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Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science

We are pleased to announce that our client, The Active Reactor Company, are finalists in the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017 this coming Tuesday 12 September 2017.

Agilent

Agilent

This is for the arcHUB Smart Cities device that measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities. The initial data set is:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gases – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

We are looking forward to the awards outcome on Tuesday night and wish The Active Reactor Company all the best.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Smart Cities

Smart City is a blending of current and emerging technologies being employed to allow a city to better manage its assets and deliver value to its residents. It is an emerging concept and still very much in exploration. The 2 core technology areas being investigated as the primary value creators are ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and the IoT (Internet of Things).

Smart City

Smart City

What isn’t fully understood is the relationships between any or all of the list below:

  • what is worth measuring?
  • how to measure it (what sensor, what platform)?
  • how often?
  • in what detail?
  • to learn what from?
  • how quickly to transport the reading?
  • how much will it cost to transport the data?
  • via what technologies?
  • stored how?
  • accessed how?
  • analysed how?

Quite a big list.

Did you know there is a Smart Cities Plan for Australia? I only recently found out. And if you read through it there are more questions than answers. Which I think is the right balance given where we are positioned in trying to understand what is possible versus what is useful.

Smart Cities Plan

Smart Cities Plan

There are some obvious areas already being tackled by ICT systems. These include:

  • transport logistics (road, rail, freight, air, sea)
  • public transport
  • utility services (gas, water, electricity, waste)
  • weather prediction
  • environmental monitoring

And there are a range of trials underway to try and understand what using a broader sensor mix and more widely deployed sensors might do to improve amenity, even if they aren’t all very high quality sensors. Again the questions come back to:

  • what sensors?
  • how many and where?
  • how accurate?
  • how much do they and their platform cost?
  • measured how often?
  • at what latency?
  • what to do with the data?
Smart Cities Segments

Smart Cities Segments

IoT Challenges

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) has a huge promise to live up to, there is a still a lot of confusion over how to go about it. This breaks up into 3 distinct areas.

IoT Hardware

The first is the IoT Hardware device that is deployed to the field. These come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, power profiles and capabilities. So we are seeing everything from full computing platform devices (Windows, Linux, Other) deployed as well as tiny resource constrained platforms such as Sensor Node devices. Examples of the later are Wimoto Motes and our own FLEXIO Telemetry devices which are OS-less Sensor Nodes.

The trade offs are between:

  • power consumption
  • power supply
  • always online versus post on a schedule or by exception
  • cost (device, data, installation, maintenance)
  • size
  • open standard versus proprietary
  • upgrade capable (over the air OTA firmware or software capability)
  • security

As of a month ago, the KPMG IoT Innovation Network reported there are 450 different IoT platforms available. And most don’t talk to each other. Many lock you in. Many only work with their specific hardware. So picking a hardware platform is only part of the challenge. And new products appear every week.

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Communications

The second area of challenge is the communications. Everyone is trying to get away from Cellular IoT Communications because the Telecommunications Companies pricing model has traditionally been higher than they want to pay, and because the power required means you need a much higher power budget. So there has been a push to find other options which has opened the way for players like LoRa and sigfox.

However the CAT-M1 and NB-IoT Telecommunications Standards mean that the pendulum could easily go back the other way. CAT-M1 reduces the data rate (no streaming video needed for most IoT devices) and changes the modulation scheme so you get a better range at a much lower power consumption. And unlike sigfox, you aren’t severely constrained on how much data you can move or how often. CAT-M1 has just gone live in Australia on the Telstra network and we are about to do our first trials.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

NB-IoT doesn’t yet have an official availability date but we aren’t too concerned about that. NB-IoT is really aimed at the smart meter market and similar devices which have low amounts of data and upload it infrequently. So a water meter running off battery for 10+ years is an example of what it is targeting. We will find CAT-M1 a lot more useful. And the modules that support CAT-M1 currently also support NB-IoT so we are designing now and can make the decision later.

IoT Back End

The third area of challenge is the back end. Pick the wrong data service and storage provider and you could find you don’t own your own data and you have to pay every time you want a report on it. And you can’t get at it to port it to another system. And if the volume of data grows the cost can grow even faster as many offer a low entry point but the pricing get expensive quickly once you exceed the first threshold.

Because of this there is an strongly emerging preference for open systems or for systems that do allow you to push and pull data as it suits you.

So our strategy to date has been to provide our own intermediate web service and then republish the data in the required format to suit the end user / client. The result is the best of both worlds. We can deploy resource constrained field devices which are low power and low cost, then communicate with high security and high cost platforms using the intermediate service to do the heavy lifting. And we don’t try and imprison the data and trap the client.

The service is called Telemetry Host and was a finalist for IT Application of the Year in Australia in 2015 at the Endeavour Awards. And again for the PACE Zenith Awards in both 2015 and 2016.

Telemetry Host

Telemetry Host

This isn’t the only approach and so we also create devices and incorporate protocols that allow them to directly connect to other systems. This includes porting our core IP to other URLs which are then owned by our clients. So far we haven’t found that one single approach suits every scenario.

Smart City

You can’t be smart if you don’t know anything. And this is certainly true for Smart Cities. To be a Smart City requires Sensors and Telemetry. But the jury is still out on how much and what kind.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

5G for IoT

Thanks to the team at VDC Research who compile some very useful information on Embedded and IoT (Internet of Things) trends. It is free to join and the deal is that you contribute to their surveys in order to get access to some reports for free. They also do detailed reports for business purposes which are available for purchase.

VDC Research

VDC Research

The following 5G IoT Infographic was put together by them to show the progression of 5G cellular or Mobile Communications in terms of its impact in the Embedded Systems and IoT space. If you click on it you will get a cleaner version to look at and you’ll probably want to zoom in a bit.

5G IoT Infographic

5G IoT Infographic

I was interested to see that there are still no fully confirmed standards for 5G. And my previous post on Cellular IoT Communications shows this to be a trend where NB-IoT is still being ratified even though there are chip sets on the market. It is also sobering to think about where all the data will get stored as devices running Gb/sec data streams will have to be sending it somewhere. Big Data keeps getting bigger.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

LPWAN = Low Power Wide Area Network

LPWAN is typically thought about as cellular data networks but that involves a contradiction since cellular and low power are inherently in conflict with each other. For instance, a standard 3G or 4G cellular modem will have a peak current draw of up to 2A during transmission and needs to be carefully power managed if running from batteries. This has meant that a 10 year operating life from a primary cell battery either needs a huge primary cell or very infrequent communications. So what are the alternatives?

In IoT Versus M2M we looked at how the real benefit of IoT (Internet of Things) is that rather than a single Machine to Machine link being established, there are now multiple devices connected via shared web services and their combined data is being used to create extra value, and particularly if Big Data analytics is added to the mix.

SigFox Logo

SigFox Logo

LoRa Alliance

LoRa Alliance

There is also a lot of potential disruption in this. LoRa and SigFox are both looking to provide lower cost networks to replace dependency on cellular network operators for coverage and also address the power consumption problem. There is an excellent comparison of these 2 systems in SigFox versus LoRa. And both are trying to disrupt existing cellular network providers. An overall view at available at NB-IoT versus LoRa versus SigFox.

NB-IoT

Which introduces Narrow Band IoT or NB-IoT as it is now commonly abbreviated to. Just to continue the confusion of acronyms, it is also called CAT-NB and CAT-NB1. There is a detailed view of this technology and its likely long term adoption at NB-Iot is dead – Long live NB-IoT.

The summary is that NB-IoT is too late to market and requires too much equipment changeover to win the early adopter market, especially in the USA, but will win in the long term. In the interim there is a host of other options also being developed. The cellular network operators have realised, at least 5 years too late, that their business and technology models were both under attack simultaneously. This is a particularly dangerous form of disruption.

Hardware is now becoming available and China adoption of NB-IoT makes them the  main early adopter market.

 

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

Low Power Cellular

So if up until now, low power and cellular were not usually compatible concepts, what is changing to address that?

To reduce power consumption, you have to have one or more of the following:

  • reduce transmit power
  • increase receiver sensitivity
  • reduce transmit duration
  • increase transmit interval
  • reduce network registration time
  • reduce data rate

Some of these can be mutually exclusive. However the key elements that are working together is to reduce the data rate and use a modulation scheme that means the transmitter power can be reduced. LoRa does this very well and NB-IoT is looking to achieve a similar thing. There are trade-offs and the lower data rate for NB-IoT means it is best suited to very small packets. CAT-M1 will require less power for larger packets because the faster data rate means the transmit time is a lot shorter.

Low Cost Cellular

So we have looked at the power consumption angle. How about cost and business model. And there are 2 aspects to cost. There is the hardware cost and there is a the network operations cost. To reduce cost you have to do one or more of the following:

  • reduce silicon and software protocol stack complexity
  • high volume production allows economies of scale for hardware
  • increase the number of channels available in the network
  • increase the number of simultaneous connections in the network
  • reduce margins

Both SigFox and NB-IoT aim to make the end device hardware cost as low as possible. In the case of NB-IoT and CAT-M1 the channel bandwidth can be reduced and so the same bandwidth can support multiple devices instead of just one. The power level in the device transmitter is reduced by reducing the bandwidth and data rate. As an example, a CAT-M1 module has a peak transmitter current draw of 500mA which is a factor of 4 lower than CAT-1. So low cost and low power can go together very well.

The graph below shows how the various cellular standards relate to each other.

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

IoT Deployment Options

We have been using standard 3G/4G Cellular modems for our broadly distributed IoT offerings. As of the end of this month, we ship our first CAT-1 based offerings. These have the advantage of supporting both 4G with fall back to 3G. Although NB-IoT hardware is available now from both Quectel and u-blox, the networks in Australia don’t yet support it. And while NB-IoT is ideal for fixed location assets, we also do mobile systems so these need to be CAT-M1 once it is available.

CAT-M1 is expected to be available in Australia on the Telstra network around September 2017. I am also taking this as meaning that NB-IoT is 2018 or possibly even longer. So we plan to move to CAT-M1 as soon as it is available. The modules are expected to be available about the same time as the network upgrades.

Here are some CAT-1 and CAT-M1 offerings from Quectel and u-blox.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

The Quectel EC21 is what we are deploying in our units later this month.

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

 

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

IoT Network Upgrades

Ericsson have announced the roll out plans for the Telstra Network CAT-M1 capability.

And Telstra have announced their own Telstra IoT Network Plans.

This is the overall Telstra road map. Summary:
CAT-1 now
CAT-M1 by September
NB-IoT sometime after that but no dates yet

Other carriers will follow although Vodafone are well placed to introduce NB-IoT first as they have Software Defined Radio base stations from Huawei and so can roll it out as a software update.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

IoT Security

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a pivotal component of the future and is driving initiatives from Smart Cities through Ubiquitous Computing and Augmented Reality. Of course the next step up from Smart Cities is a Smarter Planet. But we aren’t at Smart Cities yet.

An enabling technology like IoT can also have roadblocks to adoption. The principal ones being addressed now are:

  • power consumption
  • cost of goods
  • size
  • security

The biggest issue right now is IoT Security. Recent DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks have used IoT Devices as the attack launchers. They are being selected because many have weaker security than fully fledged computing devices.

DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service

DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service

In a recent article on IEEE Spectrum on the Path to IoT Security it is argued that IoT Manufacturers must take responsibility and not leave it up to end users. There is also a role of industry standards however no clear set of standards have yet been agreed. So although 2016 is the Year of IoT, with this being the single biggest category of product shipped, it is still very early days where things like IoT Security and IoT Interoperability are concerned.

IoT Security versus Software Security

This is not a new dilemma. Software Security is always important and it becomes increasingly important as Internet Communicating IoT Devices become more widespread. One apparent assumption underlying all this is that an IoT Device must be a fully IP Stack capable platform. That is not necessarily the case. In the video I shared about our Water Metering Remote Telemetry project one thing I didn’t mention is that the data stream is all driven from the IoT Device. There is nothing to log into. You can’t patch it with a Windows, Linux or other OS patch to override its function. It is not capable of being used in a DDoS attack because you can’t get to anything in it that can do that. So it is inherently secure against that form of risk.

Internet of Things Cconnectivity

Internet of Things Connectivity

However there are other risks. Nick Hunn has an insightful piece on Wireless Security for IoT where he argues that we are declaring security is present while having no evidence of proving it. That article is a little dated but the basic tenets still seem to apply. Just because a manufacturer or industry alliance states they have addressed security, it doesn’t make it automatically true.

So IoT Security is Software Security with the added component of protecting the physical hardware.

IoT Security in the Future

We still don’t have standards, so for now, individual device manufacturers and alliance members will need to ensure they have adequate security out of the box. The level of security required is determined by the importance of the data, either its security against unauthorised access, or its integrity against falsification. And at the asset level, its proof against either being disabled or used as an attack vector.

As an example, I am personally not so concerned if a hacker can find out how much electricity use my smart meter is reporting. Unless they get time of day usage and can correlate with other data sources to work out in advance when we aren’t home so they can rob us. My energy provider probably cares more about this data for all its customers coming into a competitors hands. Or maybe not. But I do care that I don’t get an outrageous bill because they were able to send fake data for my account to a server.

And energy grid managers care about usage data and Smart Meter appliance management being used to crash an entire electricity grid!

In the case of the Water Metering Remote Telemetry project I care that it remains online and working because otherwise someone will have to travel a long way to fix it. We have a facility in Gilgandra that is 892Km away as the crow flies. It will take a full day to get there and then another to back again. So I want it to be proof against some hacker disabling its communication ability. Since it has a physical antenna, I do care about that being hard to break. So some of these devices are put above normal reach and everything is inside a secure plastic case including the antenna. And our customer wants to know the reported water usage is correct. This means no missing data, and no incorrect data. They use the data to bill their customers.

One simple way to mess up data is a Replay Attack. If you can intercept and copy a data transmission, then you can play back that transmission any time you want to. You don’t even have to understand the content, the encryption, anything. Simply capture a HTTP POST or GET and replay it. Why does this matter? Because if the data transmitted is the volume of water used since the last report, then every time you play it back, you add to someone’s water bill. Or you distort the level of water the system believes is in a tank or reservoir. You can protect against these attacks in a number of ways but you have to consider the need to protect against them first of all.

There is a large volume of material on this topic. Here are some additional articles you might find useful for broadening your perspective on this topic:

I’m sure you won’t find it hard to search out a lot more articles. Just consider this. Once it has an Internet connection, any device can access anywhere in the world. And most firewalls protect against incoming attacks. A corrupted device on the inside can get out any time it wants to.

Internet of Things Global Reach

Internet of Things Global Reach

And if you want a really interesting view of what this could be like 10 years from now, I recommend reading Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge. Enjoy. And this isn’t my first reference to this book because I think it is fairly prescient in its exploration of a most probable future.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

State iAwards 2016

The state iAwards for 2016 are done and dusted and Skynanny has received a merit award, this time in the consumer product category. Here is a copy of the announcement.

VIC

Consumer – Merit Recipient

SKY NANNY – Nuguy Nominees Pty Ltd t/as SKY NANNY

SkyNanny is a child safety product built for parents by parents. It is a device worn by a child in his/her clothing which is paired to the parent’s mobile phone. Its more than just a location device. SkyNanny will prevent your child from going missing in the first place.

View the skynanny website

Now they are off to the National iAwards where the winners will be announced at a gala dinner on 1 September 2016.

Our congratulations go to Skynanny and also our thanks or having been involved in the development of such a useful product. In 2015 they were merit award recipients for the New Product category.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

5G Mobile Technology

5G is the latest in the mobile communications and follows on from 4G which is what is powering most high performance mobile commuting devices in advanced economies today. However the exact technical standards and technologies to implement 5G are still being formulated. At its heart lies the requirements for increased mobile data, the explosion of widely distributed and connected devices known as the Internet of Things, a huge increase in the number of simultaneous connections needing to be operating together and the need to reduce both the cost of devices and the energy demand to sustain the data transfer rates.

Another way of putting this, is that we are in the Requirements Capture and Technology Assessment phase of this global project. In 5 years time we will be in the roll out phase.

From 1G to 5G

The following infographic from the LTE World Series Conference Blog helps to explain the changes as we moved from 1G analog communications in the early 1990s to the current 4G LTE technology and onward to 5G next decade.

5G Mobile Communications Infographic

5G Mobile Communications Infographic

IEEE Spectrum are also watching with interest as Experts Plot A Path to 5G.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.