Smart Energy, mHealth and the Chocolate Factory

Although they may seem strange bedfellows, both the mHealth industry the smart metering industries (both favourite children of the technology world), are facing the same problem.  Both are moving from a world of almost no data to data overload of a level they never imagined, even in their worst nightmares.  Whether it’s from an annual health check or a visit from the meter reader, both are used to getting one data point per customer per year.  The advent of connected sensors means that is changing to anything up to one reading per second.

It’s a bit like the case of a child who has hitherto only been allowed chocolate on Christmas Day.  Now they’re being led into a chocolate factory and told they can eat as much as they want.  The inevitable result is a very happy child for a few hours, until they’re violently sick.  At which point they either vow never to eat another chocolate, or learn to treat it in a more sensible manner.

Today the medical industry and energy utilities are being shown the doors of the chocolate factory.  We have yet to see how they behave once they enter it.  Some may emerge as triumphant Charlies, but others risk becoming the commercial equivalent of Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt.

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Full Bluetooth low energy standard published

This week, at the Bluetooth annual All Hands Meeting in Seattle, the final draft of the new Bluetooth low energy specification was made available.  Last December, the core specification for the low energy radio was adopted, allowing silicon vendors to start their production process, so that chips would be available as soon as the rest of the specification is adopted.  This week’s release allows software and application developers to begin work on designing the new ecosystem of products that will be use Bluetooth low energy.

Outside the confines of the technical working groups, Bluetooth low energy is still a fairly well kept secret.  Yet it has the potential to overtake Bluetooth usage in just a few years, growing to a volume of multiple billions of chips per year.  It is the only wireless technology that has the potential to challenge and surpass the shipment volumes of cellular.  Yet even within the Bluetooth community, there are many that have not yet understood this potential.

One of the reasons for that lack of understanding is that Bluetooth low energy is a wireless standard for a new generation of applications.  Every previous wireless standard comes from the mindset of being a cable replacement which connects devices that never change their behaviour.  That is true even if there’s a mesh involved.  And it’s the way that most products were designed until a year or two ago. 

Two things have changed that.  The first is the concept of machine-to-machine communications where products connect directly to the Internet.  The second is the emergence of the Apps store, where handset owners can download and install new features every day.  Bluetooth low energy has a new architecture that fits both of these models.  Even more importantly, it allows them to converge.  As such, it is the first wireless technology designed for the second decade of this century.  Here’s why…

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Cellular 25 – a Celebration

Last night the UK cellular industry gathered in London’s Science Museum to mark twenty-five years of mobile networks in the UK.  It was an event that drew together many of the people who have been responsible for the extraordinary explosion of the mobile industry, talking about the history of how it happened, and looking into their crystal balls to try and predict the direction of the next twenty-five years.

It has been an extraordinary journey.  I missed the first five years, but have been involved for the last twenty, predominantly trying to encourage data applications and moving services past the phone to internet connected devices.  That’s not been the most successful area of the industry, although I believe its time is about to come.  What last night proved was how radically the growth of the mobile industry has changed our lives.

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PROFIBUS choose Bluetooth for Wireless Automation Standard

PI (PROFIBUS & PROFINET International) – the group leading manufacturing automation connectivity standards, has announced that having completed an investigation of the different wireless options, they are moving forward with the Bluetooth standard for their radio technology.

The announcement is part of a growing chorus of acceptance for Bluetooth technology, as its maturity, robustness to interference and interoperability propels it into a diverse range of applications where reliability is critical.

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Four billion mobile subscribers. But is the vision slowing?

Just in time for the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the GSM Association has published a new milestone – the number of mobile subscribers in the world has just passed the four billion mark. That’s a pretty amazing number – equivalent to almost 60% of the world’s population. It seems that the demand for mobile connectivity is unstoppable. The same report predicts that the number of subscriptions will rise to six billion in 2013. That’s one phone for every person over the age of ten.

With numbers as spectacular as these it’s easy to sit back, smile smugly and give ourselves a well deserved pat on the back. But there’s another school of thought that says is six billion just being complacent? The insatiable desire for personal connectivity will almost certainly deliver the six billion, but what about the market for mobile subscriptions for machines. M2M has always been touted as the next great marketplace for mobile connectivity. The GSM Association acknowledges this with a new initiative. But if we look at numbers of machines, they’re an order of magnitude greater than people. Some years back Deloitte suggested that there would be 60 billion machines in existence by 202. If just a small percentage of these are connected, then the six billion target begins to look decidedly unambitious.

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