Universities and innovation agencies at the core of local innovation systems via LPWAN

I have been visiting some universities around Europe that have launched LPWAN-centric initiatives. The common objective is to use LPWAN as an enabler of ideas for local SMEs and local governments. The results are really promising. The enthusiasm is contagious. Basically, LPWAN revamps the mission of universities to be an enabler for social and economic development for the areas in which they are located.

The Triple Helix Model (https://triplehelix.stanford.edu/3helix_concept) for innovation has highlighted the driving role of universities for promoting innovation, and therefore from a Schumpeterian point of view, for promoting economic growth. The Entrepreneurial University is a key concept in the Triple Helix Model conceptualising the university as a producer of knowledge, but also a user of knowledge for innovation purposes. That model is then linked to geographic-centric view of innovation such as regional innovation systems or local innovation system. LPWAN enables universities to be the Entrepreneurial Universities of local innovation systems, and, even further to social innovation systems when LPWAN is used to respond to citizens’ needs. LPWAN seen as enabler of social innovation is also highlighted in the recent call from Digital Catapult on social housing and independent living (https://www.digitalcatapultcentre.org.uk/open-calls/lpwan-solutionsphase2/). Digital Catapult is not an university, but an innovation agency, which could have the same strong role in local innovation systems empowering innovation at SME and local government levels. LPWAN is an ideal technology for that. But, policy makers should support more this view of technology, a view coming from the needs of citizens and SMEs rather than from the top of the business system. The two directions are equally important, but, historically, SME technology policy has chased technological trends rather than being part of it. Instead, LPWAN could take SMEs, citizens, and local authorities to the core of the current developments of the Internet of Things. Universities and innovation agencies can drive that.


“The IoT is sending us back to the Medieval Age” by Prof. Joshua A.T.Fairfield

There is a lot of truth in the article “The Internet of Things is sending us back to the Medieval Age” by Prof. Joshua A.T. Fairfield, published on The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/the-internet-of-things-is-sending-us-back-to-the-middle-ages-81435). It is a useful reading for thinking about the implications of weak, security-less, and too much technology-centric IoT solution developments and deployments.

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

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.

The Fixation of Being a Leader in the IoT

Recently, I have been involved in a large project aiming at how a very rich and diverse market space could be described more clearly for the benefit of the users of the products and services developed in that space. The project implied an assessment of the technology and solution providers. The objective of the assessment was not to compare providers, but, to create an informative snapshot on what was offered and what was not offered. Those snapshots should have then helped users of those products and services to understand them better and drive them to an in depth evaluation. The collection of snapshots meant to be a public resource. That was to emphasise the knowledge creation objective of the research. Does it sound good? Does it sound useful? I believe the real objective of an analyst is to make sense of market spaces that can appear confusing. The analyst does not give you the final answer. He or she should help you reaching that answer enabling knowledge creation and context analysis. I do not believe in the analyst’s mission of identifying who is the best. I do not like the concept of “being best”, the idea of being a leader, the unique brain on this planet and surrounded galaxies! But, my belief does not count because the main objections to the work derived from the consideration that I was not telling companies that they were the best. The “fixation for being a leader” above all killed the will of fair discussion and moved the beauty of a respectful debate towards the domain of threats. At this stage, there are two options. The first option is giving up my life as an IoT analyst because I do not really understand business managers and chief officers of various forms. Therefore, Saverio, please, go and write poetry. You will be better at that, definitely! However, there is the other option, which is debating “the fixation of being a leader” in the IoT vision. Is that really the approach to go about in the IoT space in order to gather market shares? If the IoT is context-centric, multidisciplinary in nature, cross-application and cross-vertical, could there be a unique leader? Is there a sharing ecosystem creation process in which  companies with different skills cooperate? If the partnership paradigm drives the development of the IoT, how could that paradigm coexisting with an unmovable  leadership paradigm? My answers to those questions is to move from the “fixation of the being leader” frame of mind towards the “consideration that we are doing something very well and some other things less.” Ambition is a key driver , but business realism should always comes first! But, maybe, I am profoundly terrible at understanding business dynamics. Tomorrow, I will resign for doing something else. My destiny is poetry! In 10 years time, I will ask my analyst colleagues and friends to tell me if there was a leader in the IoT. I am sure they will struggle with the answer.

Ready for RED (Radio Equipment Directive)?

The EU RED (Radio Equipment Directive) comes into life next June. The RED comes in for substituting the R+TTE, which is the previous EU directive on radio equipment in place since 2000. In some sense, it is not really a substitution, but an evolution of the R+TTE in light of technological innovation. In fact, elements of the R+TTE have been included in the RED. The RED was voted in 2014 by the European Parliament and officially in place in 2016. A transition period was conceded from June 2016 to June 2017. There is some anxiety among vendors about the coming deadline. Some organisations such as ETSI are discussing with the European Commission for postponing the deadline. Probably, there will be no concession, but, vendors should be vigilant in understanding the progress of that attempt.  REDCA, an industry-related association focussed on RED (http://www.redca.eu/index.htm), is the most appropriate place to understand more about RED.

At MWC 2017, the Importance of Being Real

We had MWCs full of dreams in which the attendees were flying from one hall to the other on a sort of magic carpet of unbelievable things to see and use in a matter of days. The shows did not really say how those marvellous things would happen and work. The importance was the hype. Thankfully, in the last two editions, the community has realised that Utopia is a good place to dream of, but if you want to live in Utopia you need to have the right infrastructures, the right integration of systems, the right policy and regulatory conditions, and skilled people for building securely that Utopia. This MWC is about all this.

There have been strong moments of nostalgia, probably, to use history for building the future. The enormous attention on LPWAN and 5G brings back the momentum on connectivity and related services as an essential infrastructure block for Utopia however you imagine that world; the world of low data applications and the world of connected cars and VR/AR. The return of Nokia and Blackberry resuming their history through “vintage”, some critics have said, devices is another moment of reflection. Nostalgia, if not taken to the extreme, invites you to think about the past, appreciate the present, understand the limits of the present, and build the future, hopefully, in a better way. And in the case of the MWC community, that is a good approach to reflect about unsolved issues: IoT platforms, business models for IoT solutions, system integrations, understanding the specific features of verticals, building the new skill sets for the IoT, making clear that regulatory conditions will be increasingly relevant because the IoT will influence directly people through the transformation of contexts and spaces. I have had conversations on all this and I see organisations prepared to discuss their approach along those issues. And I saw these also in the Hall of Dreamers (Hall 8.0), the best Hall of all. Dreamers (AR/VR, AI, Graphene among others) are dreaming, but they are real because they know they have to be for making their dreams our dreams.

I liked this MWC. I liked the practical view of the business and technological context we are living in. I liked not having magic carpets, but, having extraordinary ideas thought with care and with a critical mind.

Mobile World Congress in Verse

Next week, from Monday, I will be in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, the largest event for the mobile communications industry, but, increasingly for the Internet of Things and advanced technology communities. I am expecting the usual endless walks from one hall to the other. But, this time, I will look at the MWC also from a policy point of view. On this site, I will share my impressions and ideas in a sort of diary. For the moment, I put in rhymes what I believe I will see.

An Ode to MWC

What will there be at MWC?

ask Artificial Intelligence to see.

We will discuss and debate connectivity,

and the pros and cons of 5G.

There will be long range and short,

both regulated and free.

And data, both big and small,

good for video and monitoring your hall.

Multiple platforms will come to the fray,

with all the stack, just some layers or plug and play.

And all for the God of IoT,

more than just a connected cup of tea.

But be aware, oh engineer,

not all is understood by your peers.

Not all is safe and sound,

and security guidelines should be bound.

So roll up, roll up for MWC,

and more surprises that we cannot foresee.