IoT Leaders: Three Components of the IoT Ecosystem

Podcasts

IoT is an ecosystem play right now. It takes these three components working together in a well-designed system to avoid failure at all points: the software in the cloud, connectivity to get the data from the edge to the cloud, and the hardware that’s detecting the environment.

The latter is where the power of asset tracking comes in.

In this episode, Nick interviews Eric Conn, CEO and Co-founder at Leverege, about why asset tracking is an integral part of the IoT ecosystem today and in the future.

Join us as we discuss:

  • Asset tracking basics
  • Service tracking, one of the largest growing segments in asset tracking
  • 3 ways that real-time asset tracking boosts business
  • Security for both hardware and software
  • Cellular connectivity for networks

Read the transcript

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Nick Earle (00:00):
Welcome to the latest episode of the IoT Leaders Podcast with me your host Nick Earle, the CEO of Eseye. And I’m delighted to introduce Eric Conn on the podcast today as my guest. And Eric is the CEO and founder of a very interesting company in the IoT space in the US called Leverege. So Eric, welcome to the IoT Leaders podcast.

Eric Conn (00:25):
Thanks Nick. It’s great to be here. I love your background.

Nick Earle (00:31):
Regular keen viewers of this podcast, probably this won’t work on audio, but if you are a viewer it’s the first time I’ve actually used a Zoom background that I chose it in a sad moment. Because you may or may not be aware the US does not allow British visitors to travel and we just cancelled our trip to the US as a result. And so, having the Golden Gate Bridge as a virtual background is the closest I’m going to get to go into the US this year. So this is not just a podcast. It’s the holiday I’m not having Eric. So we need to make this a good one.

Eric Conn (01:09):
Yeah.

Nick Earle (01:10):
So we’re going to talk about asset tracking quite a lot. We’ll probably talk about quite a few things here because you and I have been working together for a little while. We know each other very well and Leverege is a very interesting company. But before we get into that, maybe just a little bit of background for the viewers and listeners about yourself. I know I looked at your LinkedIn profile. It says singer, songwriter, musician and holder of seven patents, which don’t normally go together. And now here you are as CEO of an IoT company. So maybe we just start on the last one, tell us about Leverege and what the company’s all about.

Eric Conn (01:49):
Great yeah. So Leverege we just celebrated our seventh anniversary. And so we’re on the data and application side, the software side of IoT, specifically in a class of applications they call low power wide area applications. So those are typically low cost battery powered devices at the edge with some very basic edge processing, but ultimately go through gateways or direct if it’s a cellular via LTM or NB-IoT to the cloud. We’re a cloud native software company. So we get that data at the edge in the cloud. And then we process it and try to provide business insights or optimizations for typically enterprises. Some of our customers also are enterprises, but they also sell to consumers.

Eric Conn (02:40):
So we have either a B2B business model or a B2B2B or B2B2C type of business model or a white label platform. Been doing this for seven years and really are excited about where things were going. We were really excited at the beginning of 2020 and then the pandemic hit.

Eric Conn (03:03):
We may delay things for a year and see what happens. Fortunately, we actually survived and did quite well during the pandemic which was nice. And then coming out of the pandemic we’re seeing just increased demand for IoT digital transformation across all industries. So we’re really looking forward to the back half of 2021 into 2022 and really seeing some nice growth in the general category of asset tracking.

Nick Earle (03:31):
So before we can get into asset tracking, let me ask you about that. Because that is interesting. A lot of people want to know is there light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, we at Eseye same thing. I mean, the whole industry in the first quarter… I would say the first two months of 2020 were great. And then we started, for us over here in Europe and you’re in the US, you’re in Arizona right now I know but normally based on the East Coast. But the first two months were great. And then we started hearing maybe Mobile World Congress would be cancelled and then suddenly “Bang”. But then that was about 15, 16 months ago. And now we’re hearing that things are picking up and certainly some projects accelerated during COVID. But we hear about the US, a lot of restrictions have been released. People are traveling around. And so would you say that, to give hope to the listeners, would you say that you really do see the green shoots, the famous green shoots returning?

Eric Conn (04:36):
Yeah. I definitely see that. We see it just looking in the pace of inbound interest also outbound welcoming calls. Before you would call people or try to set up a meeting and they wouldn’t return your calls because everyone was really worried about… Now everyone’s very interested in this topic. IoT has had a resurgence. IoT like a lot of buzz worthy things goes through the ebbs and tides of the hype cycle. And I feel like we’re on the climbing out of the… The hype is over. The reality of it is starting to set in. And there’s just more demand and curiosity for it because you had a pandemic where you had any human labor was at risk from a health standpoint. And you also had CEOs, like you and me, working remotely from home. Feeling out of touch and out of control with their business. A lot of us had typical office environments where you could walk around, you could get data by walking around about what’s happening with the business. Well, when you’re sitting at home, everything’s coming through a Zoom meeting as it’s filtered.

Eric Conn (05:48):
And the general idea of bringing the data to where you are as opposed to you as an executive in any company, going where the data is now set in. And the US they did a horrible job at the beginning of the pandemic, but luckily science won the day and the two vaccines that we’re primarily using here in the States have done an amazing job. They’ve had a fairly high percentage of the population now get vaccinated. The one thing that we do see the side effects of the pandemic is really more on the supply chain for us at this point. So the country here is pretty much opened up and people are traveling around, there’s a lot less mask usage than there used to be.

Eric Conn (06:39):
Still some worry about the Delta variant, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting day to day most business decisions here in the States. It’s really just supply chain disruptions. But we’re a software company, so we’re not directly impacted. But indirectly we’re impacted because ultimately we all rely on microprocessors and chips. And if you can’t get them because of supply chain disruptions it slows down your deployments.

Nick Earle (07:05):
The deployment.

Eric Conn (07:08):
So that’s the biggest drag I think. But I think that’s an international thing.

Nick Earle (07:12):
It’s global. I can absolutely confirm it’s a global thing. And it’ll take… We talk about long COVID, but the business, the long business tail effect will almost certainly be the component of the supply chain issues and the component shortages. But despite that, as you say we see the same thing, our inbound inquiry lead generation is really boomed. I’d like to think it was because of the IoT Leaders podcast, but I suspect it’s more to do with the overall environment. But people are still, and I’ve talked about it before on this show, people they’re still a little unsure. They need guidance. That’s why we call it the IoT Leaders. They want guidance. They want advice on which verticals or which business processes are the best ones to get the biggest, quickest bang for the buck.

Nick Earle (08:09):
And you feel very strongly about asset tracking. I mean, you really believe… You mentioned LPWAN, narrow band, CAT-M1. But in particular asset tracking is the thing that you’ve honed in on as this is the area that can really make a difference to companies particularly, I guess, as we now go into this growth cycle that hopefully we’re headed into.

Eric Conn (08:28):
Yeah. Asset tracking at its base it’s knowing where a thing, and a thing could be a person. It could be a pet. It can be a business object of some sort, physical object. And that’s fine and good. Sometimes just knowing where something is, is great because then you can go get it. But where asset tracking really provides a value and you get exponential returns on it is the things that asset tracking enables and most sensors these days, even the very inexpensive sensors at the edge that are battery powered they typically come with some other sensors on them besides just a GPS or some way to get positioned. So you can get temperature, you can get humidity, you can get light. And all these signals in addition to the component of time, not only where something is, but how long did it dwell in that place.

Eric Conn (09:25):
What is the conditions around where it is right now or where it was in the past? So changing conditions. When you layer in all of that on top of knowing where something is and then you can constantly know where it is and how it’s changing over time, it’s very powerful for businesses, consumers. I like to say there’s probably not a consumer on the planet and all of us are consumers, that wouldn’t like to know where everything that you own personally is at any given moment. I give the example, in my house I know I have three or four hammers in my house somewhere, but I can never find one when I want one. So if I had a frictionless, easy to use way to just pull up an app or something and see where my hammers were, I could just go and get them. That solves my problem. But I don’t. So I ended up going to the local hardware store and buying yet another hammer.

Nick Earle (10:23):
Then when you put it in the drawer you find it right back in the drawer with the three hammers that you couldn’t find.

Eric Conn (10:28):
Exactly. Yeah. So on a personal level, we all get the frustration of just not knowing where all our things are. Now expand that to a large enterprise with a million or 10 million pieces of business equipment spread all over the place. It’s a monumental task. And it’s very inefficient to find where it is to count it even. How do you know what your inventory is unless you know where everything is? So asset tracking as a base case seems relatively simple, but once you solve it, it actually unlocks all types of business process improvements, consumer experience improvements. One of our largest growing segments within, I still call it asset tracking, is really what I call service tracking. So you imagine you go to a tire store and you want to get your tires changed or you’re getting new oil change.

Eric Conn (11:25):
That experience for most consumers right now is pretty old school. You come in, you don’t know if they’re going to have a place for you. You don’t know how long it’s going to take. No one knows. Well, wouldn’t it be great if you could have an Uber-like experience where it could tell you there’s an open bay at the store. You can pull in. It’s going to be 13 minutes. And you have in your app, your car’s on the lift, the oil’s been changed, come pick your car up. So that you can, as a consumer, can jump on a Zoom meeting if you want. Run across the street to Starbucks, get coffee. Or decide to wait in the facility. That’s just a much better consumer experience than this indeterminate, “I might be here 30 minutes. I might be here two hours.” That in the current world we live in is just not an acceptable experience for any consumer. And asset tracking enables the unlocking that data to provide that to a consumer. So you can track, the car’s on the lift, the car has been backed out.

Eric Conn (12:28):
The car’s going to be done predictably in three minutes based on 10 million cars that just like yours that have been done before you and I know how long it takes. You can tie it into inventory systems. So that power, when you put it that way, asset tracking doesn’t sound very boring anymore. It sounds very powerful. And that’s what we’re trying to do, again, on the application side. So we team with lots of hardware and connectivity companies such as Eseye to enable that. Because IoT is an ecosystem play right now, where you need software in the cloud, you need connectivity to get the data from the edge to the cloud and you have to have hardware that’s detecting the environment. So without those three playing together in a very well-defined system fashion, a failure at any point brings the whole system down. So it’s a difficult and challenging thing to do, but if you can do it it’s very powerful.

Nick Earle (13:25):
It’s interesting that you use the Uber analogy. Because I’ve always said that… When Uber was introduced and I first started using it in the US and came back to the UK and telling people, “I used Uber and what on earth is that?” And the way you describe it people say it’s just a taxi. And then you go look. You show your smartphone screen, the little red car. And then people say I get it. And what they’re actually looking at is not the fact that it’s a car because you can call up a taxi. It’s the fact that you can track the car. And that totally changes the experience. And then you compare that to… I mean, it’s getting better, but you compare that to getting a parcel delivered to your house or when you move house, you moved country trying to work out where your container is with your furniture. I mean, these huge gaps when they’ve not being scanned where you don’t know where it is.

Nick Earle (14:28):
But the other aspect of it is that although from a consumer point of view it creates an experience and you will choose that experience because you can decide I’ve got four minutes therefore I’ve got time to do this before I go out to meet the car. But from a business point of view and I think you agree with this is – and I can test if you agree with this – one of the things about IoT is to find out where the business outcome comes in. Where’s the ROI from a business point of view? And I think what you’re saying is the inherent inefficiencies in supply chain. Most people don’t know is that there’s tens of millions is arguably of inefficiency in supply chains. And arguably the biggest nut to crack it’s the thing that if you can, as you said, if you can do it it could free up millions of dollars of assets. You hear all these stories, that 30% of food is thrown away. I mean, you here stories like 50% of cost reduction if you could have real time asset tracking. And it’s actually where the money is, right?

Eric Conn (15:31):
Yeah. I mean, the IoT in general, but asset tracking in particular the foundational things that it does for a business is operational efficiency. So that can lower your human capital costs. It can increase safety. It can lower preventative maintenance costs. It can provide real time inventory information. So that’s just on operational, that’s an internal efficiency that you can do. But then we’ve been talking with this Uber analogy the customer experience. So if you delight a customer, I mean, Amazon was built on delighting customers, right? So delighting customers means giving them a sense of control at every sense of their journey, right? And so we’ve all now become accustomed, certainly in the US, with Amazon that you real time know where your package is. They take pictures of it when they deliver it at your doorstep.

Eric Conn (16:30):
I’ll be sitting in my office in my house, which is about 30 feet from the door where they drop off my packages and I’ll get an email or something on my phone and it’ll show my back porch with the package on it. And they didn’t knock on the door and anything. So the frictionless way of knowing everything, that just drives business for whatever enterprise is ultimately their customers. So if you do a better job of serving your customers you’re going to increase your top line revenue. Then there’s even additional revenue. And this is where it really gets interesting for traditional businesses which are really big adopters of IoT is there’s a data play. So if you’re a traditional business and you make, say, windows and doors or some other hard product, your current experience with the customer is very distant. You sell them a product. They go away. It’s a great product. Maybe 20 years later, they come back and buy it.

Eric Conn (17:27):
You have no connectivity with your customer during that 20 year blackout period. If you sell them a connected product, now you’re in touch with them 24/7. And you’re also collecting data about how your product’s used that right now if you’re this window and door company you have no idea if they’re having problems with the sash, whether the glass and the glazing’s… You have no idea. You have no way of knowing. Well, if you’re connected to it and you’re connected to your customer, you can do real-time product improvements. You can help all kinds of things. And you’re collecting data on usage that that data is valuable. So maybe you’re collecting data on weather independently from the fact that you have millions of windows and doors all over the world.

Eric Conn (18:15):
So it’s this data element that you unlock when you connect anything that is a valuable asset. It’s worth potentially at scale worth millions and tens of millions of dollars. So there’s that. And then you can also do freemium types of experiences. So we have a customer in the pet care business, for instance, where people when they weren’t at home because of COVID, when they were going to a typical office, they would drop off their pet and they would do pet sitting during the day. Well, people love their pets just like their children. They would love to be able to look in on their pet to make sure it’s being fed, it’s given it’s medication, it’s getting its walk. Right now it’s just all, well, they can talk to them on the phone or something, which is very inefficient for the business itself to just respond.

Eric Conn (19:04):
Well, you could just feed that stuff automatically. You can put a tag on the dog. When the dog walks outside to go to the door, it automatically takes a picture, sends a picture up to the consumer so they can see their dog is now outside. Or I just fed the dog that, a text message back to the consumer. So you can have all this automation which just makes the customer feel so much happier. And you may even be able to charge a little extra for that extra experience. And most people probably would pay for it, for the pet especially. So there’s all these things. Again, it all comes down to asset tracking at its core value, but there’s all this stuff you layer on top of it. And then people get it and they go, “Wow. That’s really cool that either as a business that saves me a lot of money or makes me a lot of money.”

Nick Earle (19:52):
So let’s talk a bit about the tech. And we talked about the business case. In fact, I want to link the two together because if you think about the Amazon delivery guy and Amazon is a customer of Eseye and we all familiar with Amazon prime, but one of the issues that Amazon have is, because these guys just keep on getting better and better, is that they have about 80% to 83% first time delivery success. Because if they’re delivering to a condominium building or a gated community it’s not always that they can actually get in and deliver the post and they don’t want to leave it on the step and whatever. So we help them design a device, which will give the prime driver permission to remotely open the door, buzz the door open with their cell phone to put the parcel in. And it’s a business version of Ring.

Eric Conn (20:45):
Yeah. That is true.

Nick Earle (20:48):
And they want that to work anywhere. So this device design making sure that it works. And then secondly, they want it to work anywhere at all. So the idea of a ubiquitous global connectivity where we basically deliver 99% connectivity by GPS coordinates. So they have one device for every delivery driver and it will open every gate. And so then you can start to go from 82% into the 90s. And although that’s efficiency for Amazon, what it means is the customer satisfaction is that when I’m thinking of, do I buy a parcel or something, do I buy something off Amazon or buy off somebody else? Part of me says, with Amazon I know it’s going to be delivered. I can see where it is at all time. I get the photograph. I don’t have to worry if I’m not in when they’re trying to deliver the parcel that the delivery driver is going to throw over the gate. We’ve all had examples of that, electrical goods. They throw it over the gate or drain the box, box gets wet. They can get in, they can put it in somewhere that’s dry.

Nick Earle (21:51):
So actually what we’re seeing is this ability… It’s almost like Google, isn’t it? The way you describe it is that we can find any bit of information anywhere without knowing where it is. We just have to say what we want to find. And that’s in the virtual digital world. So what we’re entering into is… And it’s early days, but we can see a way of getting the way you can find every physical object wherever it is just by asking where is the object. That is, in my view and obviously in yours, that is even more transformational as being able to find out all the information. If you can find out where every product is, provided you have permission, but where everything that you own or everything that your company deals with regardless of where it is, the people who will embrace that will be so much more efficient and delivers so much of a business experience. And it is a… I think we’ll look back on that in 10, 15 years time and say that was actually bigger than being able to find information through a browser. And we know how big that was.

Eric Conn (23:07):
Yeah. And technology always in human history we always build on the next thing. And I think for Eseye, but certainly for Leverege we view IoT, it’s still very early days. There’s still a lot of fragmentation, still a lot of complexity from a technology standpoint for IoT. But it is the next big leap forward from mainframe computing to PCs, to web browsing, to mobile. We believe the next big leg up is going to be something related to IoT, which is closely tied to AI and ML. Because all the phones we have we’re essentially walking around and just creating data all day long. But there’s only seven billion or so people in the world, there can be hundreds of billions or trillions of devices, really low cost devices and will continue to miniaturize them, make them less expensive. And they’re all emitting data all the time even… They don’t ever sleep. So that volume of data and that value and intelligence that data provides is going to be even the next level up from what mobile devices provided.

Nick Earle (24:28):
80% exactly. Excuse me. The research data shows 80% of the data will be at the edge because it’s an exponential explosion at the edge especially as prices come down. We did a previous podcast talking about printable devices and printable sensors, printable batteries. You’re going to get these things on snack wrappers and clothing and whatever. But it also is a downside because it’s a security threat as well. We hear that and you must hear it saying, well, if I can connect to it, and these are cellular devices that we’re talking about and they’re connected to the MNO, if I can connect to it then someone can hack it. And can they tunnel in? Can there be some malicious code? That must be, when you’re talking to customers, that must be a big issue that they raise with you. What about the security of the edge fragments? It sounds great. But then the CISO, the Chief Information Security Officer may say, hold on a second, how can I control that from the center with this?

Eric Conn (25:35):
It is. Security as one of the top things on a buyer’s mind in an enterprise when they go to scale. When they think beyond the pilot when it’s in a controlled pilot to now it’s out in the wild, anyone could physically if they can get in could touch the device, could take it home and play with it, right? So there’s your standard things you can do, which is end to end encryption. So all data is encrypted. Very hard. You can’t really crack it whether it’s in motion or rest. So that’s the baseline. But on the physical side, and that’s really the plane that you have to be more concerned about with IoT, there’s been a lot of work done at the microprocessor level with these trusted modules.

Eric Conn (26:19):
Lots of manufacturers now make them where they generate the private keys inside a device, a module on the device that is basically can’t be tampered with. If you try to scrape it, if you try to unplug it, if you try to do anything with it, it basically zeroes out. So those trusted modules and the provisioning of devices onto a network where you have to match keys and exchange of public private keys, a lot of things that are done in the software world only that has been pushed down to the devices.

Eric Conn (26:54):
So everything that we work on is very secure. It’s as secure as it can be both on a hardware and a software standpoint. But unfortunately there are a lot of in driving down cost. Some other vendors will take shortcuts, whether it’s a hardware vendor or a software vendor. And security doesn’t come for free. Good security doesn’t come for free. So it’s trying to balance how much security do you really need based on the type of device. Is it just read only information that just passing information up? Is it control involved so it’s two way you can actuate things? Well, depending on what the level of local control that you’re allowing access to that should basically dictate how much security you should be layering on. Because if you’re going to allow something to open a valve remotely, that better be a very secure device. So we’ve really focused on it. We’ve had our platform go on through multiple levels with different vendors of security accreditations and penetration testing and all that. And we do that on a regular basis. But we’re just on the software side.

Nick Earle (28:09):
And from our perspective, we’re in the hardware and I would add the network sites. Funny enough, the previous podcast I did to this was with the head of Biz Dev at AWS, Amazon Web Services in America and Europe. And we were talking about the work we did with them three, four years ago, which was exactly what you just said, where we develop the ability to put the encryption keys and the security certificate directly into our SIM, and then manage it from the policy. Because it’s a combination of the actual security and where it is in the SIM becomes an eSIM, which eventually becomes an iSIM, inside the module. But we also then need a policy engine that says this is my policy and I want that to be automatically deployed to the edge. So one of the things that we do is that not only just have APN access for encryption, but actually it’s all data travels over a private network.

Nick Earle (29:04):
And once you… So we don’t use the internet. And then what you can do is you could actually apply, it’s in effect like your cellular devices, which might be connected to Verizon or AT&T or Telus or whoever, your cellular devices are like an extension then of your MPLS network. In other words, it’s almost as if every device has an ethernet port in it – of course it doesn’t. And it goes directly into the back of a router. Because if you have network level consistency between your cellular devices, regardless of which MNO they’re connected to, and that’s what we do at Eseye, we put it through a private network. And then we connect the private network to the enterprises’ private network. Then what you can do is you can have your security policy that we announced this with Armis, and do agentless security. You can have your security policy centrally sense what devices are connected to the network, because it’s really hard to keep track of them. And actually apply dynamic policy to them, because you’re applying it at the transport layer. You’re doing deep packet inspection of your cellular devices. And so, that’s a… That’s what you really want to… If you’re the chief security officer or the CIO, the CFO, is going to sign off the project.

Nick Earle (30:22):
You are going to say, “Can I apply the same security to the cellular connected IoT device?” And which might be in a moving vehicle, or parcel, or whatever it is. The same level of security as I can apply to the devices I can see in my office. Or I’ve now got on employees phones. And if you can do that, a combination of the device with the security certificate handling and the policy engine from the inside to the edge, then I think that’s a model, at least, we believe you need in order to get enterprises to trust the IoT projects.

Eric Conn (31:00):
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Nick Earle (31:03):
Yeah. Okay, we’ve been going a little while. Surprising! You look at the clock and go, “Wow.” Doesn’t it pass when you’re having fun. We took… I was going to ask you about lessons from the field, but the security is clearly one of them, one of the top things. Asset tracking is a low hanging fruit that probably has bigger returns for people than they think, which is why you’re in it. Any other major lessons you’ve learned, in your experience, Eric, on… We have a lot of people who listen to this, because they’re looking for advice and guidance.

Eric Conn (31:38):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, one of the we… Whenever we talk to a new customer, we try to be very educational and really look at it through a lens of, what are the requirements? What do they really need to accomplish? What is the ROI? And so, one of the first things when you get to this class of low power wide area, LPWAN applications, you have to choose whether a private or a public network is the right choice. So, private networks. What I classify those are… Would be, maybe, a lot of your listeners have heard of LoRa. So it’s been one of the more popular, low cost, long battery life waveforms. And you can stand up a LoRa network, relatively inexpensively, you have to install some gateways. It’ll give you about two mile radius around a location, maybe a little less, depends on terrain and some other things. But has good penetration, characteristics, it’s not super high bandwidth. But again, if you have… If you’re trying to, say, track a vehicle, as long as it’s staying within, we’ll say a mile, it’s fine. It’ll track it and you can get connectivity.

Eric Conn (32:48):
But it leaves and drives away, you’re not going to be able to cover anymore, you’re going to lose it. Now, for certain use cases, if you’re trying to track something within a large factory or campus, maybe that’s sufficient. But for majority of use cases where you have mobile assets, you need something that’s going to have widespread coverage, right? And global connectivity in some cases. And that’s where the new versions of cellular, the new lower bandwidth, the Cat-M1, NB-IoT, sometimes they get bundled into this overarching 5G revolution that we’re going through. Well, how would you characterize it? Those are really powerful, the costs are coming down, the availability is coming down. And now once you can drive down that cost, it just seems like a much… And the battery consumption can be essentially the same.

Eric Conn (33:37):
Because LoRa is known for being very low battery consumption. But the cellular guys are really catching up quick. And it just seems like a better choice. If you can always see where everything is, no matter where it’s whether it’s in a local area or not, the cellular growth rates. We’re starting to see and we’re starting to recommend more cellular connectivity. One, you get a better quality of service. Because when you install private network, you’re now responsible for the network, whether it’s your customer or not.

Nick Earle (34:10):
Unlicensed spectrum.

Eric Conn (34:12):
Not only that, it’s just the day to day things where maybe their back haul WiFi goes down. Maybe they lose power, okay? And your gateway goes out. Well, you don’t necessarily have… UPSs on all your gateway things. Or a lot of people don’t think about that, whereas the cellular community has been thinking about this for decades, right? They have UPSs at the base of every tower, they have fall over, they have all kinds of things that will essentially keep that network very reliable. I mean, I think if you ask most people, “Would you say your cellular connection is more reliable than your WiFi connection?” I think most people would answer that as yes. Because cellular has been around for a long time and they’ve really focused on making that network very, very durable. So, when we look at IoT more and more, we’re telling customers that really look at the cellular, the Cat-M1s, and the NB-IoT for connectivity, because it’s more reliable. The battery efficiency is almost on par now with LoRa, and the costs are really coming down.

Eric Conn (35:23):
And why do you want to manage your own network? It’s just you have to get all the software. You basically have to get the core software. For LoRa, LoRaWAN network server, you have to get the gateways, you have to install them, you have to do all these topology things and make sure you’re getting the right coverage map. Just let cellular just take care of that. And so that’s… To us, that’s one of the biggest growing things. And I think analysts community has also seen that. I’ve seen a lot of predictions over the next five years, that cellular is going to overtake private network.

Nick Earle (35:56):
Yeah, that’s what the data’s showing.

Eric Conn (35:58):
And it just makes sense. It’s just a better experience, it’s more reliable. And one of the things that… And I’m by no means an expert. And so, you’re… I know you know way more than I do. But as you get into it, there’s all these different types of modes within cellular. So, there’s PSM mode, eDRX. Those become really important, right? And knowing about one, I just recently learning about the nuances of some of these. But being able to… If you have a device, say, it’s on a tractor trailer that is traveling across the US, it’s going to go through different coverage areas. Sometimes AT&T might be strong, Verizon and others, loses connectivity in other places really remotely. So, how do you automatically switch between these networks and also preserve battery life. So that you’re not constantly trying to hang it.

Nick Earle (36:53):
And you know that, just to explain a little bit to some people who are saying, “This is interesting, we want a little bit more.” Just to explain the technical problem that you’re describing there. The problem is, it’s things like PSM, Power Saving Mode, or the eDRX protocol, which is you need to manage the battery. Turn it on, turn it off, so it doesn’t drain. Are often not available on a roaming agreement.

Eric Conn (37:20):
All of our lessons learned.

Nick Earle (37:23):
And if a lesson learned, and it’s one of those, “I wish I had known that two years ago.” Because it is available on a direct connect. So if you have a proprietary SIM, it’s available. But it’s not available on the roaming agreement. In fact, we did a survey, we have 2000 customers because manage multiple networks for our customers. And we did say, I think it was 82, 83% of the roaming agreements that we analyzed. And hundreds of them did not support both PSM and eDRX. So, only one out of five will support it. But the problem is you don’t find that out till you’re halfway through your project, right? And so, what happens is that if you go for… Out of network. So you have a, say, Verizon SIM in it, or whatever, or AT&T SIM, or an MVNO SIM, you go out and you hop over onto somebody else’s network. If you’re roaming, you may find suddenly the battery is on all the time. And it’s a… It’s something that’s really easy to miss in the early stages, because you’re only doing a little bench test.

Eric Conn (38:22):
Or you’re in a local area, you’re running a pilot.

Nick Earle (38:24):
And in that area, it works just fine. And then you… Suddenly someone says battery is supposed to last five years, and it lasted a year and it’s a sealed device, like inside a pallet. And then you had to globally. So, well, how can I make sure it’s going to work? What about around the world? And so, yeah. The way we do that is like we… What we do is we localize the connection on the MNOs. So, as we hop from network to network, we’re localizing. We’re not roaming, we’re localizing like the Star Alliance. It’s one trip around the world where you’re going from airline to airline to airline, even though they’re competitors. But you’re on the…

Nick Earle (39:05):
You’re localizing the connection, which means you get the full functionality. And it’s one of those obscure things that people never ask as early on. That when you talk to someone who’s doing it for the second time, and you say to them, “Any tips? And what would you do different?”

Eric Conn (39:19):
Right.

Nick Earle (39:20):
One of those common ones that I had no idea how complicated telecom was, I had no idea. I mean, to your point, I was talking to Kaliedo Intelligence – a research house. They’re the roaming experts in the industry analyst community. They spun out of Juniper Research, they said… Told me the other day, “There are less than 10 roaming agreements globally available today for narrow band IoT.” Less than 10.

Eric Conn (39:51):
Right.

Nick Earle (39:51):
And there’s 820 mobile network operators in the world. So, what that says is, will we get there eventually? Probably, hope so. But right now, if you’re going to bet the farm on roaming on narrow band, was more on CAT-M1. But on narrow band, the real low end, if you’re going to bet the farm, then you really need to be an expert on analyzing roaming agreements. And do you want to be an expert on analyzing roaming agreements and managing mobile network operators? Or do you want to be an expert on your business case, for example, providing IoT to your customers. And so, you basically need a partner who understands telecom networks and understands devices. Because that’s 80%. And they’re the lessons that we consistently hear.

Nick Earle (40:44):
Most of the projects that we do, are people doing it the second time around and it’s these issues that they smacked against. And it’s just a fragmented proprietary ecosystem. I mean, it is what it is. So, I mean, I think that… I totally agree with you., I think asset tracking is the one. And I… To me, it’s like Google for physical things. And I… We have no idea just how big it’s going to be. And just like Google was, once you can find the information, you can create new business models and new experiences. And there’ll be a whole raft of companies that form based on the physical version of Google.

Eric Conn (41:27):
I completely agree. And it’s huge. And we’re a firm believer that asset tracking will be the first massive scale IoT application focus, if you will. Because it is something that everyone would want. Again, if you can get the cost low enough and the friction low enough, every business, every person wants that experience. It’s just, “Can we enable it?” And guys like you and me, and our companies are working at very specialized portions that all together, enable it. So, this PSM and eDRX for certain of our audience members may sound like it’s down a rabbit hole. But when you’re a manufacturer, and you’re guaranteeing your customer five year battery life, and it’s eight months later, and your battery’s at 10% level, now you got to physically go out and replace all those devices. That’s not a good experience for your customer or for your bottom line, so.

Nick Earle (42:28):
That’s probably $200, by the way. $200 on average to touch a device, and your customer is annoyed.

Eric Conn (42:33):
Exactly. So, when you do all your calculations, which you… We work with a lot of really talented hardware manufacturers. And they do these simulations of what battery drain is. They characterize every Nano Amp that’s being drawn from every module on a custom board they may make, or a commodity device. And they know exactly when it will run out of energy. But they didn’t know about PSM or eDRX. So, they’re assuming it’s going to go in deep sleep, and they’re certain. Well, if it doesn’t, it throws everything out the door. And it can basically ruin the business case.

Nick Earle (43:10):
It kills the business case, because of the battery so often.

Eric Conn (43:14):
So these details are… They’re very, very important details. And, luckily, there’s companies like yours that are really focusing on those details, because they’re very important if you’re going to try to scale an IoT application.

Nick Earle (43:29):
Well, that sounds like a good place to finish, actually. Especially because IoT Leaders was conceived to actually help people with… To navigate through all the complexities, and to try and simplify it, because IoT is complicated. It’s too complicated than it should be. But you can navigate through, and customers… I mentioned, Amazon. It’s not just because they got a lot of resources, but because they really got a very clear idea of the business case. I mean, you can tell people, when the parcel is going to arrive, they will feel comfortable buying it off you. Just were this case, like the Uber, if I know what… I order the Uber and I know it’s going to be outside, and I can track it, I will feel comfortable because I… And then I don’t have to hang around. And we’re really discovering how these attributes, these soft attributes actually drive customer loyalty. And of course, we use huge amounts of cost for the company doing it.

Nick Earle (44:31):
So it’s a win win. So, this has been a great podcast, Eric, I think we could have gone two x over. So we better not do it, because people have will be saying, “Enough. Enough.” But I really appreciate the cooperation with you and your company. And I totally agree. I think this is going to be the killer app. The killer app for… If you can find anything anywhere without knowing where it is, by asking for it, providing you have the permission. That is the one that’s going to change the world. So, thanks again for being my guest. I know you’re in a very nice part of the world right now. So it’s probably pretty warm… Warming up out there in Scottsdale, Arizona in July. My guess is, what’s it going to be out there today? Like 40 centigrade?

Eric Conn (45:20):
Yeah. Low hundreds Fahrenheit, probably close to 40 centigrade.

Nick Earle (45:25):
Oh. But it’s a dry heat, as they say, right. Okay. And so, thank you to the listeners for listening. This has been the IoT Leaders Podcast, if you want to get in touch. I will… Actually, Eric, I should ask you this question. If listeners want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way they can do that?

Eric Conn (45:46):
They could just send an email to eric@leverege.com. Leverege is spelled with all E’s. So it’s L-E-V-E-R-E-G-E.com.

Nick Earle (45:55):
Okay, Leverege with all E’s.com. And if you want to get in touch with me, you can send a message to IoTleaders@eseye.com, or my direct email, N Earle, N-E-A-R-L-E@eseye.com. But this has been a great episode. And we got lots of insights. And we went from high level business, the future of IoT and the killer app right down to how do you do granular battery life management, which is what you got to do in this space.

Nick Earle (46:28):
I hope that was useful for the listeners. And thanks again, Eric, for joining me and being my guest on the IoT Leaders Podcast.

Eric Conn (46:34):
Right. Thanks, Nick. It’s always a pleasure at all to speak with you. Alright.

Nick Earle (46:37):
Thanks.