Sometimes it is easy to forget that the LoRa Alliance is just four years old. In those few years it has amassed a membership of over 500 companies, including some of the worlds biggest technology companies. Through its LoRaWAN technology, and as a platform for industry collaboration, it has become one of the important cogs and driving forces for the connectivity movement sweeping across our built environment.
This year marked a shift in the alliance that seeks to address a key issue facing smart buildings and cities; how we bridge the divide between a technology sector bursting with solutions and the wide range of traditionally less-technical verticals with problems that the technology promises to solve? How we go from having connected smart building technology to reaching truly widespread adoption of smart buildings?
Memoori met with the LoRa Alliance at MWC 2019 in Barcelona this year and followed up with an interview this week to explore the alliance's new stance and how they see the smart building industry developing in the coming years.
“This year we have started shifting our focus from technological capability to outcomes for users and operators,” Donna Moore, Donna Moore, CEO and Chairperson of LoRa Alliance told Memoori. “Where we previously had a horizontal IoT approach, we are now looking at verticals. Whether it is smart buildings, smart cities, agriculture, or utilities, we are using a vertical approach to focus on the outcomes of this technology.”
“It is really about getting the message out to people who handle those buildings day-in and day-out, that’s why we have changed our marketing to focus on that group,” added Charles Paumelle international business development lead for data sharing platform provider and key smart buildings focused member of the LoRa Alliance, Microshare.
“We recently attended the National Facilities Management and Technology Show (NFMT) in Baltimore. This is a US-centric event for building managers and other facility management positions with little or no technology background. We were able to get traction with them because we could demonstrate how these solutions help them on a day-to-day basis,” explained Paumelle.
“Taking away a lot of the technological confusion when discussing the sensors, the network, and the application. That’s what is needed, it is not about individual pieces, at least not for facilities management person. It is about outcomes, and the technology is now at a stage where that’s what we can offer.”
The wider industry shift from technology to outcomes has been pushing its case for some years now but has consistently faced the same issue; how to demonstrate the many intangible benefits of connected technology to those who will be investing in it and using it. Energy efficiency is relatively straightforward to quantify but health, productivity, and wellbeing is a very different situation. These building owners and managers need to calculate the return on their investment with accuracy, not with the seemingly endless possibilities smart building technology promises.
“The technology has now been in the field for some time, tests have become trials and then deployments at larger and larger scales. All that helps build a before and after picture to support the development of a real ROI,” states Paumelle. “We have also started to talk the same language as the building managers, moving away from a technological conversation to an outcome and market-led discussion. I think that helps people discover what we do and helps sustain the demand we have started to see.”
“That’s the biggest breakthrough for the IoT in general because it has always been too complicated but it is happening now,” adds Moore. “We are deployed in buildings around the world. We are ensuring standards are upheld by overseeing certification and testing. It is just about getting the word out to the right verticals because the technology is already available and it is really easy.”
The team from the LoRa Alliance recalled one recent healthcare deployment which, from first-contact to first-install took less than a month, within another month the same company was installing the system in multiple other properties.
“The process is becoming a frictionless experience for them as it will be for many others. We are getting to a point where we are selling sensors and gateways in a box so it can be self-installed, and once that infrastructure is up it has many possible applications,” said Paumelle. “Essentially a building manager could go from having a need to having a solution that works within an hour.”
This all suggests we on the brink of truly widespread smart building retrofits and the dream of a world where the vast majority of buildings are smart, efficient and connected. However, that has been the case for some time and can only start by fitting huge numbers of buildings with a communications infrastructure that is functional for the IoT, affordable, and easy to use. LoRaWAN certainly ticks those boxes, alongside several other leading technologies, and together they should lay the foundation for the development of our new smart built environment.
“In the future, I think it’ll become one of those things where we wonder how we ever managed without it,” says Paumelle. “Will LoRaWAN be the only form of communication in the smart building? Of course not, but I think it can be a very powerful tool. We are just focused on delivering this solution day-in and day-out, and we see it getting consistently better, cheaper, and easier.”
“In five years from now we won’t be speaking about verticals, and I think this will all be exploding beyond our wildest dreams because once you have installed the gateway and sensors it all multiplies like rabbits, be that in a city, building, home, or elsewhere,” predicts Moore.
“I think, in five years, we will be surprised at the number of connected things, whatever those things may be. I think we will all be much smarter on how we operate our investments, our human resources, our health, wellness, and welfare. I think it will just all become part of how we operate. I expect everyone to be surprised about the incredible number of deployments we will see globally, in all areas, including many areas we haven’t even thought of yet.”