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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Forming new skills is an important task for facing the changes emerging technologies are bringing in society and businesses. It is also critical to promote equality in the work place through skill formation. Equality in the work place is not just an ethical issue, but, it also enriches the overall capability of the organisations. This is the mission of Women of Wearables (WoW). Michelle Hua and Marija Butkovic, the founders of WoW, using their entrepreneurial experience in the high-tech sector, are encouraging the presence of women in the Internet of Things, wearable technologies and AR/VR space. We have met them to hear their story and their ideas.
Saverio Romeo (SR): So, tell us what WoW is about?
Marija Butkovic and Michelle Hua (MB and MH): Women of Wearables (WoW) is UK’s and Europe’s first organisation aiming to inspire, support and connect women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR industries. Its mission is to encourage more women and diverse teams to participate in building hardware and software products as designers, product managers and developers or being founders of their own companies, as well as create more jobs for women in STEM.
WoW has a growing community of female founders, product and UX designers, developers, smart textile designers, executives and managers, all working in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR industries, not only in UK and Europe, but also worldwide.
We are WoW founders, both ex lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs, passionate about women in tech, the world of wearables, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR. After being in the wearable tech industry for the last 3 years founding our own start ups (Note: Michelle founded Made With Glove and Marija co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella), we found a lack of women and diverse teams in this industry which is the very reason we co-founded Women of Wearables.
SR: Which types of activities is WoW running?
MB and MH: WoW supports its growing community of women and girls in tech space through monthly events, breakfasts and mentorship in Manchester and London.
WoW also delivers workshops to girls between the ages of 10-18 to make their own wearable and e-textiles projects. This encourages more girls to enter the wearables industry by equipping them with the skills they need to reduce the gender gap in the wearables industry. It also shows them how intangible skills such as coding can be converted to making a tangible product that is wearable and uses e-textiles. Through this, WoW helps the gender and diversity gap that is apparent in these industries and encourages and inspires young girls to choose STEM subjects for a career.
SR: In your opinion, what should be done in order to increase the presence of women in the high-tech sectors?
MB and MH: Only by collaboration and education we can empower more women to participate in tech. Our aim is to create opportunities for women in this industry to connect with each other and help ensure not only their businesses and ideas to succeed, but for the wearables industry to succeed. This means that everyone in this industry has to be involved – schools and universities, research companies, investors, startup incubators and accelerators, industry experts, etc.
But first of all, ways of thinking need to change. Throughout the hiring process companies need to be careful not to discriminate anyone, including men, but there are female tech groups that ought to be approached as part of the hiring strategy. Technology corporations and conference organisers have a duty to ensure there is a diverse range of speakers (including men, women and people from different backgrounds) to allow equality and opportunities for everyone.
Although we are women-in-tech organisation, we welcome everyone into our community as participants and speakers, because this problem cannot be solved without everyone participating. We also need more female role models. You cannot be what you cannot see. So, we are hopeful that we will not need as many women-in-tech groups in the future because gender equality will have been reached. Same goes for diversity in general.
SR: What are you planning for the future?
MB and MH: In 2017, Women of Wearables will deliver workshops in London and Manchester to girls between the ages of 11-18 to make their own wearable and e-textiles projects. This encourages more girls to enter STEM by equipping them with the skills they need to reduce the gender gap in the wearables industry. It also shows them how intangible skills such as coding can be converted to making a tangible product.
Our plan is also to become the world largest talent and knowledge pool for wearable technology. It is a very ambitious plan, but we have already achieved so much in terms of size of our community and partners involved, that I do not have any doubts we will achieve that too.
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