Navigating the Cellular IoT Space | Alliot's Craig Herrett

Navigating the Cellular IoT Space | Alliot's Craig Herrett

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- [Ryan] Welcome Craig to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week. - [Craig] Thank you for having me, Ryan. - [Ryan] Absolutely.

I'd love it if you could kick this off with a quick introduction about yourself and the company. - [Craig] Sure. My name's Craig Herriot. I'm a group sales director of a company called T2100 Group that has two companies in it. One's ProVu Communications.

ProVu is a distributor of IP phone equipment. And then the one we're here to talk about today, which is Alliot. Alliot is what started as just a straight distributor of IoT equipment and somewhat progressed into a bit more of a value added slash MSP type business. - [Ryan] Fantastic. So one of the questions I wanted to ask you is, I know from your all's experience, it's getting, being focused on, LoRaWAN and moving into cellular, I want to know, or not saying go away from LoRaWAN but diving into the cellular space, what are you seeing happen at the moment with that in the cellular space that's so attractive and so interesting for you when it comes to IoT? - [Craig] We never actually wanted to be in the cellular space originally.

We wanted to sell hardware. So I'll give you a little bit of background on how we moved into it. ProVu Communications was just a hardware distributor and what we tried to do is make deployment easy. So we built lots of different tools just to, so you could put down a phone, and it would become plug and play. IP phones are just the same as computers.

They need some config, they need some bits. And the intention really was to go into IoT and do exactly the same thing. So what we'll do is we know that you're going to deploy 10,000 sensors in certain instances.

That's going to be hard. So what we'll do is we'll do exactly what we did with ProVu, and we'll do that to IoT. We was actually initially looking for a new business idea, and that's where the IoT stuff come out. What we've seen is that LoRaWAN was doing really well, which is great.

And there was an interesting reason why we chose LoRaWAN over SigFox, et cetera. The thing that we're trying to steer away from is there's a lot of people that just provide connectivity. What we've now found is that there's lots of people that LoRaWAN may suit in certain instances, but NB-IoT devices suit in others. So what they then turned around and said, okay, we want NB-IoT devices.

The biggest challenge at the moment, I would say, is that there's just not enough. There's not enough NB-IoT devices. We've got lots of people, if we had the same amount of SKUs that we've got on LoRa in NB-IoT, it would be fantastic. They're not really competing. They're complementing.

So a couple of, I don't want to take away any questions you're going to ask in the future, but there's a couple of different instances. So I've got a customer that is doing care homes. Now, if you're going to put that in one specific area where you're going to put, I don't know, 500, a thousand sensors in one particular area, NB-IoT doesn't work out as cost effective.

It does exactly the same jobs. The sensors are effectively the same sensor. They're just using slightly different technology to move it across. You're using the same dashboard. You're using everything the same.

It's just the technology that transfers it. So you put that as a commercial deployed moment and LoRaWAN works at commercially attractive. However, if you go into kind of a much vaster area, perhaps you're using it in Scotland or something like that, and these sensors are really far apart, LoRaWAN no longer works. Because actually you need a gateway per a lower number of sensors. So, NB-IoT suddenly becomes fantastic. I know we've talked about a or about to talk about one of the case studies we spoke about, what we were in the middle of doing now, which is around 60,000, which actually moved now to 90,000 different locations.

LoraWAN or any LPWAN technology under 90,000 locations commercially just won't work out very well. So NB-IoT fits the bill so well. - [Ryan] One thing I'm curious about is there are a lot of people out there listening to this that when it comes to either adopting or developing cellular IoT solutions, I know there are a lot of kind of decisions that need to be made and things that can go right but also can go wrong. What are some of those kind of pitfalls with cellular IoT and devices that should be avoided or should be really thought about or paid attention to early on.

Like how do you select the right connectivity provider, partner, how do you go from there? What things should people be on the look out for? - [Craig] You can keep it simple. I've had quite a lot of different presentations on this exact subject where people do ask you what are the kind of things to avoid? What are the things to go for? You need to keep it simple initially. So the first thing is, what are you trying to achieve? Had somebody that was trying to measure light. They wanted to see if the light was on or off. It was a council.

And we said, look, you're not trying to do that. What you're trying to do is the path illuminated enough? So it's the, it's slightly different. So first of all, just look at what you're trying to do. There's the first mistake because people go I'm trying to do this, but they're not, they're trying to jump ahead. So talk to somebody that's got good experience that understands the various sensors, technologies, et cetera. So again, it probably comes down to a bit of partnership.

The next part again is when you talk about specifically NB-IoT or cellular is the partner you need. We've had instances where people have bought devices and they've said, no, it's okay, we've got our own kind of coverage partner, connectivity partner. We've configured the devices, we've sent them out, and they don't work. And it's, this is crazy because these should work.

They're configured correctly. We know these devices, we've tested them. We've got them sent back. We've put in our connector, our SIMs, and they've worked perfectly. And it turns out that what they did is they went with a connectivity partner that was using a roaming agreement. Now they work slightly different.

They present themselves slightly different. I was actually at Vodafone maybe two, three weeks ago having the exact same conversation. And the chap at Vodafone said to me, yeah, they do present themselves differently. So roaming agreements is ones to be really careful of.

There's a few reasons why. A, they present themselves slightly different. So therefore the specific devices may not transmit on that SIM.

The second part is, it's a roaming agreement. It's not a contract. So at any point that could be switched off. So what I would say for anybody to avoid the pitfalls is make sure you're working with somebody that is a real good partner, that is willing to support you, but also has the experience of doing it. Try also to try and find a single person that will do most of the work, if not all of it. Again, the reason for that is the age old saying is one throat to choke.

If something goes wrong, you're not talking to the hardware distributor, and he says everything's working my end, talking to the cellular provider who says everything's working my end, yet there's no data coming out at the end of it. So where possible, just find a really good partner that does as much of the solution as you can. - [Ryan] What about the component shortage that's been happening throughout the last couple of years that I know people have been affected by, which I'm sure affects the ability for deployments to get out, for stock to arrive on time, things like that. How have you all handled that? And how can people approach that kind of challenge that has occurred? - [Craig] Again, it's, it did affect us. I'd be lying if I said it didn't. However, with more on the LoRaWAN side, the NB-IoT, there's just not enough SKUs out there already, so I'd encourage any manufacturers that might be listening to this, just jump on NB-IoT.

It's one of the fastest growing areas that we're seeing, and there's just not enough devices to go around. So I'll talk more about LoRaWAN stuff because it's an easier discussion to have. So we was absolutely affected.

There was lots of devices that we wanted and couldn't get. The bonus with these devices is they're all pretty dumb. And I don't mean that disparagingly. They're not super smart devices.

There's very few that use AI technology or do very specific things. Most of the devices are sensing heat, temperature, moisture, humidity, or level sensing, or certain gases, CO2, et cetera. And for them, there's multiple different versions. So we signed an agreement with a large international company. And the agreement was that I always had to have available a CO2 device. I always had to have available a CT clamp with 75 amps.

Now I was able to sign that on the basis that if and when the component shortage hit a certain manufacturer, I could substitute in another one. I was managing the decoding, I was managing pretty much everything else. But what it meant is a lot of those deployments, well I say moved right, but moved later, a lot of those deployments didn't have to be delayed. Some did.

We've had some deployments that was due to go in, I think it was January 2022. And we're just about to finish those now. That was more specific but even so, the component shortage did hurt us. But these devices on, yeah, they're quite interchangeable. - [Ryan] Let me ask from the experience you have working with different companies of different sizes, are you seeing adoption grow in, when it comes to like large enterprises or maybe small, medium sized companies because there are a lot of small companies that I know I've encountered that can truly benefit from IoT solutions, but the adoption is, has not always been as maybe as, I guess, it's had its challenges, which obviously with larger enterprises, there's challenges as well too.

But from your perspective, how have you seen the adoption growth or adoption rate of growth happen between the larger enterprises and those smaller companies? - [Craig] I guess I can start this by saying I was just wrong. I originally, we originally started Alliot, and as we were doing the concept for the business, we expected it initially to be a hobbyist's business. So, we'd have lots of people that are early adopters, and they would probably be some technical directors or very small companies that want to experiment, et cetera. And we was absolutely wrong.

What has happened is I look at the larger businesses that just happened to have more money and are able to put more cash behind it, and they are able to put in proof of concepts with some money behind it whereas the smaller guys have struggled to initially identify what the win is, what the return on investment is, or how it can make life better. That's changing somewhat now. So the pace of IoT as a whole has really ramped up.

But the larger enterprise businesses have certainly adopted significantly faster. They've identified things, and we're working with a company called Johnson Controls, again, multi international business. And one of the first things they said is they identified that there was an energy opportunity for them and one of their customers, so they went and spoke to their customer and says, if we could monitor all of your energy, we could show you ways of saving money.

They've already got, they already use Johnson Controls platform. So there was no new platform. It was purely an add on to the existing business. They was able to secure funding really quite easily and quite quickly to initially do a proof of concept for 30 sites. I liken that to one of my other customers who was a, or who is a smaller guy. He actually is a, he runs garages.

He's got three or four garages. Now getting his business to move forward with exactly the same kind of scenario, it's energy consumption was a lot slower, and again, it was purely because of the money and the time. So I do say it's changing now, though, and I think the reason it's changing is people are now starting to see the actual return that they can get and not just in money, maybe in efficiency, maybe in just making life better.

But yeah, it's certainly enterprise have moved forward faster, but SMB, hopefully it'll catch up. - [Ryan] Yeah, I agree. I think with the more real solutions that are out there and successes companies are having in, with IoT solution adoption, the more confident smaller companies will be to make that leap, invest the money and the time into building and bringing in these solutions into their business. So I think we're getting closer to that for sure. - [Craig] Absolutely. And one of the things we really try and do is we truly try and champion any case study that's out there.

Anything that we can show that there's a real return because it's wonderful doing things that are just nice and good, and I keep using the phrase make life better. But unless there's a return on it, it's really difficult for someone to justify spending that money. So what we do is we look at a load of different areas that can say this will save you money or this will make you more efficient or this will improve the environment, therefore bringing new customers and therefore improve, increase revenue and improve your kind of turn at your gross profit and net profits, et cetera. - [Ryan] What do you, what are your thoughts moving forward in the space? I know, obviously I know you have a lot of interesting use cases that you are working on, but just if you look at the landscape now, what do you think is needed for it to grow and continue to move forward at a hopefully a pretty good rate for everyone to benefit.

But yeah, I'd just love to get your thoughts on that. - [Craig] If you look at the numbers regarding IoT as a whole, there's some wild figures out there, and they look like they're coming true. The growth is just huge. And I'm pretty excited by all of it. I think we all are. The business that we started just shy of five years ago has grown exponentially.

We started with, I remember sitting in a room, and we was like look, we're doing ProVu, and ProVu is working really well. What else should we do? And we was like we should look at IoT. Okay. LoRaWAN or SigFox? And it was very kind of VHS and beta max, which a lot of people probably won't even know what the difference is, but it was the old video cassettes or Blu-Ray and HD DVD. And we took a punt, and it's worked. And I look from there to where we are now.

It's fantastic. It's the fastest growing thing that I've ever been part of, and it's not, it's not bleeding edge. It is leading edge but not in regards to technology, just in regards to growth.

And a look at the future. More and more people, as I mentioned earlier, are now starting to see a way of improving various different things, be it well being for pollution on the streets. We're in an energy crisis and actually by doing, I've reduced energy consumption within my own home by I think it's around 25 to 30%. We looked at it and we've got a mill. And the mill, I think our bill has gone from something like two and a half thousand pounds to 8,000 pounds a month. And we've looked about reducing that by about 33 to 35%.

Again, just by using IoT devices. So it costs out really quick. So now people are starting to see this.

Now it's just about what do I use? So that becomes the real part, okay. How do I do this? So I would say the biggest restriction at the moment is not even people anymore. It started off to be people because it was about making that leap.

Now it is just specifically to NB-IoT devices. We need more. We absolutely need more. If we could replicate the SKUs that we have on LoRaWAN in NB-IoT, it would be fantastic.

But yeah, it's a real exciting time to certainly be in our position. And I think it's a real exciting time for anybody to be part of this. - [Ryan] Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree.

Last thing I wanted to ask you before we wrap up here. So we've talked a lot about NB-IoT and some of our audience might be a little unfamiliar with exactly what NB-IoT is, does, and what an example use case would be just to understand where it fits in. Could you enlighten them a little bit on that? - [Craig] Sure. So we're, NB-IoT is just cellular.

It's narrow band IoT, which means it's really small packets of data. And the bonus of all, if I talk about LoRa, LPWAN, NB-IoT, all of this is what's called LPWAN, Low Power Wide Area Network. It uses really small amounts of data. Transmits over quite some distance. But the point of it being small is it uses such low kind of battery.

It doesn't use much power. So you put in a watch battery and it'll last for five years. So it's fantastic. You can just pop it in there.

And everything's really good at retrofitting. When you're looking at all of the, a great example, I'm currently working on a project for beer. Which is never a bad one when you're working on a project for beer. These people want to make sure that beer is always cold. That's the strategy is you will always walk into a shop and the beer will be cold. They've got in, they've got non integrated fridges.

So standalone fridges. So they are effectively plugged in. There's an energy crisis going on. There's 90,000 sites to monitor to make sure that these fridges are turned on and are in working order and are filled and have beer in them cold. An NB-IoT in this instance is fabulous because rather than have somebody or a team of people drive around every single day or over the course of a month or et cetera to make sure they're filled, make sure they're working correctly, make sure they're cold, devices can do this. So what we're now doing with NB-IoT is we're going to put in temperature sensors in the fridge with tamper controls that just says, is it cold? Doesn't matter if the fridge is on, doesn't matter, but is the beer cold? Is it filled? And what NB-IoT will do is the sensor will sit there, the sensor will take the measurement, the SIM card, which is really the NB-IoT piece, the narrow band IoT piece, will transmit that to a cellular tower.

The cellular tower will transmit it to a product that we've built called Symbius because it decodes the data. So one of the problems that people do have is that you'll go and buy a sensor, and then you'll put a SIM card in it, and then it will transmit back the equivalent of wingdings in Word, which is gibberish, and nobody would understand it because every sensor will transmit slightly different. So Symbius is a product that we've developed that will actually take all of those windings, all of those different products, languages and put them into a common format. So now, whatever device you put into it, whatever device it senses, whatever device it's sent back via the SIM card will then transmit into Symbius, and Symbius will decode that. So back to the original question.

The SIM card just transmits on really low power back to a cellular tower into Symbius and then into your dashboard. Once you've got your dashboard or application server, same thing, then you can do things with it. You can automate reactions to it. You can put on alerts.

So in the instance of 90,000 fridges full of beer, if one goes down, what it will do is it will alert to say the engineer or the team member needs to visit this site because there's a problem with the fridge. And alert doesn't mean that it's not cold. Alert might just be outside of the tolerance of being cold. So if we're looking for beer to be a kind of 10 degrees, and it actually goes to 12 degrees, they could alert that.

They could say 12 degrees is too warm, or it's on the edge of being too warm. Therefore, let's alert that. So hopefully the engineer will get there before that becomes a problem and is no longer cold. - [Ryan] Appreciate you breaking that down.

For our audience who's listening to this or watching this and wants to learn more about what you all have going on or touch base after this with any follow up, what's the best way they can do that? - [Craig] There's a couple of ways. Obviously you could phone us. We do have a phone number, and I'm really good at this, and I haven't got my card with me.

But the other way is So that really, we had a lot of talk about when we first created the company, we called it Alliot because we thought we was being super intelligent. But the reality is what we do is just all IoT. So a l l i o t dot co dot uk.

We've got a chat feature on there. Obviously you can contact us via the webpage. We've got lots of different ways to contact us. And what I would say is you don't have to, I know it sounds terrible, you don't have to buy anything from us. You just have a chat, and we can start you on your journey.

We, a little while ago, we've done a golf course in I think it's Cornwall. It's down South of the UK. And the chap there was working for the committee for the golf course. So not necessarily a techie. Said, look, I've heard about this.

Can you help? And we said, yes, you need to have these skills. And he said, that's great. I've got them skills.

And we sold him temperature, sorry, moisture sensors, some Strega valves that effectively will enable him to turn on his Rain Bird system. And they've instigated an IoT irrigation system. And it's fantastic because that can grow even further. If they want to, they can start measuring the chemicals that are in the ground and then tell the groundskeepers that the grass has a disease and what chemicals to put on the grass to get rid of the disease.

So it's just never ending. It's super. So call us.

- [Ryan] Thanks again for taking the time. Really appreciate it. And excited to get this out to our audience. - [Craig] Thank you very much, Ryan.

Thanks for having us.

2023-09-10 14:19

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