Tech on Fire: Logan Andrew Green, Analyst, GigaOm

Today we have the first of a new series of podcasts for Tech Trailblazers, the #TechonFire interviews. We kick off with an interesting and enlightening discussion with Logan Andrew Green, IoT specialist at GigaOm. Chief Trailblazer Rose Ross quizzes him about the state of IoT and what the future holds for a technology area that is, according to Logan, at the point where it’s started picking up.

As well as discussing the next 10 years of how IoT might play out, Logan also covers topics such as how will 5G mature and what some of the challenges will be. He describes what he sees as the way firms need to tackle IoT development and deployments, particularly considering the security and privacy angles.

Plus, find out which countries are seeing the most IoT action, and the list doesn’t place America at the top. Listen to the full podcast here:


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Interview transcript:

Rose Ross: Hello everybody, welcome to the Tech Trailblazers, a new series of podcasts with analysts from GigaOm. This is the Tech on Fire podcast looking to where technology has come from, and where it is heading. I’m delighted to be joined today by Logan Andrew Green who writes on IoT and a number of the other subject areas that GigaOm focuses on. Hello there Logan, how are you?

Logan Andrew Green: Hi Rose, I’m very well thank you, thanks for having me.

Rose Ross: You’re very welcome. We’re going to talk about IoT, the Internet of Things, and it would be great just to get a little bit of a back story to yourself Logan, and how you’ve come to be an analyst and talking about these types of things, and how you’re seeing IoT and some of the other subject areas that you are involved with.

Logan Andrew Green: Yes, absolutely. First off, my name is Logan Andrew Green, I work as a Networking & Security analyst for GigaOm. We’re actually in the process of formalising our research on IoT, so we should be shortly publishing some new reports on the area. Other than that, I’ve also been working with Vodafone and, for non-European listeners, Vodafone is telecommunications company from the UK, mainly in Europe and the Middle East and Africa. I work there as a cloud and security portfolio manager, and before that I’ve actually held a couple of engineering roles.

Rose Ross: Great, so you’re looking at the market and also the technology, which is perfect.

Logan Andrew Green: Yeah.

Rose Ross: Fantastic. So, perhaps if we dive in and talk a little bit about how has IoT progressed? We were just talking very generally earlier about obviously we run awards, we’ve had an IoT category for a number of years but it wasn’t there right at the beginning. So, we’re coming into our 10th edition. We’ve been tracking IoT startups for about seven years. How has all this come about, why is it important, and why are we seeing a lot of startups in that space?

Logan Andrew Green: Yes, sure. Well, I think IoT is an interesting one, first off because it’s been around for a while. I think the first connected devices you had back in the eighties, I think the first one was the connected toaster or something along those lines. Even though it’s been a while since then, I think the fact that you’ve covered it for the past, let’s say, seven years, it’s pretty much at the point where it’s started picking up. I believe the reason for that is besides the IoT connectivity, which you could see is fairly straightforward, there is also a lot of advancements around data analytics, cloud computing, and then just general operational activities such as, deploying or on-boarding devices and so on, that weren’t really readily available back in the mid 2000s and so on.

So I think it’s a combination of things that’s pretty much facilitating the deployment of IoT, and that’s why at this point we’re seeing a bunch of startups. Also, besides startups you also have the large telecommunication players leveraging their mobile networks. So, it’s really a mixture of many things this IoT space that we’re looking at.

Rose Ross: Yes, and the telecommunications providers have always been very keen to engage with innovative new organisations as well, and I’m sure along the years have acquired a number of them themselves. So that’s good.

So, where are you seeing that IoT is gaining particular traction at the moment? What kind of use cases are you seeing as being highlighted by the organisations that you are talking about, that you are providing insights for?

Logan Andrew Green: I think first off it’s very important to make a distinction between the, let’s say, technology used, and then the use cases related to those. I’ll get a bit technical here in the terms of saying that on the one hand we’ve got the high data transfer, low-latency applications. Those are typically supported by, as I said, telecoms providers, especially with new technology such as 5G and so-on, and you can have use cases such as connected cars or remote controls, drone surveys or edge computing and stuff like that. On the other hand, you’ve got a completely different set of use cases which is mainly based around low-data transfers, and those would be your sensors for example. So, let’s say you want to build a smart city or smart factory, anything like that, you wouldn’t necessarily be interesting in having very high data transfer, expensive and hard to maintain infrastructure, like you do with other industries.

I’ve seen a lot of movement within the low data transfer, particularly with low-powered wide area networks, and because we’ve got from the electro-magnetic spectrum we’ve got an unlicenced bit of it, anybody can use it, so you don’t need to buy a licence like the large telecom operators do, which are typically very expensive. So, you can use the unlicenced spectrum which also is what Wi-Fi uses and so on, and smart companies can build their own technologies within that space, and then have some real impact on those use cases that focus on, for example, monitoring and sensoring.

Rose Ross: Yes, and you’ve mentioned two different – from a technology perspective – instances, the high throughput, lots of data, and the other one which is very much low throughput of data. What kind of industries are you seeing picking up on those two separate types of IoT?

Logan Andrew Green: I don’t think in the whole of the IoT space that there is an industry that’s not going to be interested in taking it, which would make sense because it’s something that you look at futuristic movies and you see everything connected, it’s exactly the thing that’s going to get us there. Let’s say for the low-data transfer, you would be looking mainly at monitoring applications. So, as I mentioned, smart cities lets you have your smart parking meters or air quality monitoring and so on. Or, you’ve got agriculture, you’ve got industrial IoT, so anything within the manufacturing or heavy industries, smart buildings for example would be another use case.

Then on the other spectrum we have the high data transfers, there’s a lot of movement within automotives, so those would be your connected cars, and it’s not necessarily just self-driving but something that would enable cars to receive high throughputs of data. Some other interesting applications, for example, would be remote surgery. So, this would be something for example with 5G you can have a medical doctor or surgeon that would be in a completely different space and operating on a patient, with minimal latency, and it would all be done remotely.

Rose Ross: That’s interesting because that was one of my other questions was to talk about 5G, and how that will transform the adoption element of it, and what’s possible, because obviously we’re talking about unbelievable transfer of data speeds and what-not, with regards to that. 5G has obviously been the buzz word in the mobile space right now; we have devices but the infrastructure itself hasn’t quite got there yet, in the same way as we were talking about the ability to have home access to the internet, we haven’t quite got there with 5G. Do you see that as being something that will be moving forward? If we’re looking 10 years ahead are we going to have ubiquitous 5G then? A bit of future gazing for you.

Logan Andrew Green: I think that’s a very interesting question, and the reason for that is it could be yes and it could no. The reason for that is 5G is first off very expensive, and then second because it’s within that higher frequency band it means it doesn’t propagate as far as lower frequencies do. You’ve also got line-of-sight issues, so you’re not necessarily able to penetrate buildings and so on. So, there are definitely places where you can have 5G as a driving force for innovation and so on, but whether you are on top of a mountain, do you need 5G connection there? Now, my gut feeling says no, and would you have a lot of money being invested to provide 5G on top of the mountain? Again, my gut feeling says no. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be widespread, it’s definitely going to be present in most metropolitan areas, it’s just a matter of lower density – lower population areas. Do you need 5G there, and if you do then what’s the cost to actually do that?

On the other hand, just to circle back to the IoT discussion, when you’ve got long-range IoT for example that uses that lower end of the spectrum you can really have wide coverage with that. So, you can have nationwide coverage for small data transfers, and it can be on top of the mountain at pretty low-cost.

Within the IoT space you’ve got multiple use cases with multiple underlying technologies that would complement each other. There is a lot of movement in that and I think both smaller startups and then larger telecom players are really focusing on getting some partnerships to make sure that they don’t miss out on any of those selling points.

Rose Ross: Yeah, and obviously that’s one of the areas that we’re going to see the startup activity being, where they’re able to, perhaps not necessarily on well on the 5G as well, but certainly on those unrestricted bands, those parts of the spectrum to use that for example with Wi-Fi and such like. I think what you were saying very much mirrors the way that we see things like fibre connectivity and other types of connectivity in the communications space, it will start in those, shall we say, in the Urban Jungle, well before it would even be considered for a real jungle for example.

I suppose this brings us into another part, you’ve talked about IoT being one of your areas, but obviously security is an area that you also spend a lot of time thinking about. Is security going to be part of the challenge really for wide-spread adoption of IoT? Because we’re talking about billions, potentially already, of devices that are connected, and security is obviously going to be an element of that, because that will always be that the majority of them will be connected to the core network, even if they are working on the edge.

Logan Andrew Green: Yeah, security is definitely a hot topic, and simply put, without security, adoption is very-very unlikely. I think with IoT it’s especially important with security, because when you have a lot of, let’s say, cheaper device manufacturers that would skip security all together, just to have a product in the market, that’s where we have your main issues, and those are typically consumer orientated and connect through Wi-Fi for example. So, with IoT it’s very important to have security baked in the protocols that you are using, for example you can have your narrowband Internet of Things, or you can have your LoRa, and those have encryption pretty much baked in the transmission from the sensor to the gateway or the base station. While it’s not a silver bullet that’s going to fix anything, I think that inherant security within the IoT protocol itself, it’s definitely going to make it much-much easier to have confidence in doing IoT deployment.

It’s also a matter of the data that you’re transmitting, for example it could be data that’s not necessarily valuable to hackers. For example, I was mentioning air quality monitoring. You can probably see that information available for free online, do you really want to break into it? The other question would be, if you gain access to those networks that you’re not able to do any kind of lateral movement. So, there are many-many facets to security and obviously the under-price IT security space will have to expand to include IoT as well. That’s going to be a completely new set of challenges, mainly because of the sheer volume of connected devices that we’re going to see. I’ve seen estimates over the past how many years that it’s going to raise to 20, 30, 40, 50-billion or so on. Like 5-6 devices connected per one person. Whilst this is not necessarily an issue at the moment, the volume of connected devices is going to be one of the big challenges that we have to face from a security standpoint.

Rose Ross: Yes, and as you say, there will not necessarily be the standards that they’re all adhering to, the manufacturers very much focused on being able to do what they’re supposed to be doing at that end-point, rather than worrying about what happens to the data. Do we see this as being a privacy element? We’ve talked about the hack into to the Amazon Ring fancy doorbell that people have, so that could be on a personal level be used as an entry point on targeting individuals, but against at an organisation per se that’s not going to be as much of an issue from what you’re saying, because the core infrastructure will be handling security of data that’s transmitted, and also at rest once it’s within that more secure environment. Are we going to see that as being – not necessarily going to be something that’s going to be, shall we say, there’s not going to be lost sleep from individuals per say with regards to that, but there could be a knock-on effect into the corporate security environment from that.

We’ve seen that to a degree with this working from home that more things are a bit more in the wild with individuals. Do you see that’s going to start to become an issue, or do you think that will still be handled pretty well by the core elements of the network itself?

Logan Andrew Green: I think the short answer to this would be that security at every single point will be important, so whether that’s the device manufacturer making sure they implement their security protocols, user access management, the core transmission of data, the processing of the data, everything is going to be important in security, so I don’t think there is one area where we can say this is actually not such a high-risk, because being quite early in the development of IoT we don’t know what kind of implications that would have.

You mentioned privacy before. I think privacy is definitely a big issue that we need to be aware of, especially in the consumer space, but also in enterprise there is going to be some use cases that are going to touch personal information from end users. So, yeah, I think all around we need to make sure that security is taken seriously.

Rose Ross: Absolutely. So, what kind of things do you think we’re going to be talking about, if we roll forward 10 years, if we do this interview again then, what kind of things do you anticipate we’re going to be discussing? What are going to be the challenges and what will have happened perhaps? A bit more difficult, obviously looking backwards in the rear view mirror on IoT is something that you’re well positioned to do, and this is a little bit more of a stretch isn’t it, to see where things may develop.

Logan Andrew Green: Yeah, that’s also a great question, I think I’ll need to have a quick think about it. But what immediately comes to mind would be saturation within metropolitan areas. I don’t think that’s necessarily an immediate threat, but in high-density areas we might start running into issues about channel communications and overlapping between devices that want to talk to a gateway, or a base station. So that might be a bit down the line, let’s say maybe 10 years from now, but it’s definitely something that we need to keep in mind.

And then what could be in the near future, I think it’s all going to be around the deployment and management of those IoT networks and solutions. So, as I mentioned, we haven’t really seen explosive growth in the enterprise IoT space, because it was quite difficult to have, let’s say, one vendor that can help you with everything, and make sure that the deployment of hardware is smooth, that the onboarding is going fine, that once you collect the data you have what to do with it, that’s a very big one. So as those get more mature then we’re going to see more players starting to look at IoT as an opportunity for business intelligence, rather than just having a connected device. I mean, yeah, it’s okay to monitor, for example, hopefully rubbish cans, for example. But it’s also important to develop applications that once that rubbish can is full you can send a notification, for example to the Estates Department, and then they can come and sort it out.

And it’s those types of developments that I think are really going to push IoT forward, making sure that we have actionable insights, and it’s done in a user-friendly way, pretty much.

Rose Ross: Because as you say, data is just data, you need to turn it into knowledge that’s powerful, and that can be used.

Logan Andrew Green: Yeah, that’s exactly it.

Rose Ross: So, what other things do you think are bubbling away that are going to be something that’s going to be getting your attention, that you’re starting to track? Because obviously you look at where the established players in this market are, but what kind of things are you starting to see perhaps in the smaller, the more Tech Trailblazers type of organisations, the startups in the IoT space?

Logan Andrew Green: I think we’ve touched on a few of those already; you mentioned at one point, edge computing, I think that’s a really key one. So, with edge computing you can really offload the processing from the end device onto, let’s say, a more powerful machine that sits in relative proximity to that end device. And that’s especially the case with IoT and combining that with mobile edge computing, for example, in 5G, it’s really going to give us some new use cases.

So, besides edge computing, which could also work hand-in-hand with artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example you can have a surveillance camera, and you can have a computer vision algorithm on that which recognises faces for example, rather than having a bulky camera that needs to do all of that, you can have it in a remote place, a small camera that’s connected by a 5G network, and then all the processing is being done off the device, then the data from that can be sent to whatever intelligence application you need to use. So, that’s one area.

And then what I’ve also observed a lot of people working on, is making sure that they have those partnerships, and it’s partnerships across the technology landscape. So, at this point, you can’t really have any kind of technology that’s not deeply integrated with whatever everybody else is doing. So you need to be able to have some sort of way of communicating with cloud service providers, for example, you need to make sure you have the device manufacturers on board, you need to work with system integrators to deploy solutions, and it’s also a matter of having your technology to be vendor agnostic.

So, you might develop as a startup your own protocol, but if you’re the only one who’s using it, compared to some competitors who are using multiple protocols, even though they have some proprietary ones developed, you’re going to fall short. Because you don’t really know what kind of requirements your customers are going to have, and what kind of systems they already have in place. So, the vendor who has most flexibility in this area is definitely going to have the upper hand.

Rose Ross: Yeah, I think that’s really important, both with the bigger established players and with other startups as well, because sometimes you have a piece of a puzzle, which on its own may be useful, but if you put it with something else that’s being developed, you could have a killer app, or a killer device or a killer solution shall we say, that can revolutionise things, and that’s going to be important. We’ve certainly seen ourselves that not so much in the IoT space, but we’ve had, Tech Trailblazers who have acquired other ones to bring that into their portfolio, so I think we’ll be seeing a lot of activity in that space as well, both acquisition of IoT players by the larger incumbents, but also perhaps those smaller players coming together to provide a richer portfolio, that perhaps ticks more boxes, both from the enterprise and the consumer perspective.

Logan Andrew Green: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s going to be a matter of being able to sell your solution globally as well. You want to have your partner ecosystem to span as many geographical areas as you can, and there is a lot of players who have started doing that. I think it’s quite tempting, especially when you start off as a smaller company, to just have your network operating within one geographical area, or to be able to support solution deployments just in that one area. But, the further out you can span, you’re going to be able to have many more opportunities.

Rose Ross: Yeah. Are you seeing any regions that are particularly driving this, that perhaps are what you’d see as being a bit further ahead? Maybe there’s wider adoption of 5G or wider availability of 5G that maybe that’s marrying up in those regions?

Logan Andrew Green: So, I’m fairly surprised, usually the USA leads in pretty much everything that’s tech related. But for those cases, specifically, I’m seeing a lot of players in France, Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium. Especially France, I think there’s a lot of focus on IoT there, and they’ve also got some powerful incumbent operators, for example Orange, not only do they have their own carrier network that they can support IoT from, but they also use unlicensed with LoRaWANs so they can support deployments in that area as well. So, I think, especially in France particularly, they’re quite ahead of many other players. But, I’ve seen a lot of startups and movement in those four countries in particular.

Now I should also mention China, because China is, by absolute numbers, the leading country with connected devices. I don’t have a lot of insight about what they use and how they do it, but they’re definitely out there.

Rose Ross: Definitely. So we’re going to see a lot of activity. How do you feel that the US will fare in that – I wouldn’t say it’s a Battle of IoT, but do you think that it’s an infrastructure thing, or do you think that they’re just focusing a lot of their innovation in other areas?

Logan Andrew Green: The US is not behind by any means. It’s just that I haven’t seen them to be the driving force behind IoT at this point specifically. I think it’s mainly because the USA is a very big country whereas, for example, Netherlands is very small, so they have a much easier time deploying IoT networks. So yeah, I think the US is going to make progress quite quickly. There’s definitely important players in the US, and they’ve got some of the biggest operators worldwide. I expect that before deploying IoT networks within the major population centres, that the rural deployment will be delayed compared to other smaller countries. And I think that’s kind of the nature of the technology, you can’t really expect them to invest billions and billions to create a network that spans the whole country, and then have very slow adoption.

Rose Ross: Definitely, you need to make it commercially viable, and as you say, in some of the smaller countries you can roll it out much more swiftly, and therefore get that ability to have it pay off quicker, which obviously will be helpful.

So IoT moving forward, are there other things that we should be keeping an eye out, of other things that we’ll start to see play out over the coming years?

Logan Andrew Green: In terms of what I think people that are interested in deploying IoT solutions should keep in mind, is that I think IoT, especially for myself, I thought it’s quite intuitive at first, you have your device, you connect it to the internet, and that’s pretty much it. But the supply chain is fairly intricate, so it’s important whenever you’re interested in deploying those networks that if you decide to do it in-house, do adequate research to know what the steps are to deploying it, or partner with a reputable systems integrator.

And I think the challenge with the first one especially, is that all the literature that I’ve seen available at the moment, it’s either very-very technical, or very-very high level. So, for example, with a technical one, you can find out why sensors use AES128 instead of AES256 as the encryption, but in terms of usefulness when you look to deploy something, that’s not your go-to information. So, this is one of the challenges that I’m trying to tackle with the GigaOm research. I’m really trying to make sense of what the supply chain looks like, and then what an IT buyer needs to know to deploy one of those solutions, and it might be just as easy as you partnering with the right systems integrator, and they’re going to pretty much hold your hand to deploy the whole IoT solution.

But, it’s very important to make sure that you’re aware of the vertical that you’re in, of what sensors and devices are available, of what your use cases are. And then when it comes to the back end infrastructure, let’s say the network management and whatever protocols you’re going to use, while that’s important, I think it should not be taken as the main decision factor in terms of how can I deploy this, because you can achieve one use case with multiple protocols. So, rather than getting stuck on, ‘Oh, let me understand this very, very low-level technical detail, between why this is good and why this is bad’, for example, it’s important to start with the use case and then work your way back, and then that’s where you have everything mapped out that you just select the right protocol for your needs. And chances are they’re going to be multiple.

Rose Ross: That’s great. Certainly from what you’re saying, it’s important for particularly the small players who have maybe a part of a solution, or a solution which is has a very specific use case, is to look at how they fit into the bigger ecosystem, and then partner appropriately with, for example, systems integrators who have a specialisation in an area where their technology is particularly relevant and useful. But, that’s obviously something that they all should be considering, rather than endpoint sales, is to look at how they fit into the bigger picture.

So is there anything else that you think would be useful to share around looking at the future of IoT?

Logan Andrew Green: I guess it would be just in terms of sustainability of your solution. You want to make sure that whenever you do a deployment, that you’re not going to rip and replace everything every three to five years. So, you want to have something that’s going to be sustainable in the long term, so you can afford to invest that capital upfront, so you can have your returns over time, rather than going through the whole process all the time. I don’t think that’s going to be necessarily the case. I don’t foresee anything that’s going to be revolutionary in terms of, you know, a completely new protocol or some players completely shaking up the industry. I think that the environment we see at the moment is fairly strong, it’s fairly comprehensive, and it’s just a matter of really making sure that whenever those solutions are deployed, they’re deployed with the use case in mind.

I think one, I wouldn’t necessarily say piece of advice, because it’s been mostly an observation as most people are doing it, whenever new players are developing their solutions, or their technology stack, and so on, if they focus on being vendor agnostic, like most of them are, that’s the first step, and then looking at verticals and industry-specific applications, that’s the second step, and at that point, it’s good to bring in partners that have experience in those industries. So, for example, it’s better to develop an agnostic solution in the beginning, and then work with some people who are experienced, for example, in manufacturing, to make sure that you can deliver solutions in that area.

Rose Ross: Very good. Well, that was brilliant. So, anything else you’d like to add for the conversation that we’ve had here so far, Logan?

Logan Andrew Green: No, not really. I think we’ve exhausted quite a few topics at the high level, at least!

Rose Ross: We’ve covered a lot of ground there; we have covered a lot of the IoT space for sure. Well, that’s brilliant, thank you so much for your time.

You guys have been listening to the new Tech on Fire podcast that we’re doing in conjunction with GigaOm, and I’m delighted to have been joined today by Logan Andrew Green.

Logan Andrew Green: Thanks for having me, Rose. I really appreciate it.

Rose Ross: No problem at all. So, if you’ve enjoyed this, please do follow us on Twitter @TechTrailblaze or find us on LinkedIn. Thanks again to Logan and we look forward to joining you for future Tech on Fire podcasts.