Do smart meters spread Covid? Of course they don’t. Not even the fake news community have suggested that. As regular readers will know, I’ve been socially distancing from smart meters ever since the British Government took what was basically a good idea and morphed it into a £15 billion IT disaster. Despite that, I still got Covid.
Do smart meters encourage fake news? Absolutely. Here in the UK we have a Government funded agency called Smart Energy GB, which specialises in misleading advertisements in an attempt to persuade people to install the world’s most expensive smart meters. I believe they may have the honour of producing the largest number of advertisements from a Government body to be banned for misinformation. But they’re not letting a little issue like that stop them from peddling more fake news.
Mobile World Congress is an odd event. It’s where the GSMA attempts to set the mobile agenda for the coming year, where major infrastructure deals are done behind closed doors and where the rest of the industry shows off its latest products. This year, the big message was that 5G is coming, whatever that may be. The IoT was relegated to something that’s mainly happening in China and the startup community. What I found interesting was that audio was far more prominent than I can recall in any of the last 30 years of MWC and its predecessor shows.
If history is anything to go by, it’s going to be unlucky for some, but it’s an indication of the momentum which is growing around cellular IoT that so many chip companies have jumped on the bandwagon.
It’s not cheap to develop a cellular chip, even one that is moderately simple, such as is the case with the NB-IoT standard. Back in 2012, when I wrote about the cost of developing wireless standards, I put it at around $6 million for each chip and protocol stack. That was looking at Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. With the additional complexity of any cellular standard, along with network interoperability testing, it becomes far more expensive, as you need to test with as many operators as possible. Hence the development cost to get a chip and stack to market is probably at least $15 million.
With thirteen different companies bringing chips to market, that’s an investment of around $200 million. Some of these have tried to cut their development time by acquiring start-ups which were already some way down the route. Sony purchased Altair, Huawei bought Neul, ARM bought NextG-Com and Mistbase, Goodix acquired CommSolid, while Nordic Semiconductor picked up around 60 engineers in Finland’s Oulu. We don’t know how much they spent on these acquisitions, but it’s probably well over $200 million. Add to that the costs of the standardisation process, infrastructure development and initial market trials and it’s clear that somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion has already been spent on getting NB-IoT to the point where it is today. That’s a level of investment that should be worrying competing standards like LoRa and Sigfox, as the NB-IoT companies will do all they can to recoup their investment.
For anyone involved with mobile phones, networks or the IoT, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the place to be in February. Over four days, the industry reveals its latest and fanciest ideas in the ongoing evolution of mobile telephony. It is vast. This year around 2,300 companies were exhibiting, several with stands large enough to fit a passenger jet in; over 100,000 visitors were wandering around it, including senior politicians and royalty and the organising industry body – the GSMA (God Save Mobile Analysts) probably raked in around $100 million in revenue. Which is more than some of the sectors it is promoting will make this year.
It’s not a show famed for radical new technology. Unlike CES, which gives us technical wonders like the selfie stick, MWC is about gradual evolution. But that is gradual evolution of a very, very successful industry – one that likes to take the annual opportunity to convene in Barcelona and flaunt its success.
So what was new? For me, there were four things which stood out. That might feel minor, but when you’re trying to predict the future, it’s difficult to judge. These are the ripples and butterflies that could bring massive change. No-one in the industry thought SMS and messaging would take off. But they were happy to bet on WAP as the mobile internet, which only goes to prove you should never believe an analyst or futurologist. So here’s my choice of four things which took my fancy.
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.
If you attended the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, you might have thought that the Internet of Things was mainly about bikes and labradors, as they were the mainstay of applications which were depicted on most IoT stands. The reason for that was a marketing push for Narrow Band IoT (NB-IOT) orchestrated by the GSM Association, who had picked up on two applications from early trials and was promoting them at every opportunity.
There’s probably a good market for tracking labradors, as in my experience they’re not the smartest breed in the canine world, but they’re definitely a lot smarter than anyone who believed the IoT message that the network operators were pushing out in Barcelona. According to companies like Vodafone, commercial trials were only four months away, with commercial services next year. But you need more than marketing to make something happen. So here’s my view of the real progress of NB-IOT.