The potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been discussed in detail for more than a decade. Each year promises to be the year that the IoT revolution will take hold and transform the ways we work and live. However, like most disruptive technologies, deploying IoT solutions that solve real-world problems is complex and requires the integration of different technologies, networks and software across often inhospitable physical environments. One of the key stumbling blocks has been the availability of pervasive and resilient connectivity that enterprises can rely on for diverse installations. Eseye, based in Guildford in the UK, is leading the way in solving this problem.
Our interviews with leaders of UK-based startups and entrerprises continues in this conversation with Nick Earle, Eseye’s Chairman and CEO. Nick’s extensive experience in this sector through senior roles at Cisco and HP as well as running startups has helped Eseye’s rapid growth. In this conversation he takes us through some of the challenges of providing IoT solutions as well as his thoughts on where the sector may be heading over the coming year.
Martin: Can you give a brief overview of what Eseye does and its origins?
Nick: Our founders created the Zigbee standard that is used in billions of devices globally. It is based on one chip and one standard implementation no matter where it is used. After they had sold their company they got around to thinking why cellular connectivity does not work like that and this became the genesis of our company. The problem they saw, and which still exists today, is that the mobile network industry has been built up around 800 different operators many of which compete with each other and are incented to sell a proprietary SIM card to their customers so that the traffic routes to them. Even with all the different roaming options that they have there are still major coverage gaps from these single SIM solutions and so global coverage for each and every device is not possible. 80% connectivity is not acceptable for an IoT device and it will not justify the business case . They set themselves a challenge of how to deliver near 100% connectivity for every square metre of land mass on the planet from one solution which could be easily embedded in any one device. And that’s what we can now do.
Today we have over 2000 customers and we basically solve two big problems:
Firstly we help design IoT devices for our clients that are customized to meet the business use case. Eg Vending machines, medical devices, telemetry units.
And secondly, we embed our AnyNet SIM in those devices and deliver global ubiquitous connectivity across over 700 different mobile networks . We do this by switching the IMSI ( the code which tells the device which network to connect to) over the air into the device as network coverage fades or slows down for each device. The net effect is that we deliver over >98% connectivity for millions of devices in more than 170 countries which is a huge factor in enabling customers to confidently roll out their IoT projects
Martin: The revolutionary potential of the IoT has been talked about for more than a decade. How do you see the state of the IoT in 2021?
Nick: Despite working on IoT for over 10 years the industry is still in the early stages. You can see this by looking at the data. We predicted 50 billion things will be connected by 2020 but today we’re only at about 11 billion. The problems referred to above have clearly held this back as has the fragmentation and complexity of IoT . The industry needs to make it simpler and ubiquitous so that customers can focus on their business case and the experience they want to deliver to their customers rather than the technology. Eseye plays a major role in this, but so do many other players in the industry, and I’m more confident based on recent developments that we are going to get some major breakthroughs in this area in 2021. The evidence for this takes the form of the big companies aggressively rolling out global IoT projects such as Costa Express and their coffee machines or Bosch and their robotic lawn mowers. Many more will follow.
Martin: COVID-19 has accelerated organisations’ digital transformation initiatives around the world. Do you see this impacting on the IoT and its deployment?
Nick: Yes I do and it will be both positive and negative. The negative side is that the short term effect is a slowing down of IoT deployments as customers trim their budgets and projects are either put on ice or slow down . However, history shows that downturns accelerate new technology adoption and what we’re seeing right now is a significant increase in the number of RFPs that are being issued for large global projects. It’s clear that the financial squeeze that will follow Covid will necessitate significant cost savings of backend business process for large companies and also will encourage disintermediation of their supply chains. All of these can be enabled by IoT. These projects are being started now and will become more visible as these companies launch their new products In the second half of 2021.
Martin: The IoT is about the collecting of data for business and social objectives. What are some of the more innovative uses of this data you are seeing with your customers?
Nick: One of the great things about working in the IoT business is the wonderful case studies you get to see. There’s so many I could pick but one that I think is really significant is the work being done by Essity in Sweden around incontinence products for care homes. The business problem is that residents in care homes often get urinary infections but due to issues like dementia or alzheimers they don’t tell the staff that they’re feeling unwell. This leads to them being admitted to hospital where often they catch other diseases like pneumonia and sadly die. Essity have created an IoT enabled diaper that contains a sensor which measures the chemical content of urine and so can predict early onset of urinary tract infections. By analysing the data they can deliver antibiotics early in the progression of the infection and without the patient having to notify them. This means happier, healthier patients and, from the care home perspective , the additional benefit of longer revenue streams per patient for their care home stay. I always say if you can IoT enable a diaper you can IoT enable anything!
Martin: To what extent do you see the IoT as a disruptive set of technologies and what types of companies are likely to benefit from this disruption?
Nick: It’s not that IoT is in itself disruptive it’s that IoT is one of the key enablers of disruptive new business processes So to answer this question you have to look at which business processes are likely to be disrupted. The biggest ones that we see are backend enterprise processes such as manufacturing , supply chain distribution and warranty process. For example, if you can embed a single SIM on the PCB of a device that delivers global ubiquitous near 100% connectivity you only have to manufacture one product which can be shipped and sold to any customer in the world without any manual touch locally to insert different SIMs to ensure it connects. Additionally, you can remotely diagnose it to see how it is behaving and fix problems over the air without having to send an engineer out – think about how your iPhone does this and how Tesla does this to avoid having to have repair shops and you get the general idea.
So once you see this as a horizontal business process enabler to significantly reduce cost and create competitive advantage you see that it’s not an industry specific benefit but rather a horizontal one. And so the answer to the question is that the companies who embrace the change early will be the biggest beneficiaries. This has been true for every wave of technology enabled disruption and IoT is no exception.
Martin: You are an AWS Strategic Partner. What does that mean in practice for Eseye and what are the mutual benefits of this relationship?
Nick: I ran the Cloud & Managed Services program globally for Cisco for several years and it was very clear that cloud based solutions are not only technically elegant but deliver massive scalability at very low cost. The hyperscale cloud providers like AWS and Azure make money from capturing data, storing data and manipulating data. Given that 80% of the data is now going to the edge as a result of IoT then it’s pretty obvious to see what their strategic focus is going forward. We offer zero touch seamless integration of the data into AWS but also manage all of the security policy and certificate handling from AWS back into the device. This is another way in which we are reducing the friction of IoT adoption for our customers whilst at the same time enabling the acceleration of global IOT deployment projects.
Martin: You recently raised £15 million in funding. How will Eseye use this investment to scale its operations?
Nick: The shortfall in IoT device connections that we predicted back in 2011 can be directly attributed to the largest global Enterprises hesitating because of the complexities that have previously existed. As the industry solve this problem they will aggressively roll out their IoT strategy. In other words we’ve only seen the innovators and the early adopters so far but we haven’t crossed the chasm. This not only represents a bigger opportunity for us at Eseye but also requires us to scale our infrastructure and our capabilities to meet this demand, not just around our technology but also our global reach.
Visit Eseye’s website to find out more about their IoT connectivity solutions.