IoT News Roundup

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Comcast, AT&T each announce IoT pilots; Xenio Systems stands alone; CEL adds voice, low-latency features to smart-building platform; HID, Intel each launch smart-building products; Verizon takes IoT to the skies.

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AT&T, Comcast Each Announce IoT Pilot Projects

On Wednesday, Comcast announced machineQ, which it calls a "new business trial venture" to provide an Internet of Things network for business-to-business applications. The machineQ network will be built using low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) radios, provided by Semtech, that comply with the LoRa communication protocol. Comcast says it will deploy machineQ networks in Philadelphia and San Francisco by the end of this year, and that the technology will support many use cases, including utility metering, environmental monitoring (for example, temperature, pollution and noise) and asset tracking. Companies interested in running proof-of-concept tests on the networks are encouraged to contact Comcast. If the network proves to be a commercial success, Comcast says it plans to expand the service across all regions it serves within the next 18 to 30 months.

Also on Wednesday, AT&T reported that it is building a network using LTE-M cellular technology in San Francisco, on which it will launch a pilot program next month. A variant of long-term evolution (LTE) technology, LTE-M is optimized for low data transmissions and long battery life, to support machine-to-machine communications. It supports data rates of up to 1 megabyte per second using 1.4 MHz of spectrum. AT&T said in a press release that a number of technology partners that have created LTE-M (also called Cat-M1) modules will be involved in the test, including Sierra Wireless and u-blox.

According to AT&T, five companies will participate in the pilot: Badger Meter and Capstone Metering will test the network to support communications with water meters; CalAmp will evaluate the network for connected vehicle applications; PepsiCo will test vending machine applications on the network; and Samsung will test the use of connected consumer devices, including wearables.

AT&T also announced this week that it is collaborating with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to preconfigure AT&T devices to send data for storage to the AWS cloud, via AWS's IoT applications. The objective is to improve the data's security and reliability.

Xenio Systems Spins Out from Bridgelux

Bridgelux, a California-based manufacturer of solid-state lighting technology, has spun out Xenio Systems, its IoT development arm, into a standalone company. Xenio Systems makes LED lighting modules that support beacon technology, sold in a product called Xenio Link, which integrates a lighting controller with integrated Bluetooth-based communications technology from a company called Casambi. Casambi uses a proprietary protocol, running on Bluetooth Low Energy radios, that creates a mesh network of self-healing nodes.

Reza Raji, who founded and led smart-home IoT platform provider iControl Networks (which Comcast acquired earlier this year), serves as Xenio Systems' CEO. Currently, Xenio Systems has just under 20 employees.

Though independent, the company will continue to work with Bridgelux to source and develop its products. Retail beacon applications for location-based services and marketing are Xenio Systems' initial market focus, but the firm is also eyeing lighting and beacon applications in health care and other industries.

CEL Launches Cortet IoT Wireless Connectivity Platform

CEL, a manufacturer of wireless optical components used in lighting and a range of other applications, has added new features to its cloud-based IoT platform, Cortet Connectivity Suite, designed to make its technology stack—which extends from a microcontroller to an end-user application—competitive in the commercial building automation market. The new features are called Cortet Voice Control and Cortet Instant Broadcast. The voice-control feature enables systems integrators and manufacturers to add natural voice control capabilities to lighting and climate controls. With the Instant Broadcast feature, end users can command large numbers of devices, such as lighting controls, to actuate simultaneously and with very little latency, thereby avoiding the "popcorning" effect that large-scale LED lighting systems sometimes suffer as a result of latency in lighting-control systems.

CEL's Cortet radios modules are compliant with the ZigBee or Thread protocols, but are also available with CEL's proprietary MeshConnect protocol, which is built on the IEEE 801.14.5 communications standard. The Cortet App, which can be white-labeled, is designed to control a local network of devices directly, through an IP bridge, when inside a building. It can also control those devices remotely, via Cortet's cloud-based platform.

New Products from Intel and HID Focus on Building Automation, Security

HID Global, a maker of access-control and building-security systems, has introduced a means for its customers to integrate its Trusted Tag Services with computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) in order to add a layer of security and authentication to the operation and maintenance of heating and cooling systems. HID's Trusted Tag, a passive Near Field Communication (NFC) high-frequency (HF) tag that can be issued as a discrete device or as part of an NFC-enabled mobile phone, is used to identify authorized individuals. Through integration with a web-based CMMS, facilities managers can utilize Trusted Tag Services to manage service events, monitor mobile technicians and inspectors across multiple locations.

With the addition of an NFC Trusted Tag to each piece of equipment and utility meter, such assets are able to securely engage with an web-based CMMS, as well as other preferred business applications. Facilities-management professionals and commercial contractor partners can tap their NFC-enabled mobile devices to those asset tags in order to provide a record to maintenance and inspection processes within their facility's Trusted Tag Services platform. This, HID Global explains, will reduce the paperwork currently associated with maintenance and inspection visits to a facility.

Intel, meanwhile, announced this week that its Intel Building Management Platform (Intel BMP), which it first unveiled in June 2016, is now available. The platform comprises an IoT gateway capable of connecting a range of sensors and security systems to a cloud-based building-management system, via the Ethernet, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Insteon or BACnet protocol,. The first such system that Intel BMP supports is CANDI Controls' Power Tool apps, which allows building managers to discover, provision, monitor and control devices remotely, as well as set alerts and rules on the IoT gateway. Intel BMP is designed to help small and midsize buildings become smart and connected.

Lucid, a software company that sells data collection and analytics tools for the management of connected systems inside buildings, and Volteo, a provider of IT services, are each piloting Intel BMP in buildings through the end of this year.

Verizon Reveals Strategy to Make IoT Airborne

Verizon reports that it has developed a program by which it will deploy LTE communications between terrestrial gateways and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. The company has been developing a suite of services, under the moniker Airborne LTE Operations (ALO), with American Aerospace Technologies Inc. (AATI), to test connectivity between aerial platforms and Verizon's 4G LTE network. To do so, the companies tested in-flight wireless connectivity with a 17-foot wingspan unmanned aircraft system. Specifically, Verizon tested whether its 4G LTE network could support advanced aerial-inspection techniques via drones. Such inspection applications could be used as part of pipeline or transmission line safety programs. First-responders could also use drones with internet connectivity to aid rescue missions.

For now, the use of in-flight cellular connectivity with drones is rather limited since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that drone pilots keep the devices within their line of sight. However, the agency is expected to eventually lift that requirement, which would open the door to long-distance drone flights, requiring a robust and reliable communications backbone.