Think antennas are all the same? Think again…

Last winter, I was stuck in a pretty major traffic jam, one that took me about 4 times as long as normal to get home.  Eventually, we determined that it was because of a serious (in terms of vehicle damage, likely no one was injured) collision where a car rear-ended another vehicle.  Amazingly, when I got close to the accident, I recognized one of the drivers as being a friend of my wife’s.  A couple of weeks later, we met up with her friend and asked her what happened.  She said that she simply slid on ice and was not able to stop.  I was a bit curious at first, since she drove a very high-end SUV that has all kinds of systems to increase the traction/stability of the vehicle.  It turns out that the culprit was that she did not have winter/snow tires on the car and was not able to get traction that she might of had if they were on the vehicle.

Why did I just make you spend your valuable time reading this story?  Well, in the situation of a vehicle, all of the technology in the world on your vehicle may not prevent you from such a collision if you are using the wrong/inferior tires.  In the end, the cost of not having sufficient/correct tires was loss of value on the vehicle, time spent making repairs, insurance costs, etc.  The same can be said for the use of a good cellular antenna.  Like the tires on your car, the antenna is the only part that actually “touches” the cellular network.  Much of the performance that you see (or don’t see) is derived from the antenna choice.

But....aren’t all antennas the same?  Here are some of the reasons why you want to look at using a top-notch antenna for your solution:

Better antenna can equal easier installations  When you are in a very high signal environment, you can often use a lower cost antenna without any penalty.  Even the lowest quality antennas used in M2M can offer superior coverage to a cell phone’s antenna and if your phone is showing “5 bars”, you should have no issue.  However, most installations don’t seem to work out that way.  Whether it is because of the deployment being in a low coverage environment or the area has signal issues (metal roofs, in the basement, etc), many installs require specialized expertise.  Since higher quality antennas offer better reception capabilities, they often can receive signal in areas that many inferior ones cannot, making the installation easier (as one does not have to run cables or use boosters).  As well, many of the better antennas use superior cable material (to allow for less signal loss in the cable between the antenna and the connection to the device).  So, you can usually run a longer cable length (to push the antenna outside or to a better coverage area) without losing as much signal strength.  This prevents the need to upgrade cable quality/using boosters, saving you time and money.

Cellular networks are dynamic things  For many coming from the landline world, this next story will be weird.  When I worked in cellular technology at a carrier many years ago, we had a major customer who was complaining about coverage issues at one of their remote sites.  Whenever we would dispatch a technician, we found the site to have great coverage and could not duplicate the issue.  Where was the disconnect?  The customer was doing all of their testing in the evening while we were doing all of our testing in the day.  It turned out that this site was in an area that had a spike in cellular usage in the evening, and very little traffic in the day, so the network contracted to support this traffic.  Since the customer was in a fringe coverage area even in the day, this shrinkage in the network would prevent them from having coverage when the network was experiencing heavy usage.  By using a better antenna, the customer was able to achieve much better coverage in every scenario, and even though the coverage was still weaker in the high usage periods, they were able to maintain a signal.

Your time costs money  This is also the same argument that I have used in the past when customers look to save money by using a lower cost modem.  While many of these modems perform very well, there is often a performance difference when compared to a higher priced modem.  So, when the modem goes down, what does it cost you (in lost time to visit the site and in lost revenue)?  When you factor in this costs, the “true cost” of a higher end modem is often less than a lower cost one over the period of a few years.  The same is absolutely true for a lower cost antenna.  Whether it is because of performance issues, failures of components or the inability to handle environmental conditions (such as wind or cold/heat), lower cost antennas will usually mean more issues for you do to deal with and often require more frequent replacement than a superior quality antenna.  So, what is your time worth and which will cost you more over the life of your solution?

As always, let Novotech know how we can assist you with any of your M2M needs, especially antennas!  Check us out at www.novotech.com and follow us on Twitter @NovotechM2M.  You can also follow me on Twitter @LBNovotechM2M.

How Big Data is Changing How Elections are Done

This post is a bit different for two reasons.  First, it will be shorter, and more importantly, it really not focus exclusively on #M2M!

I have written a few times about how Big Data is changing our lives, specifically from the slant of how M2M data is used to provide better, real-time information into key systems.  Here, I wanted to go over how both the Democrats and the Republicans used tremendous amounts of “BigData” about voters to gain insight into the key factors and indicators how how a voter was going to vote on election day. They used this information for both voters that were committed to their party as well as a way to find paths to influence non-committed voters towards their party. 

From the file of “Did you know?"....

  • Did you know that if you were a regular visitor to Olive Garden, you were 2-3x more likely to vote for Mitt Romney as President?
  • Did you know that a regular visitor to Red Lobster was more likely to vote for Obama, but not nearly to the same extent as Olive Garden visitors for Romney?
  • Listen to soft Jazz......bet you voted for Obama!
  • Attend an NCAA football game at least once a year.....you probably voted Republican!

 How do they know this....because Big Data tells us so!  Both parties used Social media (Twitter and Facebook mostly) with incredible precision to determine your likeliness to vote for them based on whom you follow and what parties your "Friends" were linked to.  As well, both parties kept track closely of the what webpage "fed" you into their sites and what page you went to when you left their sites to determine both your likely vote, as well as your likeliness to vote in the first place.  Finally, both parties (but especially the Democrats) used Social media to encourage non-voters to vote by using subtle pressure from your close friends on Facebook to encourage your participation through an old-school method......the telephone call!

Again, sorry for the slight deviation from posting on M2M, but I was fascinated by how Big Data is changing all aspects of our lives, including whom you vote for!

As always, let Novotech know how we can help you with any of your M2M needs.  Visit our new web page @ www.novotech.com, and follow us on Twitter @NovotechM2M.  You can also follow me on Twitter @LBNovotechM2M.

 

M2M in the Cloud

Just back after about 10 days off between posts and it was nice to get some feedback asking about the delay!

 
Whether you decide build your own device, to use a product to simplify the deployment (such as the socketmodem from MultiTech) or use a 3rd party modem, you are going to come across four common issues that need to be addressed:
 

  1. How do I manage the devices in the field?
  2. How do I retrieve only the information from these devices that I need, and not the stuff that I don’t?
  3. How do I integrate it into my current platforms?
  4. How do I take all of this data and make sense of it?

 
For this post, we are going to look at the first 3 items as a whole (for the 4th point, see my previous articles on using M2M to enhance your ERP system).  There are many platforms that offer cloud based services that allow for improved device management, better information “filtering” and somewhat seamless integration into your current systems.  We are going to look at the 5 reasons why you want to look at a Cloud-based solution to suit these 3 needs.
 
Quicker time to market  For the most part, we are talking about how this would compare against doing the integration in-house.  For a solution provider (such as a company offering fleet management solutions), the main differentiator between your offering and the other ones on the market tends to be the part that the customer sees (the maps, the analytics, using the data to make business decisions, etc).  The part that your customers don’t see is equally important, and can make or break the way your solution works.  However, most underestimate how much work the part that is “under the hood” actually takes, such as:  working with the devices to retrieve the required data, dealing with issues with devices such as leaving cellular coverage and the integration of different protocols.  By using a cloud based service to retrieve the data, solution providers can focus on the part of the business where they can truly stand out.  For end customers who are creating their own solution, the expertise gained by using a cloud-based service is huge.....you didn’t start your business to be an expert in wireless devices, so why would you want to take your valuable resources away from where you make money!  These solutions get your the data when you want it, and in the format that you need it.....quicker to market, with less development time and with less of your valuable resources.
 
Better integration with hardware  When you are first starting out, it can be daunting to choose the best piece of M2M hardware for your needs, as there are a lot of variable factors (cost, size, network technology, future compatibility, etc).  Once you have chosen your hardware, the real fun begins....how do you get it to talk to your existing/proposed solution?  And....once you have finally done the work, are you really looking forward to keeping up with all of the new firmware/hardware changes?  It is a daunting task, to say the least.  Cloud based solutions spend a lot of their time working closely with many of the different hardware manufacturers, so they are well aware of changes (such as how to capitalize on new features, when to upgrade firmware versions and what hardware performs best for certain applications).  You continue to get the data as you need and only make changes when necessary.
 
Access to shared expertise  At Novotech, we only “do M2M”, so we think we are quite good at it (that 10 second commercial was brought to you by your friends @ Novotech).  The same holds true for cloud-based M2M software companies.  Need to talk to an odd flavor of ATM?  They have already done it.  Need to read information from a legacy sensor?  They have done that too.  Chances are that there aren’t many situations where they haven’t got the best experience to help streamline/improve your project.
 
Pooled upgrades  I hadn’t updated my smartphone’s applications in a few weeks, and when I went to look, I had about 6 updates.  When I looked at the updates, it showed that many of the patches/updates were fixing some known issues, ironically, a couple of which I had experienced.  I never had to complain to anyone for a fix, it was updated because it was likely reported by enough users.  As well, a couple of the applications had some significant usability upgrades to them, which were likely thought of based on customer feedback and also the company wishing to increase the value delivered by their products.  Updating one device took a few minutes......updating thousands takes more time and planning (worse if you are the ones creating the updates yourself!)  When you use a Cloud-based M2M service, you benefit (just like the smartphone) from both the fixes that are provided by complaints from users, as well as added functionality that is added by the service provider.  This reduces the amount of work that it takes to maintain your services (otherwise, you get to employ resources to fix/update issues on your dime) and the ease that upgrades get deployed out in the field.
 
Reduced Capital Expenditures (CAPEX)  Let’s face it.....Cash is king.  Why not keep some of it for yourself and better link your costs to your on-going revenue?  For the same reason that companies have moved to the OPEX (operating expenditures) for other areas, smart companies are looking to better utilize the cash that they currently have.  Hosted models take away much of the upfront cost, so you can better gauge the costs to your revenue.
 
As always, let Novotech know how to help.  You can visit us @ www.novotech.com.  You can also follow us on Twitter @NovotechM2M, and you can follow me on Twitter @LBNovotechM2M