ETPO - Emerging Technology Policy Observatory

Things Connected by Digital Catapult – Highlighting the Power of LPWAN and the Questions on LPWAN

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Yesterday evening, I was at the Graduation Day of Things Connected by Digital Catapult. I was there because my company, Beecham Research, is a partner of the initiative. I was there because I truly believe that the idea behind Things Connected is valuable. It is valuable for two main reasons. The first one relates to the need of promoting LPWAN in the UK. Things Connected has contributed to raise awareness around LPWAN in the UK. The second one, and most important one, relates to the modus operandi of Things Connected: enabling creativity of London-based start-ups, and not only, using a free LPWAN network. There is an open and collaborative approach to innovation behind that, which should be at the base of the development of the Internet of Things.

That approach was evident at the Graduation Day: brilliant ideas becoming reality using LPWAN solutions, in this case LoRa specifically, with the support of Digital Catapult, mentors and partners. It was also interesting to see how those brilliant ideas came about and in which areas. A good portion of those companies were operating in smart city applications with a strong focus on the environment. And, it was clear that those ideas were born from the bottom, from the needs of citizens. The impression that LPWAN technologies enables citizen-driven solutions and desires was very strong.

Things Connected is evolving moving into other UK cities, defining new models of engagement with the UK business community, and, also involving large players in the initiative. However, I think that Digital Catapult should design an evaluation process – possibly based on a longitudinal study methodology – to understand the evolution of the graduated companies. That study can bring some valuable policy implications, but, also some indications on how effective LPWAN is in the long run from a business point of view. Business models and their longevity in the LPWAN community are key topics. After listening to many LPWAN stories during last year and half, I feel the preoccupation of companies involved in LPWAN about business models and monetisation issues. If lowering the connectivity costs is the objective, defining revenue-generated services become then crucial.

Business models are a tough topic for the LPWAN community, but it is clear that the ability of offering low cost connectivity, energy consumption features, and enabling useful applications is a fantastic combination, particularly for low-budget organisations such as public authorities and public organisations. It increasingly seems that LPWAN can be the intelligent answer to some of the most important urban and rural communities issues. Things Connected by Digital Catapult has highlighted that. It is important to pursue that route having strongly in mind the success of LPWAN-based SMEs. There is a new level of engagement between local authorities and LPWAN-based SMEs. We should analyse that – the longitudinal studies – and nourish that through LPWAN-rich smart community policies.

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