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Mister Beacon Episode #80

Gateways: A Bridge to the Rest of the Internet of Things

October 16, 2018

One of the essential ingredients to the infrastructure of many systems is a gateway - a device that connects ‘things’ to the cloud. In many cases, these ‘things’ are Bluetooth beacons! Rigado, one of the leaders in this space, produces a ‘edge-as-a-service’ infrastructure - wireless gateways and an edge computing platform. This infrastructure is used for Commercial IoT solutions, like asset tracking and in smart buildings. On this episode of Mr. Beacon, Rigado’s CTO, Justin Rigling, gives us insight into which kind of applications gateways are essential, as well as an overview of their products and services.


  • Narration 0:07

    The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, scaling IoT with battery free Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 0:16

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast where the Bluetooth world events are on the conference floor. And we're talking to Justin, who is the CTO of Rigado. Justin, thanks very much for spending 10 minutes with us.

    Justin Rigling 0:28

    Thanks, Steve. So we spent a lot of time talking about Bluetooth beacons on the Mr. Beacon podcast. But what you have is a really essential ingredient to the infrastructure for the complete system. Can you describe what regatta does? Yeah, that regatta we make an edge as an infrastructure product. So essentially, what that means it's like a wireless access point for commercial IoT that might get installed and commercial buildings, and then it runs apps, like your phone runs apps to collect all that beacon information and send it up to the cloud. All right. And why would you want to do that sort of thing? Because you don't have to have one of these devices. If you've got beacons? What's What are the use cases that are driving the adoption of this device? Sure, yeah, actually, we see a lot of applications where somebody wants to track a device as it moves around inside one of these commercial office buildings. So we'll see something like put a beacon onto a high value asset, maybe in a hospital, it's a crash cart, or maybe it's something that's really important that you lose all the time, like a wheelchair. And as those devices move around, there needs to be infrastructure in place that saying like, Okay, I heard the device last over in this room. Now I can send somebody over there to find it. And the gateway itself has a piece of infrastructure, just like it's bolted the ceiling, it's got a fixed location enables that sort of activity. All right. So sometimes the gateway in our world is mobile, personal device. But the advantage of this is it can be fixed. It's highly, it's the signal strength, and the seven sensitivity and the connectivity is, is fantastic. It's a powered device, where does it get its power from? Yeah, for most of the application we're seeing in commercial environments, this is getting installed with Power over Ethernet. So just like a lot of the wireless access points that are out there, it's going to get plugged in by electrician, low voltage electrician, and get his power that way. But for some situations, where POA isn't available, it actually can do power from from a power supply a wall power supplies get plugged in. Alright, and what sort of radios Do you have? What kind of protocols do you speak? Obviously, Bluetooth is one. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So inside the gateway, we know, there's kind of two directions, everything about data moving one is up into the cloud. And so to support that we have wi fi 2.4 and five gigahertz. The reason we want five gigahertz in there is so that we don't communicate in the tip of our gigahertz band with Wi Fi and potentially blank the receiver and Miss beacons. So if we use 5.8 gigahertz all the time, we can make sure that our Bluetooth radios are always receiving to collect beacons or other communications. And is that noticeable if you presume that you tried in 2.4? And you found that we're collisions and you weren't seeing as many? Yeah, that's, that's right. So there are some things like coexistence that can mitigate some of these issues. But that's more of a regulatory and make sure we're not transmitting from both sides at the same time. So we do see improved beacon, capturing performance on gateways. In fact, we often see better performance on gateways that can listen all the time versus even things like mobile phones. Ah, yeah, of course, mobile phones are not always listening. Either. They they're worried they don't have this permanent battery. And so they're worried about conserving it. And so they're just waking up occasionally. So how does that? How does that manifest itself? What sort of things can you do when you're always listening versus sometimes listening? A lot of the applications like it sounds like when we think about beacons coming and being sent to phones, a lot of times the beacon is fixed and the phones moving around a lot of the applications that we support, the beacons moving around and the gateways fixed. And we want to be able to get really good and maybe position accuracy of where that device is, right. So by being able to listen more often, we can collect more data, more signal strength levels from all the beacons that are nearby, and we can get better accuracy for our position engineer.

    Steve Statler 4:18

    Yeah, so we talk about beacons generically, but really, it's tags isn't it tags move around, you stick a tag on a bear in a lost in a station or you stick a bag on a tag on a pallet, and you can then track track with tags. So Wi Fi, Bluetooth and other

    Justin Rigling 4:38

    Yeah, so one of the thing is the Bluetooth radio that we use on board our gateways, the Nordic NRF 52 840. And that also has a power amplifier and a low noise amplifier so that we can increase the range. And the other thing that's kind of nice is in that design, we've really focused hard on making kind of an isotropic antenna radiation pattern so as best we can to keep that fairly uniform which improves with these RSSI calculations when you're doing asset tracking. But that radio from Nordic also support several other kinds of low power wireless. So 2.4 gigahertz, 802 15 four, and that can be thread or Zigbee.

    Steve Statler 5:13

    All right? And what about the programming environment? If I'm developing for your platform, what languages Am I using?

    Justin Rigling 5:21

    Yeah, so it's really a question. So what we find on the Gateway, this is a Linux platform. So anything that can run on a typical Linux situation where you have, you have a no js application, or maybe you write in C++, or go or Python or even Java, all of those things that natively run on Linux with some library for talking to Bluetooth, can all be running our gateway. But the kind of interesting thing on the Gateway is this is a piece of edge infrastructure, which means it needs to be able to support several different applications. And just like your mobile phone, when you run a beacon scanning app can't access your text messages. We work hard to make sure there's confinement isolation and containers that keep applications on the Gateway separate from each other.

    Steve Statler 6:03

    All right. So did people deploy these with multiple applications in mind? Or are you seeing them? Drive it? Because there's one app that is kind of the killer pigeonholes?

    Justin Rigling 6:14

    Yeah, absolutely. More of the latter. So we typically see today that there are one really good ROI value proposition for for companies to install these things. So typically an as a service vendor that may be tracking the wheelchairs in the hospital, or crash carts or whatever will come in and help get that entire infrastructure installed. But once it's there, it's a it's a place where additional value can be, you know, upsold, to those those vendors, because, oh, now I can add an app that maybe scans the area for all kinds of Bluetooth devices. And I can build a report that says, hey, there's an anomaly here, I got some rogue devices showing up that weren't here yesterday. And maybe that triggers something for an IT department or somebody else to take a look at.

    Steve Statler 6:57

    Yeah, that makes sense. And what's your business model? I have roughly how much am I going to spend for this as their cloud?

    Justin Rigling 7:05

    Yeah, so what we found is most of the customers that want to build a device to cloud service offering for one of those, those typical commercial use cases, they really don't have any differentiated value coming from the gateway itself. So their differentiated value is coming from maybe the way they report that data into another system, or maybe the unique ability for them to set some sort of thing down at the device. But the gateway is really just a conduit between the two. And they'd rather not invest engineering resources into building the gateway, or figure out how to write the, you know, OS and enablement for it at a low level, or do things that happen after the initial deployment, which is maintain the software and do security updates, build performance monitoring tools. And so when that happens, we find that the customers would rather just use the gateway much the same way they use containers and clusters on something like AWS, or as your Google Cloud, they want to treat it just like as a place to deploy and pay monthly. Okay, so what we've done is, we have a monthly subscription model for the gateway hardware and for all the services behind it, which include the orchestration and the monitoring and security updates, and it's around $9 a month per gateway. And what does orchestration mean in this context? So yeah, you can think about the typical web apps or mobile apps where development teams are doing continuous integration and continuous deployment. And they're using DevOps principles to get those applications deployed onto the devices. And we're doing the same thing for the containers and apps that run on the gateways. Except for we're doing it across 1000s of devices at once. It's an example of what that might look like. And an orchestration feature is that we we make it possible to have different risk levels of software running on the gateway. So we have a beta channel, a candidate channel, and a stable channel, the stable channels, what most of the population of gateways in the field are going to be using. But something like a candidate channel allows you to deploy your software to that run it, you know, for a week's time or something like that, and make sure that it is not going to have any failures or that you know, there's any weird effects of those new changes that the development team have put in. And once all those tests are passed, then you'll see a, an automatic rollout to the rest of those devices in the population when it's deployed to stable. So that's what I mean limit by orchestration tools enable that sort of workflow that DevOps has been doing for a long time.

    Steve Statler 9:24

    Yeah, sounds very mature. I'm seeing you guys pop up in all sorts of accounts were were engaged, which is really cool and maybe you just answered this question, but how do you differentiate yourself against the competition? You're not the only company that has got a Bluetooth to X? Gateway product? What is it? Why are people coming to you?

    Justin Rigling 9:49

    There's a couple of reasons. We have a heritage in Bluetooth and we really understand how low power and the RF performance of those devices need to work. We've been creating modules for a number of years. Great products likes lots of happy customers. And we've taken that knowledge and actually put it into the development of the RF systems in our gateway. So I was really mentioning something like a nearly isotropic, or very good radiation pattern on the RF side, the increased range and performance. Those are things that differentiator gateway. But I think what's really what's interesting thing about working with us is we're not a platform that's trying to take over the ceilings and all these conversional commercial environments by being a lighting platform, or by being indoor navigation or being an asset tracking solution. We can be, you know, complimentary to all the companies that are doing those sort of applications because we're, we're positioning ourselves as a horizontal piece of infrastructure that goes there and really replaces a function of their team instead of competing with them.

    Steve Statler 10:47

    Very good. Well, Justin, thanks very much for talking with us and continued luck on what you're doing. I don't think you need it. Thank you very much. All right.