Recently, Onica CTO Tolga Tarhan was featured as a guest on the IoT Innovators Podcast by Mark Thirman. Here’s a recap of what they talked about, ranging from the definition of IoT to Onica’s new IoT product, IoTanium.
On Onica’s IoT Offering, IoTanium:
Mark: You have something on your website called IoTanium. What is IoTanium?
Tolga: IoTanium is the name of our entire branded IoT portfolio now. But the hardware piece is our development board. The value in having a board that we built and designed ourselves is that we can rapidly use that to build POCs for customers, which is where almost every project starts, but we can also take that same design and adapt it to a production solution. By owning the design and IP, it’s very easy for us to modify that design for a customer that’s ready to move on from a POC into a production workload. And in most cases, whatever firmware we build for the POC keeps working on the redesigned board.
Mark: So customers might come back to you and say this was very successful, our 10,000 widgets worked the way they were supposed to and we’d like to launch our initiative globally. What sort of conversations do you have after a successful POC?
Tolga: During the POC we pretty much expect to use the boards as is. For the production launch of a product, we would intend to license the design to our customer. We would modify the design to meet their specific needs and probably remove components, because the POC board is kind of a kitchen sink. So, we’ll take out the things you don’t need, shape it in the form/factor you need it to be in, and our goal is to help customers mature the design and do the engineering work to lead them to a successful production product.
Mark: Give me an example of a customer type that you would pursue with this?
Tolga: This product came to be because we found ourselves doing this already. We found ourselves doing the same board over and over as we were engaging with customers. And the interesting part is that it actually cross-cuts a lot of industries. So we are working with customers for example in the oil and gas business that need IoT devices out at the edge in the oilfield. There’s a lot of use cases from safety to engineering that involve IoT. But on the other hand, the same fundamental design is actually what you’d be looking for at a smart office or in a smart home product, we have customers that are building everything from systems that control tools to smart offices and utilization of space projects.
Mark: Let’s start with the oil example, because oil and gas is a massive vertical. In this case would your customer be the operator of the oil platform, or would it be the equipment provider, or both, or something completely different?
Tolga: We find that there are two levels to engage at. Companies that are building products for the oilfield are great collaborations because they’re already familiar with the manufacturing processes, they’re already using it to build things. So, if we can design an IoT solution for them, they understand how to take that forward to production very well. But you do get some very large players in the actual oilfield services space, both upstream and downstream, and in that case sometimes there isn’t a vendor out there building what they want. And so, we also find those organizations reaching out and maybe custom-building solutions that are just for them.
Mark: I’m an old Telco guy, so I tend to look at networking and connectivity flavors. It looks like this particular dev kit had some short-range stuff, as well as WiFi. Will it also support 3G, 4G, and any of those things?
Tolga: There is an LTE modem on there. And we have units in our lab that are just straight LTE, as well as ones that are Cat-M. One of the areas that we all think makes this board most valuable is actually integrating cell modems onto the board, especially a board you’re going to use on a POC is difficult, and there’s a lot of overhead to just getting some modem solution working, so by having that pre-integrated we think that actually accelerates projects quite a bit.
Mark: So, you handle the certs as a result? In other words, if a customer gets a successful POC, you’re going to go with a LTE solution, and if they want you to project manage it or prime it, then you’ll say no problem, or is it up to the customer?
Tolga: We will support as far into the production process as our customer wants. Design for manufacturing is almost a part of every project, and then how much further we go depends on who the customer is. If they’re already building the device, they may very well take the rest since its part of a larger device, but if you’re looking at a company that’s not a device manufacturer, they may want us to take it all the way.
On IoT in different markets:
Mark: Where do you see the split in terms of smart home or consumer IoT, and how does that compare to what’s going on in the enterprise or industrial markets?
Tolga: Smart home is a really interesting market, but its also very competitive with who’s going to control the center of that universe. So, you’ve got the major players like Apple, Google, and Amazon with their smart home assistant products trying to be the central hub. You’ve got individual vendors like Lutron or Phillips with lights that are trying to make sure they play nice with all of those ecosystems. I don’t feel like we’ve cracked smart home as an industry yet, and it’s a very different relationship between the customer and the vendor than it is in the industrial and commercial space. In industrial and commercial, there are business problems to solve and there are very pointed solutions typically. They are not necessarily trying to be part of a big hub of solutions. The difference is in smart home, and it’s all going to be about who controls the hub, in commercial and industrial I don’t see it going that way.
On Defining IoT:
Mark: The way I define IoT is putting a sensor on a thing and connecting it to a network in order to manage, control, or analyze data coming from it. How do you define IoT?
Tolga: I don’t think there’s a clear definition. In my mind, an IoT device is less powerful than your cellphone. If I could just simplify it to just one factor, I’ve been using that. Cell phones are not IoT devices. So, I think we have to look at devices that are less powerful, either in terms of battery or CPU, or less powerful in terms of interface. They tend not to have nice touch screens, they’re more embedded than that. The real magic is taking that IoT device and using it to solve real-world business problems.
This recap has been edited for length and context. To listen to the conversation between Mark and Tolga, please click here.