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IoT interoperability: Libelium's ace for differentiation

The company facilitates cross-industry IoT proofs of concept with wireless sensor networks and off-the-shelf IoT toolkits.

Where the big players in IoT focus on managing data pouring in from staggering numbers of data streams and making platforms that enable useful analysis and response, Libelium is carving out a space more in the realm that might be called the "last radio mile." The company is betting its fortunes on the value of easy IoT interoperability with its sensor and networking platform, along with its off-the-shelf IoT kits, as a springboard for getting IoT pilot projects off the ground.

Solving the IoT interoperability issue

The company, based in Zaragoza, Spain, got its start in 2006 as an offshoot of Co-Founder David Gascón's capstone university project focused on wireless sensor networks. Today, with a number of sensors, communications protocols and cloud services underlying emerging IoT applications, Libelium is positioning its IoT sensor portfolio and sensor network platform as the antidote to the growing IoT interoperability challenge. It also provides support for horizontal offerings that work across a number of industry segments, according to Alicia Asín, Libelium CEO.

"Our wireless sensor platform connects to more than 120 sensors and to any cloud platform through 20 radio communications protocols, including long, medium and short range, and, of course, the latest [low-power WAN] radios," she explained. "It is difficult to find another platform in the IoT market with this horizontal approach and with such a capacity for interoperability."

Libelium is also using its sensor and wireless networking platform to solve a broad swath of IoT-related challenges, from smart cities to smart farming and e-health, as opposed to assembling a product for one specialized niche, Asín said. In the smart city sector, for example, Libelium has technologies for measuring noise levels, water management and environmental care, with customers using the sensor platform to monitor traffic, control mooring berths in ports, and reduce emissions and monitor air quality. As part of its smart agriculture focus, customers are using Libelium offerings to save costs in water irrigation or pesticide applications and to improve productivity by automating workers' daily tasks and minimizing product loss.

"There are many competitors targeting one specific vertical, but we offer a portfolio of solutions for any IoT project," Asín explained. "The aim is to offer interoperability across the whole value chain, from sensors and devices to data management in the cloud."

While originally skeptical that Libelium's horizontal approach could have staying power in the increasingly crowded field of IoT, Joe Barkai, an industry consultant specializing in product development and IoT, agreed the company has narrowed its market position by focusing on applications that employ multiple sensors and protocols such as smart city deployments. "They turned this into a strength by providing out-of-the-box connectivity and by providing an easier and faster path than direct wiring of sensors to the internet," Barkai said.

Offering off-the-shelf IoT kits

Along with IoT interoperability, packaged, off-the-shelf IoT kits for a variety of industries and use cases are a key point of differentiation for Libelium as the kits assist players in getting proof-of-concept projects off the ground quickly -- the goal being to avoid failed investments. To that end, Libelium has set up its IoT Marketplace, which has upwards of 60 off-the-shelf kits ready to deploy for specific applications. Most kits include sensor nodes, a software developerment kit and set of APIs, a gateway, and connections to specific cloud platforms and front-end apps, Asín said. The kits are designed for specific use cases (building security or air quality monitoring, for example), as well as for particular segments such as smart parking, smart factories, smart buildings and smart water, among other scenarios.

"With proof-of-concept deployments, it's very important to be confident about the hardware, software and connectivity to manage obsolescence in the large-scale deployments," Asín explained, adding that policymakers in the case of smart cities and corporate CIOs often decide to hold back on pilot projects because there isn't a standard wireless technology dominating the market.

"Our message is: Don't wait for the ultimate technology, as it will never happen," she said. "We feel that frozen investments in digitalization will never see the light if decision-makers wait around for the latest cutting-edge novelty. The key is being resilient and interoperable enough."

Next Steps

Explore why IoT interoperability is key to IoT's success, as well as the importance of interoperability in the smart home.

This was last published in September 2017

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