DIY IoT for SMBs: It's here now

What's it going to take to make SMB IoT as simple to purchase and install as Nest cameras are for consumers? Answers are beginning to emerge.

Google "Nest thermostat" -- the device that pushed IoT into consumer consciousness -- and you'll come up with dozens of places to buy: big box stores, like Best Buy and Home Depot; general online marketplaces, like Amazon; carriers, like Verizon Wireless' Smart Home shop; and dozens of online electronics stores, not to mention Nest Labs' own site. Click, pay, get a package. Follow easy installation instructions, download an app, save on heating bills.

Surely there are IoT apps with as wide a potential user base as temperature control, but just a little more sophistication -- say for commercial and industrial refrigeration. The logical target for this would be small-business customers -- those without the IT staff to deploy devices or budget for resellers or integrators.

So, where is the DIY IoT equivalent for business customers?

E-commerce IoT

The question is prompted by the May 2018 announcement of a Sprint IoT Factory e-commerce site, where systems integrators and resellers can pick and choose their IoT sensors, actuators and wireless networking components, and use the myDevices Cayenne builder -- with core IoT capabilities in device location and data visualization, SMS and email notification -- to rapidly build their own data-wrangling middleware into apps. MyDevices Inc., bundler and marketer of "IoT in a box" offerings, is also inviting hardware manufacturers and developers to pledge Cayenne "IoT-Ready"-ness and sell through its marketplace. It even offers to do the programming interface, hooking the device's code to its Cayenne API before popping it into its online catalogue.

To prime the pump, myDevices is offering some packaged IoT technologies of its own, which contain a few temperature sensors, a small IoT gateway, an app and wireless connectivity supplied for a monthly fee by Sprint. The first of these is temperature monitoring for restaurants and food service. This end-user and reseller-friendly marketplace also offers variations on the temperature monitoring app for pharmaceutical installations and animal habitats.

Low-power wireless networking

Vivek MohanVivek Mohan

Vivek Mohan is director of wireless IoT products at Semtech Corp., a company whose chips run the core technology behind one of the major wireless protocols currently competing for the sensor-to-gateway connection: LoRaWAN, for long range, low power on unlicensed spectrum. Mohan described the DIY IoT restaurateur's kit: "MyDevices ships the gateway preprovisioned to talk to a specific network. It's as easy to set up as the Wi-Fi access point in your home. You can put the sensors wherever you want; some of them are actually peel-and-stick. You scan a QR code that downloads your app. You set up your triggers and alerts. The focus has been on ease of use. If it's a tedious or laborious process, the ROI is not there."

Asked what needs to happen for DIY IoT to take off, Mohan replied that cost of connectivity has to come down; the full LTE cellular connections of cell phones are too costly and power hungry. They're also bandwidth overkill for the little blips of data sent by sensors.

This is the challenge met by LoRaWAN, whose gateways can cover a whole building, campus or an agricultural field full of sensors, as well as other low-power WAN technologies including narrowband IoT and LTE-M1.

Sensors under SMB IoT cost thresholds

The other challenge has been sensors themselves, which are only now, Mohan said, being produced by large contract manufacturers in sufficient volume to bring costs under SMB pain thresholds.

Kevin BromberKevin Bromber

Mohan said that the Sprint-backed temperature monitoring for restaurants will be followed by 15 to 20 more such DIY IoT kits within the year. These will be aimed at asset tracking, utility meters, supply chain and logistics, and facilities management; several were demoed at the LoRa Alliance's booth at Mobile World Congress in February. Mohan said that the company is now receiving orders. MyDevices, for its part, in June announced its B2B e-commerce IoT marketplace for end users with other top-tier carriers in other countries, said myDevices CEO Kevin Bromber. For yet another carrier offering LoRaWAN sensors and an IoT platform, Mohan said to look up Comcast's MachineQ offering.

Online and brick-and-mortar SMB IoT marketplaces

Mobeen KhanMobeen Khan

AT&T's IoT ecosystem is already about 10 years in the making, said Mobeen Khan, IoT strategy and product management executive at the company. This B2B marketplace is the result of partnerships with hardware and software vendors, like vehicle trackers Geotab Inc., Fleet Complete and CarForce, as well as with retail channels with access to customers. Khan noted that AT&T has its own large base of brick-and-mortar retail stores that can demonstrate and sell IoT products and services with delivery from the warehouse. Fleet management, he said, has been sold through AT&T's inside sales group for four years and through retail outlets for one. Its arrival on the online marketplace dates back only to late February.

AT&T's online IoT marketplace is now geared toward application developers and deployers, with components and cellular data plans to suit. But the carrier is also introducing some new services and hardware that fit in the packaged end-user category, starting with Asset Manager Operations Center (AMOC), introduced at Mobile World Congress in February. Like comprehensive fleet management products, AMOC can report vehicle data and location through sensors plugged into a car's OBD-II port. However, AMOC is also an all-purpose platform that can collect and report data from sensors applied in other scenarios.

"We have pre-enabled the catalog of devices that a customer can use to collect data from their assets," Khan said. "Let's say I'm a farmer and I need temperature data for transmitting strawberries or fish from A to B. I will get a device that has temperature sensors. I will plug it into my package, log into a service and track those devices. Or perhaps I care about shock or humidity or location, or geofencing -- to see whether an asset left a particular location or not. Then we have a set of devices that you can order and use the same app to monitor them. The beauty of this is that you can monitor all different kinds of assets from the same application. You can configure it online to add other streams. You can put in event triggers to send SMS or email to your phone.

"The small-business customer doesn't have to worry about the application, their devices, cloud services on the back end or anything else that goes into IoT solutions," he added. "They choose the devices that make sense for them."

To view the DIY IoT ecosystem from another vantage point, look at Embedded Works Corp., a 14-year-old online business that sells data packages as well as IoT wireless components. Embedded Works has worked with IT distributor Synnex Corp. and its reseller partners to market its offerings; through Synnex, it has also moved its platform into Microsoft's IoT Hub on Azure, gaining, the company said, a very fine-grained and flexible scalability, as well as more access to customers through Microsoft clout. Carriers, too, send business its way.

Knowing when someone's moved your cheese

Andy Do, president, Embedded WorksAndy Do

While Embedded Works pitches itself at and as integrators (ask Andy Do, president, about the accelerometers and GPS asset trackers it has planted in beehives and port-a-potties), it also has several plug-and-play IoT technologies it sells to end users on its website. Data for these is typically picked up over LoRa and gatewayed to cellular networks, where it's crunched in IoT Hub and reported by Android and iOS apps. One for farmers measures soil humidity and acidity, optimizing use of irrigation and fertilizers.

Embedded Works also has shrink-wrapped fleet and asset management IoT apps it sells on Electronic data logging for one truck, for example, runs $199 and includes a year of service. Another customer uses its geofencing as a "poor man's clock-in," determining when employees enter a circle defined on Google Maps. Want to start really small? Try its smart rodent control kit for $465 and be alerted when the trap springs on any of up to 10 traps within one data plan. An obvious sell to restaurants that want to pass health inspections, Do said it has attracted particular interest in India, where mice attract cobras.

Google "IoT in a box" today and at least a dozen companies show up. It will take organizations with the reach of Sprint, AT&T, Orange and Verizon, however, to market them to SMBs, and IoT platform vendors and bundlers to bring them to the carriers. While those relationships solidify, value-added resellers with retail, agricultural or other vertical specialties can learn and profit from all the e-commerce sites now going up, making DIY IoT for SMBs easier to source and install.

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