and reduce costs. Adoption is also starting to ramp up in other industrial (non-consumer) markets such as smart cities.

For India in particular, the IIoT is important as manufacturers and service providers want to rollout new products, reach customers and differentiate themselves in the world’s fastest-growing tech market. Using the key enablers described will speed up rollout and increase return on investment (RoI). This is a chance for India to show the world the way.

  1. What are the opportunities emerging from the IIoT?

The increased availability of low-cost sensors and the introduction of new long- and short-range wireless technologies will enable greater productivity in industrial environments. The IoT will support many different industrial applications. For example:

  • Manufacturing – asset tracking; supply chain optimisation; cost-effective production of smaller batches of product
  • Smart cities – intelligent street lighting; smart parking solutions; industrial and consumer waste management; environmental and pollution monitoring; smart gas and water metering; pipeline monitoring
  • Smart buildings – energy management (heating, air-conditioning, lighting, access control, alarm systems)
  • Agriculture and environmental – monitoring of soil and air temperature and pH levels; air pollution and noise levels

The IIoT also enables new business models. It allows companies to develop new revenue streams, where they use the fact that the product is connected and visible to them over the Internet to sell new services. For example, an air-conditioning manufacturer that now sells air-conditioning equipment could instead sell a service to guarantee a temperature/humidity profile in the customer’s offices for a monthly fee. The ability to monitor and control the office environment and the air-conditioning plant remotely would enable this service to be managed and delivered economically. The customer might pay a lower fee initially, but the manufacturer gets a long-term revenue stream instead of a single payment.

  1. How do you look at the IIoT in relation to manufacturing automation and the healthcare sector?

u-blox has a comprehensive range of cellular, short-range and positioning products that enable our customers to address the needs of IoT manufacturing and the healthcare markets. For example, customers can combine our 2G, 3G or 4G cellular modules with our high-precision GNSS technology and other positioning products to develop industrial-grade tracking devices to follow the flow of materials though the manufacturing supply chain. In telehealth, our short-range and cellular solutions are capable of wirelessly enabling a diverse range of products used for example in the remote monitoring of patients by clinicians, and for tracking the elderly.

  1. How is your company positioned in this scheme of things? Where exactly does it fit into the ecosystem?

As a global leader in wireless and positioning modules and chips for the automotive, industrial and consumer markets, u-blox has a clear position in the IoT value chain. The components enable people, vehicles and machines to show their exact position and communicate wirelessly over cellular and short-range networks. The broad portfolio of chips, modules and software solutions uniquely positions u-blox to empower the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop innovative IoT solutions quickly and cost effectively.

However, the ecosystem is complex, and this is one of the challenges for IoT deployment – allowing everybody to play their part. Here at u-blox we understand our role: we are a component supplier to companies that make ‘things’. Those things might be cars, containers, medical equipment, electricity meters, kiddie trackers, golf buggies, etc. We also know what we don’t do: we don’t try to supply the data analytics and cloud systems that these things connect to as part of the IoT. This clarity of role and purpose is key to easy development of IoT systems, and means that we do not compete with the business of our customers.

  1. What are the u-blox offerings that tap the IIoT market?

u-blox products can be thought of under three headings: ‘What’, ‘Where’ and ‘When’. We supply communications modules that capture and relay information over long distances (using the cellular networks) or over shorter distances (using Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth). We supply chips and modules for positioning, using the US-based GPS satellite system and the alternatives coming from China, Russia and Europe. And we supply modules that provide very accurate time information. You can appreciate that, when used together, these can meet the needs of virtually all IoT applications – and we are particularly well suited to the IIoT market because we major in robustness, formal quality levels and security.

  1. What do you see as the major concerns associated with the IIoT?

Security is a concern for everybody. The IoT will have billions of end points (equipment attached to the Internet) and each offers a place where security can be compromised. It is essential that we, and our customers, take this very seriously. IIoT products will have a long life, so we need to think ahead and plan to deal with problems that might occur in the future without compromising cost and performance today. We encourage our customers to take every step they can to make their own products secure from cyber-attack, and our products help do this today and in the future will do it even better. u-blox has a security ‘roadmap’ that sets our policy and implementation strategy. Within u-blox we see five critical areas to the security of our products:

  • making sure that nobody can tamper with the software we have installed
  • encrypting communication between our products and other components that cooperate with ours
  • securing our communication channels to cloud servers
  • validating any external commands sent to our products
  • detecting jamming and spoofing designed to confuse our products.
  1. Can you talk about your investments in IIoT projects?

u-blox is investing heavily in supporting IoT-related projects. First, we do this through the investments we make in engineering and R&D to deliver best-of-breed products that are designed to meet or exceed industrial market requirements. For example, our modules are designed specifically to adhere to the stringent environmental and performance criteria required in industrial-grade solutions. Second, we do this by supporting our customers and partners with the module design-in process to ensure that they are able to reap the full potential of our products used in theirs. For example, this will include provision of field application engineering support to conduct a PCB design review, to ensure that aspects such as antenna placement and power-supply considerations are optimised as far as possible.

We are also actively investing in the industry and standards.  Recently a new set of standards has been announced specially to meet the needs of the IIoT: it is part of new 4G standards.  Together with partners like Vodafone and Huawei, u-blox has been developing this standard since 2012, to allow low cost, global systems that are right for the IIoT applications mentioned earlier.

  1. What do you think are the future applications of IIoT?

There are so many possible applications, it’s hard to choose! We like drones, as they are exciting and fun, as well as commercially significant. Industrial drones are ideal for inspecting complex and dangerous plant. We also like asset tracking, because this is a huge market for u-blox. Tracking goods as varied as containers, medical equipment and bulldozers can make businesses more efficient and successful. Equally we like applications such as precision agriculture, where the yield per acre can be significantly increased, and the use of fertilisers carefully managed. All of these are highly suitable for application in a fast-growing economy such as India’s, where efficiency and ecology are as important as the economy itself.

 


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