The trend for amped-up cross-breed IoT – and tension with stripped-back pure-breed IoT
Note, this article forms the introduction to a new editorial report from Enterprise IoT Insights, Hybrid Low-Power IoT – How The IoT Industry Is Balancing Function And Efficiency. The report is available here, or by clicking on the image below.
Is there a trend for hybrid IoT, to marry together different radio technologies to serve different use cases? Well, yes there is; but, then, there always has been. Because the internet of things (IoT) is a broad church so far as its congregation goes – and many, sometimes, worship together in order to get their messages across. “There is no one-size-fits-all connectivity solution to serve every use case; IoT is an all-for-one discipline, and not one-for-all.”
It is a recurring line in this parish; here it is voiced by Henri Bong, co-chief and co-founder at Singapore-based IoT production house UnaBiz, a one-time Sigfox practitioner that has reinvented itself as a “multi-tech” IoT solutions provider, also offering LoRaWAN and cellular IoT among low-power wide-area (LPWA) networking protocols, plus all the inbetweener tech that goes into its own version of hybrid IoT. But others say the same, almost exactly.
“The reason there is such a proliferation of wireless technologies is because no one technology perfectly serves all use cases. And hybrid approaches are a natural reflection of this fact,” remarks Svein-Egil Nielsen, chief technology officer, at IoT chip-maker Nordic Semiconductor, a business based originally in Bluetooth (and Zigbee, and proprietary 802.15.4 short-range tech) that has crossed into cellular IoT for precisely the same ends.
He adds: “In some cases, combining two technologies [delivers] a result that is technically and/or commercially superior to either technology when used in standalone mode. In fact, I see hybrid IoT becoming very common.” But we should probably consider who is on the line here; because Nordic, trading in hybrid cellular, has a reputation for premium IoT gear, compared with, say, UnaBiz, even despite the latter’s new adventures in NB-IoT and LTE-M.
Indeed, a split can be perceived in the IoT market between amped-up cross-breed systems and stripped-back pure-breed solutions. “The range of IoT applications is so vast that multiple radio access technologies (RATs) are needed, from RFID all the way to 5G-UWB,” responds Christophe Fourtet, co-founder and chief technology officer at France-based Sigfox, arguably promoting the lowest-end single-mode functionality of any LPWA tech.
His UWB reference, it might be clarified, quotes the marketing jargon deployed to promote faster (‘ultra-wideband’) 5G services, as defined in the enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and ultra-reliable low-latency (URLLC) comms categories in the 5G NR standard (the other, massive machine-type comms [mMTC], covers cellular IoT); it is not a reference to the short-range UWB (802.15.4z) standard, building momentum for ‘fine-range’ positioning in hybrid IoT.
Fourtet reckons the long-anticipated connection volumes that will make IoT into ‘massive IoT’ – the shorthand used beyond cellular mMTC circles – will come at the low end, when hardware closes on the dollar mark. “For very precise cases – with massive volumes – the question is to find the most optimised solution, and stick to it – [which might be] RFID for tagging, Sigfox for ‘lost/ abandoned’ (fit-and-forget) devices, and LoRa/LoRaWAN for remote control.”
As a further aside, but as the developing LPWA narrative has started to tell, and as the commentary in this report attests, it is interesting how the Sigfox and LoRa communities, at loggerheads in the early days of IoT, have started to see their technologies as distinctive and even hybrid-complementary – and have (almost) kind words for each other. It is an illusion, of sorts, because Fourtet is effectively painting rock-bottom single-mode IoT as a Sigfox game.
It might be noted, as well, that at writing, Sigfox has just gone into receivership, so questions must be asked about its business model, and its strategy as the bottom feeder in the IoT trenches. But Sigfox’s position remains informative, and Fourtet’s comments are both helpful and well-considered. He says: “The IoT market also comprises smaller volumes of apps [delivering] higher added-value, where it can be clever to combine RATs into a single device.”
It should be viewed as a compliment – backhanded, but sincere – to his rivals, which are playing more confidently, it would appear, in both the single and multi-RAT segments. “And, yes, this is starting to be a trend. But we also believe there will be a trend [to combine RATs] for some massive-volume logistic applications thanks to clever silicon integration,” says Fourtet. The message is massive IoT, as it comes online, will increasingly reject complexity at hardware level.
And actually, the notion that hybrid IoT is trending, in terms of shipments and connections, is not borne out by the numbers. At the end of 2021, 51 percent of LPWA devices included another technology, reckons Transforma Insights; most of these, it says, incorporated Wi-Fi, and were attached to smart meters and various smart-home gadgetry. But the forecast reduces for 2022, with 46 percent of LPWA units shipping with a companion technology.
Matt Hatton, founding partner at Transforma Insights, comments: “The figure decreases as you get more and more basic single-mode sensors, which dilute the number of more sophisticated multi-mode devices.” This appears to back up the Sigfox line, that device volumes will jump with simpler solutions. But, as we said at the top of the piece, IoT is a broad church, also serving many masters – and certain of them want and need hybrid versions of IoT.
This article is continued in the new new editorial report from Enterprise IoT Insights, Hybrid Low-Power IoT – How The IoT Industry Is Balancing Function And Efficiency. The report is available here, or by clicking on the image above.