#IoT4energy looks like a happy hunting ground for Wattwatchers
On my watch: Murray Hogarth
Fast bi-directional communications utilising multiple Internet of Things (IoT) wireless technologies is critical for a new, post-smart meter energy solutions era in which an expanding range of energy-related 'things' will link to one another.
At least, that sounds right. As long as this IoT thing lives up to the runaway hype that currently surrounds the idea that even the tiniest of machines and sensors, in their millions and billions and one day trillions, will be functionally connected via the internet.
Wattwatchers, for its part, is betting that #IoT4energy is going to be a dynamic growth area and we're already shaping up as an international leader in integrating LoRa low-power wide-area communications into our electric metering and control solutions. (Google 'LoRa energy meter' and you'll find Wattwatchers on the first page.)
LoRa isn't the only game in town for IoT, of course. Wattwatchers already is using WiFi and 3G for our fast bi-directional communicating energy 'multi-meters' and control devices - which are better described as internet appliances for energy - and our architecture looking ahead will be able to accommodate other choices such as LTE category M (in the next 1-2 years), 6LoWPAN, NB-IoT, and Sigfox.
Each has some different properties. No-one is sure yet whether one will rule the IoT future, or a couple of them, or combinations, or even whether all will find a place based on different applications. LoRa, as an example, offers great opportunities based on its reach and low power use - which is especially important for battery-powered sensors - but is limited in the amount of data it can transmit. This means that bundling LoRa together with WiFi, in a fully-powered device like a Wattwatchers Auditor, may deliver functionality that is truly better together.
IoT right now, however, is reminiscent of where the internet itself was over two decades ago. In the mid-1990s when I was an ABC journalist I reported a story for Four Corners that set out to argue that the new-fangled thing the internet was going to be more important than the big new entertainment-cum-communications sensation of the day in Australia, pay TV - the investment plaything of the big media and telco companies.
It was a hard sell back then, when you accessed the fledgling internet via scratchy dial-up modems and there was little to see once you arrived. Subsequently the dot.com boom era came and imploded and came again, but it would be another decade or so before the arrival of social media and networks, coupled with smart phones, caused the internet to proliferate its role in our daily lives.
I've been talking to a lot of IoT people in recent times. Via this experience, I've observed that even some of the most passionate and engaged adherents of IoT and the opportunities it presents for both communities and enterprises will privately admit that they aren't 100% sure if this really is 'the biggest thing since the internet', or just another fad heading for a techno fizzer of epic proportions.
Actually I don't think it will fizz. But my new IoT-savvy friend and smart cities guru Catherine Caruana-McManus, of Meshed, this month told a special forum in Sydney that: 'OMG, this is like the early days of the Internet.'
McManus and Meshed have played a key role in establishing the first LoRa gateways for the Sydney Community IoT Network, designed for public access for many 'things'. The first LoRa gateway for this new network was installed at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in July 2016, with a UTS professor Frank Zeichner later describing IoT as being surrounded by a 'sense of wonder and excitement that something is going to happen'.
How big can IoT get?
When the second gateway for the Sydney Community IoT Network was being launched in the first week of September 2016 at Barangaroo's International Towers, with the support of KPMG and developers Lend Lease, the guest-of-honour was 'The Things Network' co-founder Wienke Giezeman, from Amsterdam.
As an indication of how quickly things can move, about a year ago Giezeman and colleagues covered the whole of Amsterdam with a public access, community crowd-funded LoRa network in under six weeks. Now their not-for-profit 'The Things Network' already is in 200 cities and 50 countries across all inhabited continents.
KPMG's National IoT Leader for Australia, Piers Hogarth-Scott (no relation), put the value of IoT at $11 trillion globally by 2025, and $120 billion in Australia over the next 5-10 years.
Giezeman highlighted how some of the early IoT applications, such as a now commercially failed WiFi communicating egg holder, have been trivial in their nature - to him IoT '101' felt very gadgety. He also stressed that 'things' communicating won't have the powerhouse of 'social' propelling it, as the internet has enjoyed for the past decade or more, so its outputs will need to stack up in ways that are socially, environmentally and economically compelling.
Wattwatchers is betting on #IoT4 energy being just such a profoundly important application, unlike the ill-conceived egg-holder. Our key LoRa Partner is NNNCo.