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IoT In Action: 5 Questions, Noah Harlan, Managing Director, Two Bulls

Q1: How would you define Smart City?

A1: Smart City and IoT are conjoined twins in that it is all about connected devices. The city is not smart if there is not some notion of lots of things on the edge that are connected. Instead of having a single actor at a single site, it is an overarching actor (government, utility) who has a point of presence. People are in transit through the environment, but it is not like devices in the customer’s dedicated environment (home), i.e. Nest. Smart city is for the benefit of people who do not have a defined relationship with the provider. It involves massive infrastructure and privacy issues. Making sense of all the data and making it available for applications and people is very complex.

Q2: What is your favorite smart city project?

A2: There are lots of cool projects. We recently worked on the Verizon digital kiosk project and it was fascinating as it was so complex. The kiosks are fifteen-foot-tall towers that can provide Wi-Fi, 4G, and ultimately 5G connectivity, have two large media displays, a 46" touch screen with custom OS, and provide 911 services and a host of other features. In spaces with lots of foot traffic, they can bring the cellular antennas much lower to provide much better coverage. In addition, the system is designed to perform from -20°F to 120°F and are secure from break in. Solving firmware, application and hardware integration was very challenging and rewarding.

Q3: What is the most common thing that you are asked from companies trying to participate in IoT.

A3: Give us a product. Customers have a good sense of what they want as an outcome, but they are ill equipped to understand the complexities to deliver it. They believe that all you do is make an existing product “connected” and you have IoT. Most customers do not understand all the connectivity nuances, provisioning and device management at scale. They approach it as let’s get started and figure it our later. They do not always understand that the design considerations need to be handled up front to have the right solution later. Management of deployed devices is a big problem as the truck roll to fix something can cost much more than cost of building and deploying the device. The harder part of IoT is around business decisions and the business model, not the technology. Operational impact is huge.

Q4: What is the dumbest thing you have seen in the market lately?

A4: A few years ago, in Europe we were asked to meet with a major consulting company who was building an IoT solution on behalf of a major telco. They decided to build an entire IoT cloud and application infrastructure and use a pet tracker to test everything. My advice was to focus on their unique differentiation and work with partners for everything else. The consultants decided to build more pet trackers and it did not end well.

Q5: What does the next 12 months look like for connected products?

A5: A bunch of consolidation and a bunch of death, particularly in the consumer space. The industry failed to come up with way for devices to connect across ecosystems. Ring products do not speak with Nest products and neither talks with connected locks generally without custom, ecosystem-specific integrations. So-called "open platforms" have won over "open source" at the interoperability layer which hurts the market. Independent third parties will have a harder time competing without an enormous differentiated feature. Wyze camera is doing this providing incredible video quality for a fraction of the cost of other companies. I do not think that the overall landscape will look that much different. Lots of big players, few new big players.

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