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When I think about the things that held the planet together in 2020, it was digital experiences delivered over wireless connectivity that made remote things local.

While heroes like doctors, nurses, first responders, teachers, and other essential personnel bore the brunt of the COVID-19 response, billions of people around the world found themselves cut off from society. In order to keep people safe, we were physically isolated from each other. Far beyond the six feet of social distancing, most of humanity weathered the storm from their homes.

And then little by little, old things we took for granted, combined with new things many had never heard of, pulled the world together. Let’s take a look at the technologies and trends that made the biggest impact in 2020 and where they’re headed in 2021:

The Internet

The global Internet infrastructure from which everything else is built is an undeniable hero of the pandemic. This highly-distributed network designed to withstand a nuclear attack performed admirably as usage by people, machines, critical infrastructure, hospitals, and businesses skyrocketed. Like the air we breathe, this primary facilitator of connected, digital experiences is indispensable to our modern society. Unfortunately, the Internet is also home to a growing cyberwar and security will be the biggest concern as we move into 2021 and beyond. It goes without saying that the Internet is one of the world’s most critical utilities along with water, electricity, and the farm-to-table supply chain of food.

Wireless Connectivity

People are mobile and they stay connected through their smartphones, tablets, in cars and airplanes, on laptops, and other devices. Just like the Internet, the cellular infrastructure has remained exceptionally resilient to enable communications and digital experiences delivered via native apps and the web. Indoor wireless connectivity continues to be dominated by WiFi at home and all those empty offices. Moving into 2021, the continued rollout of 5G around the world will give cellular endpoints dramatic increases in data capacity and WiFi-like speeds. Additionally, private 5G networks will challenge WiFi as a formidable indoor option, but WiFi 6E with increased capacity and speed won’t give up without a fight. All of these developments are good for consumers who need to stay connected from anywhere like never before.

Web Conferencing

With many people stuck at home in 2020, web conferencing technology took the place of traveling to other locations to meet people or receive education. This technology isn’t new and includes familiar players like GoToMeeting, Skype, WebEx, Google Hangouts/Meet, BlueJeans, FaceTime, and others. Before COVID, these platforms enjoyed success, but most people preferred to fly on airplanes to meet customers and attend conferences while students hopped on the bus to go to school. In 2020, “necessity is the mother of invention” took hold and the use of Zoom and Teams skyrocketed as airplanes sat on the ground while business offices and schools remained empty. These two platforms further increased their stickiness by increasing the number of visible people and adding features like breakout rooms to meet the demands of businesses, virtual conference organizers, and school teachers. Despite the rollout of the vaccine, COVID won’t be extinguished overnight and these platforms will remain strong through the first half of 2021 as organizations rethink where and when people work and learn. There’s way too many players in this space so look for some consolidation.

E-Commerce

“Stay at home” orders and closed businesses gave e-commerce platforms a dramatic boost in 2020 as they took the place of shopping at stores or going to malls. Amazon soared to even higher heights, Walmart upped their game, Etsy brought the artsy, and thousands of Shopify sites delivered the goods. Speaking of delivery, the empty city streets became home to fleets FedEx, Amazon, UPS, and DHL trucks bringing packages to your front doorstep. Many retail employees traded-in working at customer-facing stores for working in a distribution centers as long as they could outperform robots. Even though people are looking forward to hanging out at malls in 2021, the e-commerce, distribution center, delivery truck trinity is here to stay. This ball was already in motion and got a rocket boost from COVID. This market will stay hot in the first half of 2021 and then cool a bit in the second half.

Ghost Kitchens

The COVID pandemic really took a toll on restaurants in the 2020, with many of them going out of business permanently. Those that survived had to pivot to digital and other ways of doing business. High-end steakhouses started making burgers on grills in the parking lot, while takeout pizzerias discovered they finally had the best business model. Having a drive-thru lane was definitely one of the keys to success in a world without waiters, busboys, and hosts. “Front of house” was shut down, but the “back of house” still had a pulse. Adding mobile web and native apps that allowed customers to easily order from operating “ghost kitchens” and pay with credit cards or Apple/Google/Samsung Pay enabled many restaurants to survive. A combination of curbside pickup and delivery from the likes of DoorDash, Uber Eats, Postmates, Instacart and Grubhub made this business model work. A surge in digital marketing also took place where many restaurants learned the importance of maintaining a relationship with their loyal customers via connected mobile devices. For the most part, 2021 has restauranteurs hoping for 100% in-person dining, but a new business model that looks a lot like catering + digital + physical delivery is something that has legs.

The Internet of Things

At its very essence, IoT is all about remotely knowing the state of a device or environmental system along with being able to remotely control some of those machines. COVID forced people to work, learn, and meet remotely and this same trend applied to the industrial world. The need to remotely operate industrial equipment or an entire “lights out” factory became an urgent imperative in order to keep workers safe. This is yet another case where the pandemic dramatically accelerated digital transformation. Connecting everything via APIs, modeling entities as digital twins, and having software bots bring everything to life with analytics has become an ROI game-changer for companies trying to survive in a free-falling economy. Despite massive employee layoffs and furloughs, jobs and tasks still have to be accomplished, and business leaders will look to IoT-fueled automation to keep their companies running and drive economic gains in 2021.

Streaming Entertainment

Closed movie theaters, football stadiums, bowling alleys, and other sources of entertainment left most people sitting at home watching TV in 2020. This turned into a dream come true for streaming entertainment companies like Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Youtube TV, and others. That said, Quibi and Facebook Watch didn’t make it. The idea of binge-watching shows during the weekend turned into binge-watching every season of every show almost every day. Delivering all these streams over the Internet via apps has made it easy to get hooked. Multiplayer video games fall in this category as well and represent an even larger market than the film industry. Gamers socially distanced as they played each other from their locked-down homes. The rise of cloud gaming combined with the rollout of low-latency 5G and Edge computing will give gamers true mobility in 2021. On the other hand, the video streaming market has too many players and looks ripe for consolidation in 2021 as people escape the living room once the vaccine is broadly deployed.

Healthcare

With doctors and nurses working around the clock as hospitals and clinics were stretched to the limit, it became increasingly difficult for non-COVID patients to receive the healthcare they needed. This unfortunate situation gave tele-medicine the shot in the arm (no pun intended) it needed. The combination of healthcare professionals delivering healthcare digitally over widespread connectivity helped those in need. This was especially important in rural areas that lacked the healthcare capacity of cities. Concurrently, the Internet of Things is making deeper inroads into delivering the health of a person to healthcare professionals via wearable technology. Connected healthcare has a bright future that will accelerate in 2021 as high-bandwidth 5G provides coverage to more of the population to facilitate virtual visits to the doctor from anywhere.

Working and Living

As companies and governments told their employees to work from home, it gave people time to rethink their living and working situation. Lots of people living in previously hip, urban, high-rise buildings found themselves residing in not-so-cool, hollowed-out ghost towns comprised of boarded-up windows and closed bars and cafés. Others began to question why they were living in areas with expensive real estate and high taxes when they not longer had to be close to the office. This led to a 2020 COVID exodus out of pricey apartments/condos downtown to cheaper homes in distant suburbs as well as the move from pricey areas like Silicon Valley to cheaper destinations like Texas. Since you were stuck in your home, having a larger house with a home office, fast broadband, and a back yard became the most important thing. Looking ahead to 2021, a hybrid model of work-from-home plus occasionally going into the office is here to stay as employees will no longer tolerate sitting in traffic two hours a day just to sit in a cubicle in a skyscraper. The digital transformation of how and where we work has truly accelerated.

Data and Advanced Analytics

Data has shown itself to be one of the world’s most important assets during the time of COVID. Petabytes of data has continuously streamed-in from all over the world letting us know the number of cases, the growth or decline of infections, hospitalizations, contact-tracing, free ICU beds, temperature checks, deaths, and hotspots of infection. Some of this data has been reported manually while lots of other sources are fully automated from machines. Capturing, storing, organizing, modeling and analyzing this big data has elevated the importance of cloud and edge computing, global-scale databases, advanced analytics software, and the growing importance of machine learning. This is a trend that was already taking place in business and now has a giant spotlight on it due to its global importance. There’s no stopping the data + advanced analytics juggernaut in 2021 and beyond.

Conclusion

2020 was one of the worst years in human history and the loss of life was just heartbreaking. People, businesses, and our education system had to become resourceful to survive. This resourcefulness amplified the importance of delivering connected, digital experiences to make previously remote things into local ones. Cheers to 2021 and the hope for a brighter day for all of humanity.

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Imagine your worst winter day. Bone-chilling cold, howling, bitter winds, blinding snow and sleet, and your truck is encased in ice. What do you do? You tough it out, scrape the ice off the windshield and get to work.

The radio network deployed at one of the world’s most important weather research facilities has to endure and perform in extremely brutal climates nearly every day of the year, 24/7/365. Lives depend on its successful transmission of weather data. And for over a decade, wireless data radios have gotten the job done at the Mount Washington Observatory.

LOCATION: The private, non-profit Mount Washington Observatory (MWO) in New Hampshire, USA, one of the most important state-of-the-art climate research facilities in the world.

With a weather recording history dating back to 1932, the MWO’s mission is to research the Earth’s climate. Weather observations are reported to the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for use in nationwide and global forecasting models.

Additionally, the New Hampshire State Park (NHSP), US Forest Service Snow Rangers, and New Hampshire Fish and Game all rely on the MWO’s current weather data to determine the safety and viability of launching search operations.

In short, the MWO saves lives and provides critical climate data, and rugged wireless data radios delivers it – no matter what the weather conditions may be.

Located on the highest peak in the Northeast United States (elevation 6,288 ft.), the MWO operates mission-critical weather stations in notoriously brutal and erratic weather conditions that are amongst the worst in the world. The long-standing slogan of the MWO is “The Home of the World’s Worst Weather” and summit conditions certainly prove this.

During the summer, researchers encounter 50-100 mph winds with penetrating fog.  Winter conditions include sub-arctic temperatures, 140+ mph winds, freezing fog, and heavy glaze icing.  The weather can change rapidly, going from clear and warm to fogged-in and freezing within minutes.  Additionally, ice accretion rates of up to 12”/hour are often observed. Winter winds can change from light and variable to hurricane-force, and beyond, without notice, with blinding snow eliminating all visibility.  In fact, at one time Mt. Washington held the world record for recorded wind speed of 231 mph.

These unique conditions make the Observatory an ideal location for research and product testing. If a product is stamped “Mt Washington Tested”, know that it has experienced the harshest conditions imaginable on this continent.

It is because of these year-round brutal conditions that the MWO turns to proven data radio technology for mission-critical and extremely rugged wireless communications.

THE NETWORK

On its mountaintop weather station, MWO deploys a radio network of 900 MHz frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) radios (both serial and Ethernet) connecting a network of 28 sensors and devices on five different remote weather stations. These stations and sensors measure temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction and ground temperature. Continuous links are vital to provide real-time weather feeds.

The master radio is located 4 miles away on the summit of 4,063 ft. Wildcat Mountain, with 5 client stations situated at 1,000 ft. intervals along the Mt. Washington Auto Road, a privately owned 7.6 mile gravel and tar road that winds its way to the summit at 6,288 ft. These combined stations comprise MWO’s Auto Road Vertical Profile (ARVP). The Auto Road is closed to the public in winter, but the staff of the MWO and the NHSP routinely travel its treacherous path to and from the summit in full-sized snowcats, breaking through snowdrifts of 10 and 20 feet, carving a notch into its side in the vicinity of the actual road.

Because this type of winter travel is so treacherous, current weather data along the road is crucial for the safety of the crew, and both the MWO and the NHSP rely on FreeWave radios to maintain the constant communications links between weather stations and data servers.

The FHSS radio network has been in operation since 2004.

All 6 weather stations are solar-powered in locations that only get sunlight approximately 40% of the year, so the MWO needs radios that consume minimal power while providing constant 24/7/365 connectivity on the Mount Washington Regional Mesonet. In meteorology, a mesonet is a network of automated weather and environmental monitoring stations designed to observe meteorological phenomena.

RESULTS

According to the MWOs IT Manager, Peter Gagne, “For almost 13 years these radios have been on duty continuously, and I personally can attest to their durability and reliability in conditions that, frankly, radios shouldn’t survive. These radios routinely are exposed to bitter cold and winds that far exceed the radios specifications, and have always passed the test. It is because of this outstanding record of performance, as well as the superior customer support we receive, that we have decided to stay with FHSS radios, despite the multitude of competitors, in the upgrade of our ARVP sites this year of 2017.”

Highlights include:

  • Cost-effective, real-time data transmission enabled by a rugged serial communication solution.
  • Mount Washington Observatory is able to issue severe warnings that assist operations and rescue efforts.
  • Real-time weather data and highly reliable performance in extreme weather conditions.

FreeWave Technologies has been a supplier to the MWO for more than a decade and has provided a reliable and rugged wireless data communiocation network in spite of the brutal weather conditions. To learn more, visit: http://www.freewave.com/case-studies/.  

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Antarctica inhabits a unique place in the human exploration mythos. The vast expanse of uninhabitable land twice the size of Australia has birthed legendary stories of human perseverance and cautionary tales about the indomitable force of nature. However, since those early years, Antarctica has become a rich research center for all different kinds of data collection – from climate change, to biology, to seismic and more. And although today there are many organizations with field stations running this data collection, the nature of its, well, nature still presents daily challenges that technology has had a hand in helping address.

Can You Send Data Through Snow?

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) – of recent Boaty McBoatface fame – has been entrenched in this brutal region for over 60 years, the BAS endeavors to gather data on the polar environment and search for indicators of global change. Its studies of sediments, ice cores, meteorites, the polar atmosphere and ever-changing ice shelves are vitally important and help predict the global climate of the future. Indeed, the BAS is one of the most essential research institutions in the world.

In addition to two research ships, five aircraft and five research stations, the BAS relies on state of the art data gathering equipment to complete its mission. From GPS equipment to motion and atmospheric sensors, the BAS deploys only the most precise and reliable equipment available to generate data. Reliable equipment is vital because of the exceedingly high cost of shipping and repair in such a remote place.

To collect this data, BAS required a network that could reliably transmit it in what could be considered one of the harshest environments on the planet. This means deploying GPS equipment, motion and atmospheric sensors, radios and more that could stand up to the daily tests.

In order to collect and transport the data in this harsh environment, BAS needed a ruggedized solution that could handle both the freezing temperatures (-58 degrees F in the winer), strong winds and snow accumulation. Additionally, the solution needed to be low power due to the region’s lack of power infrastructure.

 The Application

Halley VI Research Station is a highly advanced platform for global earth, atmospheric and space weather observation. Built on a floating ice shelf in the Weddell Sea, Halley VI is the world’s first re-locatable research facility. It provides scientists with state-of-the-art laboratories and living accommodation, enabling them to study pressing global problems from climate change and sea-level rise to space weather and the ozone hole (Source: BAS website).

The BAS monitors the movement of Brunt Ice Shelf around Halley VI using highly accurate remote field site GPS installations. It employs FreeWave radios at these locations to transmit data from the field sites back to a collection point on the base.

Once there, the data undergoes postprocessing and is sent back to Cambridge, England for analysis. Below are Google Maps representation of the location of the Halley VI Research Station and a satellite image (from 2011) shows the first 9 of the remote GPS systems in relation to Halley VI.

The Problem

Data transport and collection at Halley VI requires highly ruggedized, yet precise and reliable wireless communication systems to be successful. Antarctica is the highest, driest, windiest and coldest region on earth and environmental condition are extremely harsh year round. Temperatures can drop below -50°C (-58 °F) during the winter months.

Winds are predominantly from the east. Strong winds usually pick up the dusty surface snow, reducing visibility to a few meters. Approximately 1.2 meters of snow accumulates each year on the Brunt Ice Shelf and buildings on the surface become covered and eventually crushed by snow.

This part of the ice shelf is also moving westward by approximately 700 meters per year. There is 24-hour darkness for 105 days per year when Halley VI is completely isolated from the outside world by the surrounding sea ice (Source: BAS Website).

Additionally, the components of the wireless ecosystem need to be low power due to the region’s obvious lack of power infrastructure. These field site systems have been designed from ‘off the shelf’ available parts that have been integrated and ‘winterized’ by BAS for Antarctic deployment.

The Solution

The BAS turned to wireless data radios from FreeWave that ensure uptime and that can transport data over ice – typically a hindrance to RF communications. Currently, the network consists of 19 FreeWave 900 MHz radios, each connected to a remote GPS station containing sensors that track the movement of the Brunt Ice Shelf near the Halley VI Research Station.

The highly advanced GPS sensors accurately determine the Shelf’s position and dynamics, before reporting this back to a base station at Halley VI. Throughput consists of a 200 kilobit file over 12 minutes, and the longest range between a field site and the research station is approximately 30 kilometers.

Deployment of the GPS field site is done by teams of 3-4 staff using a combination of sledges and skidoo, or Twin Otter aircraft, depending on the distance and the abundance of ice features such as crevassing. As such, wireless equipment needed to be lightweight and easy to install and configure because of obvious human and material resource constraints.

In addition, the solution has to revolve around low power consumption. FreeWave radios have more than two decades of military application and many of the technical advancements made in collaboration with its military partners have led to innovations around low power consumption and improved field performance. The below image shows an example of a BAS remote GPS site, powered by a combination of batteries, a solar panel and a wind turbine (penguin not included).

FreeWave Technologies has been a supplier to the BAS for nearly a decade and has provided a reliable wireless IoT network in spite of nearly year-round brutal weather conditions. To learn more, visit: http://www.freewave.com/technology/.

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Does IoT Need Wireless?

By Wade Sarver. This article originally appeared here

Hell yeah! Don’t get me wrong, you could use CAT 5 to connect most of this stuff, but the idea is to have the equipment everywhere and talking all the time, or at least when we need to. They need to be wireless controlled for it to work properly and to be autonomous. What fun would a drone be if you needed to have a copper line connected to it. The FCC laid out their plan to sunset copper lines. I did a lot of work on them but I won’t miss them because wireless is so cool! If you like copper so much, then put that smartphone down and use a landline, if you can find one.

So, back to IOT, (Internet of Things), they rely on wireless connections for more than convenience. This is how the machine to machine, M2M, really take off. Whether it’s to control valves for a water company or to read your electric meter or to control natural gas flow, you need to have connectivity everywhere. We just need to define what that connectivity will be. It could be the standard carrier networks, LTE really. That is going to be key for so much of this. But most of these systems will need much less bandwidth.

Small data networks, that sounds crazy, right? NOT! You see the new networks are built for larger packets, so they are so inefficient, and too expensive, for a simple command to open or close a valve. LTE and Wi-Fi seem like overkill for these applications, although they are everywhere and the most convenient to work with, especially Wi-Fi, it’s in your house and would be a great way for your smart home full of IOT devices to talk to your smartphone and the real world.

That is why the LTE format may not be the best for IOT, although it would be everywhere so by default it may be the technology of choice.

So how will wireless IOT work?

They need something for outdoor communication like LoRa, the low-bandwidth system. There is a LoRa Alliance, if you want to read more about what they are up to. Another good article on LoRa is here where they go into detail about how it works. What they explain is that they are planning to use the spectrum that is left behind, with smaller bandwidth. They way the Semtech chip works is that they utilize spectrum that is sub giga-hertz, like 109MHz, 433MHz, 866MHz, and 915MHz where they have smaller amounts of spectrum. They need to stay away from the license free spectrum because it might interfere.

There is another format called SigFox for outdoor communication. Again, made for very small packets of data. I found information at here if you want more information but here is what I got out of it. They are using the 915MHz spectrum (ISM band license free), using 2 types of Phase Shift Keying, PSK. This supposedly will help get the data through the noise. I am not sure what the coverage would be for something like this but I would bet its very limited. This is a low power, wide area, (LPWA) network. A good article on SigFox is here if you want to learn how they plan to deploy. I am told that they already have several deployments in the USA, although I don’t know of any personally.

Now, for the smart home, inside a building, or the smart office, you could use Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, or something proprietary. We all know Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, right? It’s on your smartphones and in your homes. What we don’t know if ZigBee and Z-Wave.

What is ZigBee for IOT? Well, according to the ZigBee Alliance it is a wireless language that is used to connect devices, which is such a generic explanation that I could use for any wireless protocol. Come on!

So I went into Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZigBee where they give a much better explanation. It is line of site, LOS, and very short-range. It works in the ISM band, just like Wi-Fi, (2.4GHz in most countries but also in 915MHz in USA and Australia, 784MHz in China, 868MHz in Europe). The data rate is very small, remember I said smaller packets are all you need? This is made for very small and efficient bursts of data. They also support mesh networking. Mesh means that the devices not only connect to the hub but they can repeat the signal to each other forming a mesh. This is a great way to extend coverage if you don’t need massive bandwidth.

What is Z-Wave for IOT? Z-Wave takes ZigBee and makes some enhancements. It specifically works in the 908.42GHz range in the USA and 868.42MHz band in Europe. For a great explanation go here but its made for very small networks in the home. Find more at http://www.z-wave.com/ but I haven’t heard much more on this except that they have a version that will work with the Apple iWatch.

As you can see there are many technologies to roll out the IOT format. I don’t really know if there is a clear winner but I think it depends on the need. The wireless backhaul will come down to a chip they add to the device based on need, coverage, and cost. I could see someone using all of the technologies in a device to get the coverage they need, like maybe utility meters. That would make sense because it would be a one-time up front cost. However, for the in home stuff, cheap is what they need. I seriously don’t see people putting in a new network in their homes if they don’t have to but many companies will say you need a “hub” which will be the special format switch that their devices will, in theory, talk to the Wi-Fi in their homes. I already see it but it looks like they want to sell more devices in the home. So maybe high-end stuff will need the hub. I could see the hub as another line of defense in security, where if someone hacks your Wi-Fi and/or cable router then they would need to get by another device to get to your thermostat or light switches.

However, for an outdoor network I could see a dedicated network taking off for several reasons, cost reliability, and security. It costs money to pay the carrier a fee every month when you have a small low data device on it when you could put one of the cheaper hotspots in a space to connect your devices. Again, it really comes down to cost and reliability. Many will say they want security, but how secure can they really be?

A few more articles that may interest you:

http://pages.silabs.com/rs/silabs/images/Wireless-Connectivity-for-IoT.pdf?mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoguKjNZKXonjHpfsX86%2B4rWKK3lMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4DSsJkI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFTLPBMbNsz7gOXBg%3D

http://postscapes.com/internet-of-things-protocols/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LPWAN

http://www.semtech.com/wireless-rf/internet-of-things/

https://www.micrium.com/iot/devices/

http://www.networkcomputing.com/internet-things/10-leaders-internet-things-infrastructure/1612927605

https://www.thethingsnetwork.org/

So let me know what you think, email [email protected] when you think of something to say!

Photo Credit here.

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