UK Tech needs a Fat Lady

The UK Government has just announced its latest initiative to make us into a technology heavyweight – the ARIA project.  What we don’t know yet is whether the fat lady singing the aria is destined to be a consumptive Mimi or a brash Anna Nicole?  If the scheme is set up and run by the same people responsible for previous UK tech development initiatives, it’s more likely to be a cut-price Florence Foster Jenkins.  Which would be a great pity, as there’s a lot to be said for having a decent funding scheme.

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Understanding IoT Business Models or “Who killed my Unicorn?”

One of the memes that has been going around the industry this year, particularly amongst platform suppliers, is that the slow growth of IoT deployments is due to the fact that “Consumers don’t yet understand the real value of IoT”.  It’s an incredibly arrogant statement, which tells us a lot about the current start-up mentality, where too many have the perception that they’re entitled to become a billion-dollar company just because they’ve had the presence of mind to jump on the IoT bandwagon.  However, the fundamental fact remains that if you are going to succeed, you need a business model.  Unfortunately, profitable business models in the IoT are rather thin on the ground, largely because many of the self-styled IoT experts don’t really understand the market. 

What most people do agree on is that the IoT isn’t taking off at the rate which everyone had expected, although that’s no great surprise – technology growth curves almost never match the hockey stick curve that analysts predict.  Gartner’s famous Hype Curve constantly reminds us that the path to ubiquity is strewn with failed ideas, many of which never emerge from the trough of disillusionment.  The IoT suffers from a further problem, which is that the catch-all name has become to mean all things to all men (or maybe all machines).  Many forget that the popular IoT poster children which the press pick up and promote as IoT are generally more fluff than substance.

Which brings us back to business models.  The IoT will take off when companies work out how to make money out of it.  Sadly, that’s proving harder than it may seem, with the more cynical concluding that the only people to profit from the IoT so far are conference organisers.  So, let’s take a look at why developing a profitable business model is proving to be so challenging.

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The IoT Value Stack

If you listen to almost any conversation about the Internet of Things you’re likely to find that it fairly rapidly degenerates into a conversation about the communication protocols.  Should you use Sigfox or LoRa?  How about GPRS?  GPRS has already been turned off in most of the US, but it could be around for another decade in Europe.  Or what about NB-IOT?  Or maybe it’s better to go for LTE-M?  Not to forget the new radio that will be coming along in Release 15.  Or is it Release 16?

Almost all of this is irrelevant. We already have enough low power, low cost communication standards to fulfil almost any IoT use case we can think of.  The problem with the overabundance of ways to transmit data is that it diverts everyone from the more important (and much more difficult) part of the IoT, which is the rest of the value stack.  This is the first of two articles where I’ll explain the wider IoT value stack and why we need to stop fixating on the comms.  In this one I’ll go through the basics and then, in the second one, follow that up with more detail on security, the business models and the skills you need to succeed in the IoT.

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Is Sigfox the Uber of the IoT?

I’ve been wondering for some time how long it will be before Sigfox ditches their own proprietary protocol and adopts a different standard, probably going for NB-IoT.  Whilst many may question why they’d do it, making the assumption that the Sigfox protocol is their crown jewels, I’d question that assumption.  Last week, at the Sigfox World Expo in Prague, they made an announcement that suggests that that day may not be too far away.  I firmly believe that it has to happen, because Sigfox’s business model is looking a lot like Uber’s, which means going for global domination by any means possible.  The means to that end is probably not based on their own proprietary protocol.

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Don’t let your Children do a Startup, Mrs Worthington…

Noel Coward, the English playwright and actor, described the motivation behind writing his most famous song as: “Some years ago when I was returning from the Far East on a very large ship, I was pursued around the decks every day by a very large lady. She showed me some photographs of her daughter – a repellent-looking girl, and seemed convinced that she was destined for a great stage career.  Finally, in sheer self-preservation, I locked myself in my cabin and wrote this song – “Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington”. 

I know how he felt. As I spend more and more time in meetups, startup conferences, incubators, co-working spaces and accelerators, it feels that our industry has adopted the same rose-tinted spectacles in the belief that every Tom, Dick and Harriet can be trained to be an entrepreneur.  Hence the following update:

Don’t let your Children do a Startup, Mrs Worthington.

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The Barriers for Digital Health Startups

It’s over forty years since the first personal wireless telecare products came to market.  Over the years, along with many others, I’ve been writing about their potential and the opportunity they present to save healthcare costs and by extension, our healthcare systems.  Five years ago, many of us got excited when the Tricorder Prize was announced, with the promise of a Star Trek-like device that would diagnose multiple conditions being demonstrated by 2015.  That deadline has now slipped to 2017, but it’s not stopped a plethora of new healthcare devices being announced in the meantime, helped along by the twin vogues of crowdfunding and lifestyle.

So where are all of these digital health devices?  If you visit a hospital or GP, they’re mostly noticeable by their absence.  Startups are coming and going with ever greater rapidity, whilst healthcare costs grow relentlessly.   What is stopping digital health devices fulfilling their potential?  At the recent Future of Wireless International conference, I chaired a session with speakers from within the medical device community and working at the sharp end of healthcare, who shared their views about the challenges.  It was one of the most brutally honest and candid discussions I’ve come across, which deserves to be heard by anyone entering this market.  So here is a precis of their essential advice for any digital health startup.

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