The Internet of Things: opportunities for Irish businesses

internet of things smart connectivity new frontiers

We’re all familiar with the internet of computers – we can access the world wide web through our computers, tablets and mobile phones. These devices are connected to the internet through fixed line, Wi-Fi or mobile broadband. They allow us to interface with all the features, facilities and information the web has to offer. However, this fantastic resource also has limitations – much of the world all around us is not yet connected to the internet, so it is out of reach.

That’s where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes in. The aim of the Internet of Things is to facilitate access to this ‘out of reach’ world, and this connection is very different to what we are familiar with to date. The intention is to place small micro devices into just about anything, anywhere, and have these devices send messages back to the internet.

Solving everyday problems

Let’s take a practical example. Fixco is a company that hires trailers to their customers. Sometimes, these trailers are not returned as expected, or have been stolen. Fixco remedies this problem by placing small IoT micro devices in their trailers which send location data to the internet. So now Fixco can quickly locate and retrieve their property if it goes missing. For the system to be practical, the tracking device in the trailer needs to be secured and – unlike our mobile phones – it does not need to be recharged frequently.

Let’s take another example. The Joyce family have been successfully farming for several generations. Their current herd now exceeds 100 and each animal is a valuable asset. The health of the herd is very important, but with so many animals it can be difficult to monitor them all. With the arrival of the Internet of Things, they can now decide to affix smart tags to the ears of each animal. If the temperature of the animal is abnormal, these tags will send an alert to the Joyce family’s mobile phone, identifying the animal at risk.

Over 26 billion connected devices by 2020

These micro devices can be placed almost anywhere, reporting important information through the internet. They can be applied inside or outside the human body, in buildings where people live, spaces where consumers engage in commerce, workplaces, factories, urban and rural environments, in seas, rivers and lakes, roads, railways, phone and electricity lines. There are endless ways to use these devices. The analyst firm, Gartner, says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices. They will have a big role to play in smart cities and the smart environment. The Internet of Things will undoubtedly impact how we live, work and play.

None of this can happen without specialist infrastructure to facilitate communication from these devices to the internet. The mobile phone network services our phone calls and data, and now a new network will service the Internet of Things. In GMIT, the New Frontiers programme has supported an IoT startup called VT Networks. They have successfully attracted investment and have rolled out a new nationwide IoT network. The arrival of this network opens up new opportunities for our region. With the help of this technology, existing businesses can work more efficiently, generate more revenue, and hire more employees. There will also be opportunities to establish new businesses to exploit this technology, and the New Frontiers programme is available to help these IoT startups succeed.

Case study: VT Networks

Barry Egan (Enterprise Ireland West Director), Mark Bannon & Will Ferguson (founders of VT Networks)

L-R: Barry Egan (Enterprise Ireland West Director), Mark Bannon & Will Ferguson (founders of VT Networks) at the Enterprise Ireland HPSU Investor Day

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a global phenomenon. Most research concludes that IoT will be a $19 trillion market by 2020, with billions of devices and objects connected. That’s a brand new, $19 trillion market!

Businesses around the world are assessing the opportunities and new business models that are possible when everyday devices are connected to the internet. Most large businesses are investing or plan to invest in IoT technology over the next 12 months. Startups around the world are raising huge amounts of cash to stake their claim within this space.

It seems there is a new must-have solution or innovation released every day. Every tech journal around is in on the new buzz industry. Traditional mobile operators are trying to figure out where to position themselves. IoT even has its own suite of identities: the internet of everything, the economy of things, machine to machine and LPWANs (Low-Power Wide-Area Network). Report after report provides industry by industry analysis of the benefits of IoT: how the IoT will redefine agricultural processes, how it will enable new manufacturing efficiencies and, of course, the future for smart fridges…

All this noise can get confusing for businesses. Buzzwords and acronyms do not provide clarity on how IoT can impact your business. Every CEO and CIO knows that IoT is something they should be using and benefiting from, but where do you start?

Five years ago, I was working as an accountant in a ‘Big Four’ firm in Dublin. I enjoyed finding new solutions and innovations that clients could integrate into their business to improve operations. These ranged from retail to big pharma, and everything in between. IoT was just in its infancy at this stage, there were whispers but it wasn’t clear what it was. I questioned the validity of having a ‘smart fridge’ the first time I heard about IoT. Then I dug a little deeper and found out that IoT simply means new types of internet connectivity for objects and things that are tailored to certain applications.

For example, your Inkjet printer is already connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, so it can re-order ink direct from the printer by sending a message to the reseller. This is an example of a thing. So printers have been connected for years, nothing new here.

The real innovation is from Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs). These are brand new networks that allow devices to connect to the internet at a fraction of the power requirements and cost of traditional networks such as Wi-Fi or your mobile phone network.

These networks allow devices to operate on a single battery for years. Sitting in my Dublin accountancy office, I immediately thought of a use case: a wearable GPS tracking device for those suffering with dementia. Traditional SIM card networks mean that a wearable such as this would need to be charged every day. The same way the Apple Watch does. These new IoT networks could mean the battery would last for years, thereby reducing the interference with the patient’s and/or carer’s lives. A wearable GPS tracker that lasts years on one charge would provide comfort and reassurance to the families of those suffering with dementia that if the patient wanders from the home they will be tracked and carers alerted.

After doing some more research, coupled with the fact I always wanted to start my own business, I left my secure job as an accountant. A $19 trillion dollar market was calling me. I applied for and secured a place on the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme at GMIT in Galway. The programme helped me to develop as an entrepreneur, it allowed me to clearly define my business and the structure I needed to put in place for what was ahead, which would prove to be much greater than I had envisaged.

I quickly developed relationships with most of the players in the IoT ecosystem across Ireland. I figured out who made the chips and modules, who made the platforms, who manufactured the end products, who provided connectivity and who provided the full end-to-end service.

The most important partnership I formed was with Sigfox. Sigfox are a global IoT network dedicated to the Internet of Things. It is a French company that has raised over €200 million from Samsung, SK Telecom, Telefonica, Eutelsat, EDF, and others. I developed the relationship when they were still relatively small, with only France and Spain covered with their network and without the large funding round behind them. They now cover 12 countries and plan to cover 60 over the next three years.

Thanks to being in the right place at the right time, and with a huge amount of luck, I was able to secure funding of €1.2 million from a number of private investors such as Patrick Joy and Dara O’Mahony to purchase the Sigfox license for Ireland, partner with a national communication network operator and become a network operator in the most innovative and rapid growth area of tech. No small part of this success was down to Will Fergsuon joining the company as COO and co-founder in May 2015.

VT Networks is now the Sigfox network operator in Ireland. We rolled out the Sigfox network nationwide, eight months ahead of target. Our network partner, 2RN (RTE’s network subsidiary), are putting our equipment on their masts and towers around the country, so that we can provide businesses with low-power, low-cost connectivity. As an added benefit, our network provides coverage 100km – 150km out to sea. We are looking forward to see what innovations Irish companies can develop in this area.

We are very focused on supporting Irish businesses to develop products and solutions in this space. It makes sense, as Sigfox has a global network that all solutions can work on, making it easy for companies to access those markets seamlessly.

Mark Bannon, co-founder of VT Networks

About the author

GMIT School of Business New FrontiersPhotograph by Aengus McMahonTony O’Kelly

Tony is the New Frontiers Programme Manager in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). His main expertise lies in finance, manufacturing, sales and procurement across a wide range of business sectors. He has experience in automating business processes and managing projects from conception to delivery; skills he brings to the structure and delivery of New Frontiers in GMIT…  [Read Tony’s profile]

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