Actility: making it easier to deploy an IoT network

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the relationship of business to technology.

IoT, which includes a broad spectrum of technologies, essentially refers to the connection of physical devices to the Internet to control or derive information. IoT has been transforming nearly all industries, from connected cities to intelligent manufacturing and smart agriculture. Through enhancements to connectivity, IoT offers businesses many benefits for efficiency, profitability, and sustainability. That is why many players in the technology industry view IoT as the key component in creating and sustaining industrial growth.’

Among the major IoT players, Actility has been at the forefront of pioneering innovation and transformation for technology and networks. Chief among Actility’s mission is to improve connectivity –in affordable and efficient ways- for billions of objects. Yet, Actility does more than just connect sensors with wireless networks; they connect applications with data they need, and they connect people and companies with business opportunities.

Just after the 2017 GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Far From.TV spoke with Mike Mulica, president and CEO of Actility, and Tom Wheeler, the 31st Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Actility Board member, to discuss Actility’s innovation growth and the future of IoT. Mr. Wheeler joined the Actility Board directly after leaving the FCC, seeing it as a game changing force, mastering “a spectrum agnostic platform that enables the promise of IoT.”

Thomas Wheeler was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November 2013. Prior to working at the FCC, Wheeler worked as a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, whom the FCC is now responsible for regulating, and holding positions including President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Following custom for an FCC chairman, Wheeler resigned his seat when the new administration of Donald Trump began on January 20, 2017.

“I’ve been in mobile and internet industries for most of my career. There’s no one that I respect more in terms of understanding these market dynamics. As our business started to scale, I knew Tom Wheeler was going to be the person that would help navigate Actility.” – Mike Meluca, President & CEO of Actility

Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Mulica described the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) as well as the use of IOT technologies in manufacturing as a driving force behind connectivity demands in industries, from small to large scale. Sparked by the dramatically reduced cost of sensors and devices, combined with new connectivity solutions and cloud based data analytics, they believe that IoT will enable processes to be monitored, measured, controlled and optimized as never before.

Courtesy of Actility

We believe that technology can change our world for the better. Our goal is to make our economy more sustainable, conserve scarce resources, especially energy, and make a wide range of industrial processes more efficient. The world is more connected than ever and Actility is a pioneer of the IOT. We make it easy and affordable to connect billions of objects. Customers all around the world, in Europe, China, Australia, Japan and the US are using ThingPark, our carrier-grade solution, to manage their IoT networks. Our partners and investors include communication leaders like Orange, KPN, Swisscom, and Inmarsat, and technology giants like Cisco, Foxconn and Softbank.

Are there benefits to IoT?

IOT means different things to different parties, from individual consumers to manufacturers to public enterprise. For utilities, IoT is about making a smarter grid by connecting electric or water meters to a central hub. For exercise enthusiasts, IoT relates to wearable devices that measure steps, heart rate and sleep cycles. Technology changes the world at a fast pace and the common interest in adopting IoT is to connect to scale of benefits, which are massive, as evidenced by the internet, digital services or cloud computing. IoT technologies accelerate this process even more by hyper-connecting people, organizations and data with billions of objects. That is the state of IoT today.

However, security and privacy are critical issues facing the development of the internet of things. A vulnerability in Wi-Fi encryption has sent the entire tech industry scrambling; the so-called Krack attack affects nearly every wireless device to some extent, leaving them subject to hijacked internet connections. In terms of scope, it doesn’t get much worse—especially for the Internet of Things.

A fragmented environment of proprietary IoT technical implementations will inhibit value for users and industry. Actility solves some of these challenges as well as interoprability, standards, privacy and more with their platform that unifies devices across one easy to use interface. This enables device makers, application providers and customers to connect, test and evaluate their IoT solutions with its localized ThingPark LoRaWAN SaaS platform.

Projections for the impact of IoT on the Internet and economy are impressive, with some anticipating as many as 100 billion connected IoT devices and a global economic impact of more than $11 trillion by 2025.

The future applications for IoT technologies are many, ranging from large scale socially transformative functions to the seemingly more mundane increases in day to day efficiency. On the large scale, Mulica sees a future where IoT can provide real world aid and help disadvantaged groups around the world who may benefit most.

One technology currently in the works from Actility would use IoT to transform utility use and payment in developing African states. The technology currently being produced would work by attaching a sensor to the roofs of homes. This sensor would then connect seamlessly to a mobile payment system allowing homeowners the ability to pay their water and gas with accuracy and ease. Mulica’s vision would combine the developmental advantages of IoT with an already robust FinTech foundation present in a growing number of African countries. (Mobile payment systems like Safaricom’s M-Pesa have already uprooted traditional brick and mortar banking in Kenya and Tanzania.)

While a number of new IoT applications present communities and markets with clear life altering improvements, others provide simple solutions to some of life’s challenges. Proving just how far internet technologies can reach into everyday life, Tom Wheeler believes he can combat household vermin through IoT rat traps. With built in technology to alert nearby exterminators of a successful catch, these smart rat traps could drastically reduce the time between entrapment and disposal. Though the effect of efficient rat extermination may at first appear niche, it more generally combats the question of waste on multiple fronts. Smart rat traps can not only improve sanitation productivity but also simultaneously reduce gas emissions from wandering exterminator trucks and cut down on city traffic from double parking. This is just one example of how a simple IoT device can reduce costs in multiple ecosystems.

It is these types of incremental improvements at the consumer level that on the surface may seem inconsequential but when widely utilized can transform daily life. Mulica and Wheeler said there are millions of “hey I’m ready” types of devices available or development; from smart trash cans that alert sanitation workers when they need to be emptied to internet connected street and traffic lights that send an alert signaling required maintenance. While seemingly insignificant on a case-by-case basis, when these solutions are expanded on a massive scale they can indeed lead to consequential changes in daily life and productivity. And this is the scale by which Actility has based their value proposition.

Mike Mulica continued that, “Actility connects more than just sensors with wireless networks. Actility connects applications with the data needed. Actility connects people and companies with business opportunities.” Actility developed ThingPark Connected program, a carrier-grade solution that manages a company’s IoT network, companies that make IoT sensors and devices can make sure that their products can connect reliably to any network. Actility has built a global marketplace to make it easy for companies to work together, to do business in this connected world.”

Protecting Open Access – Net Neutrality

Actility, and other like-minded businesses pushing forward at a rapid pace, are not immune from functional changes in public policy. During his time at the FCC, Wheeler oversaw the implementation of the the nation’s most comprehensive net neutrality policy to date. In 2015 the FCC adopted a 400 page document entitled, “Protecting and Promoting the Internet.” The guidelines, which were implemented following a 3-2 in favor, would serve as the agency’s set of rules for the next two years.

While net neutrality laws are typically referenced to during streaming video content conversations (link) the concept also can apply to physical devices. For emerging IoT developers, this means that their devices, just like streaming content, have to be treated equally by providers. Under the 2015 ruling, internet service providers were barred from prioritizing some services over others. Instead, internet providers were to act as a “neutral” gateway for services.

Wheeler’s departure from the FCC in January 2017 would mark the beginning of a pivot for the agency under a new administration. In May, the FCC voted by a margin of 2-1 to begin proposing new rules to rollback the 2015 order. The new proposals are widely seen as a response to what critics argue was over regulation of internet providers under the Obama Administration. Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the FCC, voted in favor of these changes. Pai was also one of the two dissenters in the 2015 ruling under Wheeler’s leadership.

When looking back at his legacy, Wheeler said there are four major initiatives that defined his tenure. From his appointment in the FCC in November 2013 until his departure this year, Wheeler expanded licensed and unlicensed broadband access, ensured that broadband was open and privates, and built up the cyber security measures. Despite these gains, Wheeler says they may ultimately be short lived.

“The reality is that the Trump Administration FCC is in the process of closing the network owners and scaling back any involvement in cyber security at the request of network owners,” Wheeler said.

For the gestating IOT industry, this reversal in open access to the internet could present a major roadblock. Without government oversight, some fear that IoT developers may find themselves at the mercy of internet providers implementing paid prioritization for superior access and treatment. Wheeler said that for proper IoT development privacy and network security are necessities.” The IOT is not going to be able to realize its potential if networks aren’t open.” Wheeler said. Additionally, if the FCC continues on in its current direction, companies like Actility may be driven to expand internationally. Mike Mulica has worked in global markets for much of his career, and says the United States is, “lagging in terms of case and energy around this topic.”

For these reasons European and Asian markets are becoming much more attractive for IoT developers. Standing out in these regions is China. According to Mulica, many of the world’s largest enterprises are working in China in some fashion. Actility’s partners and investors include communication leaders like Orange, KPN, Swisscom, and Inmarsat, and technology giants like Cisco, Foxconn and Softbank.

Tom Wheeler ended the interview by saying “The platform Actility provides will help prove solutions that the ecosystem deems important. You can see the digital revolution everywhere but in the productivity numbers; Is what the Nobel Economist Robert Solow said. The digital revolution has been mostly consumer focused, IoT is the opening act of the next phase of the internet; which will be N+1 intelligent devices delivering intelligence orchestrated for the creation of new products and services. It is the delivery of intelligence that allows the creation of new products in the enterprise space.”

Why is government taking this opportunity seriously? A recent report from Navigant research suggests that Smart city revenue from services is expected to grow from $36.8 billion in 2016 to $88.7 billion by 2025! What is a Smart City and what kind of services are we talking about? You can define Smart City as a safe, eco-friendly and innovative city with an infrastructure that uses sensor data, that then gets used to create actions for the best use of resources (water, power, roads, parking spaces, lighting). For example, Cisco’s smart parking solution alleviates traffic congestion by showing drivers location of open spots, thus, decreasing the amount of time wasted circling blocks. The ultimate goals of smart cities are power management, pollution and waste management, public safety and offering improved services to residents.

While there’s often a lot of hype around new technologies, it’s clear that companies are already taking IoT seriously and finding ways to use connected devices and software to offer better products and services. And if this year is any indicator, it appears that now is one of the best times for investors to consider getting on board with this technological shift.

Tony Sklar, Sr. Technology Reporter

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