Steven Drewett, Concept13: On picking robust IoT solutions to address modern challenges

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Modern life is full of challenges that are testing us as businesses, as individuals, and even as humankind. The IoT is all about providing decision-makers with faster and more valuable data to address such challenges now and in the future.

Concept13 is an IoT strategy consultancy with vast experience crafting bespoke solutions for multiple industries. The company mixes its own knowledge with real-world testing and even RF mapping to ensure optimal deployments on a case-by-case basis.

AI News caught up with Steven Drewett, Director of Innovation at Concept13, to discuss how the company picks IoT solutions and how they can be used to address modern challenges.

AI News: Concept13 specialises in LoRaWAN – what are the advantages over NB-IoT?

Steven Drewett: LoRaWAN and NB-IoT are complementary products, each having their place in the growth of the Internet of Things.  While both are regulated, LoRaWAN operates in the unlicensed space and is not subject to the expensive leasing of RF spectrums that NB-IoT cellular companies face.

LoRaWAN has the advantage that any individual, business, or municipality can deploy and operate a LoRaWAN network in any location at a significantly lower cost. LoRaWAN delivers exceptional indoor penetration capabilities, outdoor coverage up to 25km, no dependency on cellular coverage or third parties, and support for thousands of battery-powered devices from a single low-cost access point.  

LoRaWAN is, in our view, the game-changer driving the Internet of Things and delivering the granular insights that artificial intelligence builds on. LoRaWAN puts you in direct control with the coverage you create, the security and privacy you require, and with low upfront investment and minimal operational costs.

AN: Concept13 handpicks the devices it sells and rigorously tests them in real-world scenarios. Can you give an example of such a recent test?

SD: LoRaWAN remains an emerging technology, reliant on developers to adhere to the latest designs and implement best practices to meet the latest LoRaWAN standards. Devices are expected to deliver absolute accuracy, guaranteed message reliability, and unattended battery operation for many years. If technology has its place and its purpose is to guide human endeavour or wellbeing, it must be accurate and reliable at all costs.

When Concept13 was invited to source 2,000 suitable CO2 sensors for school classrooms, dependability was essential. Of six sensors trialled, two failed on the accuracy, and a further two failed to adhere to the LoRaWAN standards, dropping off the network within days.

Concept13’s performance tests ensured the devices could deliver absolute accuracy, guaranteed message reliability and unattended battery operation for many years. The devices are now relied on by health authorities, schools, staff, pupils, and parents for confidence in air quality and fresh air during the pandemic.

AN: What is your process for determining what devices to suggest to customers for their specific deployments?

SD: Context is everything; capturing the intended readings and understanding how other surrounding environmental, occupancy or other sensor readings might enhance the decisions or outcomes.

Concept13 approaches device selection by working with clients to understand four key areas:

  1. What are the insights required to drive the decisions?
  2. Are there any complementary observations that might be beneficial?
  3. What are the accuracy, frequency, and battery life expectations?
  4. Does LoRaWAN lend itself to the use-case?

The process to determine suitable devices must be founded on fully understanding the purpose, environment, and opportunity for supporting data and insights.

Once we understand the context, Concept13 sources suitable devices, evaluating them in live use-cases to determine their fit, accuracy and reliability. Sensors are relied on to deliver accurate insights with unattended operations for many years. Identifying the best devices is the key to IoT success.

AN: How are you using RF mapping to support your operations?

SD: LoRaWAN, like any other RF technology, is wholly dependent on the success of a sensor to broadcast its messaging to a receiving access point. Distance, terrain, building design, objects, and weather potentially impact RF performance.

Understanding the physical setting where sensors and receiving access points (gateways) will exist allows remote office based RF mapping to predict coverage and identify the best installation points. RF mapping enables the design of a LoRaWAN network, maximising coverage, ensuring a degree of redundancy and lowering cost by the number of access points required. Without even visiting a site, Concept13 can determine RF coverage with 80-90 percent accuracy.

But it doesn’t stop there. LoRaWAN has inherent AI learning that adapts and instructs individual sensors on optimum speed, transmitting power, and redundancy repetition to ensure message delivery. Layering Concept13’s expertise of ADR over the RF mapping further aids deployment decisions.

AN: What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on as a company so far?

SD: Concept13 works through partners, who themselves cover every vertical or use-case from agri-tech through to intelligent buildings and smart cities. Every use case is interesting as we see how LoRaWAN better informs and drives enhanced processes and decisions in every aspect of our home, work, and business lives.

Concept13 has been involved in pet trackers, flood monitoring, cattle wellbeing, mobile event security, social housing, desk occupancy, grey water utility, falcon tracking, and even landslides in Nepal.  We continue to be amazed at the diversity of the application and use of LoRaWAN beyond the mainstream expectations of the Internet of Things or typical use-case scenarios.  

For Concept13, the most exciting projects showcase the technical capability of LoRaWAN beyond theory or academic study. Deployments including Aberdeen of thousands of street lights offering real-time control, diagnosis, and power usage—all from a handful of access points with absolute message reliability.

AN: How can the IoT help to ensure business continuity in rapidly-changing situations like the pandemic?

SD: Nothing has rocked business continuity more than Covid-19, changing how we work, think, and perform. IoT Is not just addressing elements of the pandemic, new IoT insights are causing businesses to completely rethink their approach to how they work, office space utilisation, the environmental impact of travel, and much more.

The Internet of Things through LoRaWAN is now helping businesses manage hot desk occupancy and safe working practices. It is supporting businesses through healthier working environments and better cleaning practices. It allows companies to manage resources, assets, and environments with greater granular control in lowering operational costs.

The IoT is changing the landscape in which a company operates by providing these granular levels of insights. This allows businesses to understand the environment (or asset) with greater accuracy, allowing companies more precise event-driven reactions to changes, improvements, and asset utilisation.  

AN: The next big challenge facing the world is climate change. With COP26 ongoing in Glasgow, what role can the IoT play in helping businesses to meet their net-zero targets?

SD: The first step in meeting any targets is better understanding the starting point. The greater the level of detail available, the greater the precision applied in how business might utilise or control an environment or asset.

IoT plays an essential role by directly impacting net-zero targets through these new insights. Smart buildings are directing staff to more efficient hot-desking, allowing entire floors to be powered and heated only as needed. Smart hotels are now able to assess individual room occupancy and efficiency, lowering energy consumption. Smart cities are now using intelligent streetlights to significantly lower overall power consumption. Granular IoT insights are helping shape decisions driving change.

Though only through collaborative thinking and cohesive design will IoT help support net-zero targets. Concept13 has seen first-hand one IoT system designed to automate fresh air compete with the BMS fighting to maintain heat. IoT is playing an increasing part in meeting net-zero targets, which will only grow.

AN: Concept13 is sponsoring and exhibiting at this year’s IoT Tech Expo Europe. What can attendees expect from your presence at the event?

SD: Concept13 operates to support and guide clients to get the best out of the Internet of Things and the benefits LoRaWAN offers. As Europe’s leading independent experts in LoRaWAN, we are exhibiting at the IoT Tech Expo to educate and help businesses understand and utilise LoRaWAN technology in any channel and all use-cases.

There will be live tech demonstrations and the latest selection of LoRaWAN devices, including sensors and gateways handpicked from around the world. Experts from the industry’s most respected range of environmental and wellbeing sensors will also be attending to answer any questions on air quality and the IoT’s role in net-zero targets.

The Internet of Things is changing how businesses operate, and Concept13 is part of that education. Our work supports every type of business in every possible and conceivable use case. We look forward to sharing our expertise on LoRaWAN and the Internet of Things at this year’s IoT Tech Expo.

(Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash)

Concept13 will be sharing invaluable insights during this year’s IoT Tech Expo Europe, which runs from 23-24 November 2021. Be sure to swing by Concept13’s booth at stand 523. Find out more about the event here.

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