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Mister Beacon Episode #141

IoT Standards, Privacy and the Future of IoT

December 28, 2021

From the leading journalist and podcaster on IoT – Host of The Internet of Things Podcast, Stacey Higginbotham introduces us to Sidewalk, Matter and the subject of IoT interoperability.

Plus, we have a lively discussion on privacy and Stacey’s predictions on the future of the IoT industry.


  • Steve Statler 00:00

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. This week is a special week for me one of my all time heroes of IoT commentary and journalism is on the show. So we have Stacey Higginbotham who, who writes the column Stacey on IoT. She does the Internet of Things podcast with Kevin Tofel. And it's probably the best show you can listen to in terms of keeping up with what's going on in IoT. They do news, whereas we do kind of these deep cuts into specific topics. And so what we do is different to what she does, she has loads and loads of listeners, and I really enjoyed being interviewed by her the other day, and use the opportunity to invite Stacy on to this show. We're going to talk about a lot of interesting stuff, IoT standards. For those of you who are a little shaky on what's the difference between sidewalk and LoRa, and what is matter. And how is interoperability in the Internet of Things is going to play out. We talked about that. We're also going to talk about privacy. Stacy is keen on it, and so am I. But we have slightly different views. And it was great to hear her perspective on that topic. And we're also going to talk about the future and what better person to prognosticate on the future than someone that is constantly analyzing this ecosystem. So hope you enjoy the show. Have a listen to Stacey on IoT on the Mr. Beacon podcast. The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, intelligence for everyday things powered by IoT pixels. Stacey, thank you so much for coming on to the Mr. Beacon podcast. This is definitely a landmark for me. So I am so many things. I'd love to pick your brains on you. And Kevin spend more time than most looking at this landscape that we all operate in. And you have a great perspective. So I wanted to ask you about IoT standards. And this is actually a topic that we haven't really gone into, there's a few that have caught my eye that I think are relevant. And I know that you've been covering them. And I wanted to start off with sidewalk and you can for our listeners, can you explain a little bit about what sidewalk is start off with?

    Stacey Higginbotham 02:42

    Sure. So sidewalk is Amazon's answer to creating a low power wide area network. And I'm sure your audience is very familiar with this concept. But just overview. We need a cheap, easy way to connect devices to the Internet. And low power winds are really an interesting option there. So sidewalk is an option. There are other proprietary options like CIG Fox. Oh, my goodness. Well, okay, so LoRa's a little weird. So there's LoRa Wan. And there's lots of options there like Senate helium and those all. They're less proprietary, we'll call it like LoRa Wan is a standard that people are applying to devices and networks. And that's good. There's also LoRa, which is the 900 megahertz radio that we're Wan is based off of so sidewalk actually can run over a lord network. And if you you know, the mat, the OSI stack, so you've got you know, your different network layers. sidewalk is like an app. I don't think it's actually an application level layer. But it's it's one up there. And what it is, is it's a protocol that can run over LoRa, it can actually also run over Bluetooth. And it's Amazon's way of hiding data packets so you can understand where that what's in the data packet and where it's coming from. And they put all of that on whatever radio they choose. And voila, they have an Amazon powered low power when the brilliance of what Amazon has done here is people hate this, but they put it in Echo devices. And then they turned it on. Because suddenly they've got a large coverage area because you know, 10s of millions of people have bought echo devices. people hated it. They felt like it was invading their privacy. It's not. But the biggest issue with any low power wide area network is that it costs money to build a network that's within a network, right? It costs so much money, and then you've got to make up. You know, you've got to charge people equivalent amounts of money for maintaining that infrastructure in there's just no way for the IoT when we want to like talk to a smoke detector for like two sets right? No rise Okay, so that's sidewalk in a nutshell.

    Steve Statler 05:02

    Wonderful. And I think these standards are a little bit like soap operas they kind of appear they the the there are people fighting against them there are people fighting for them. So there's you have the conflict aspect and then there's the uncertainty or you know, they're going to get killed off after the first season, or are we into a long run here? So what do you think the future of sidewalk is? Do you think this is one of these things that is actually gonna stick with this? Or is this one of these IoT standards? That's gonna kind of disappear?

    Stacey Higginbotham 05:38

    Will it be a wi Max? Yeah. This is hard head. You asked me six months ago, when Amazon was kind of launching it, I would have said, Oh, yeah, this is going to be everywhere, because it's Amazon. And their pricing for sidewalk data is really interesting. You know, they're, they've already got the coverage. But so far, Amazon, they're the launch went very badly. People try people. Huge kerfuffle, many people opted out how many? I don't know, I've asked Amazon. They won't tell you. In case you're wondering, they won't tell me maybe they'll tell you. I've asked people who are building for Amazon sidewalk. Most of them are not choosing sidewalk, it's too uncertain for them. And so I feel like there's a lot more uncertainty. And in the meantime, like helium has expanded their Lorwyn network, they did the deal with Senate and activity, to have those devices work on their network. And so now I feel like that's kind of a viable option. I should also say, I run a helium miner, which means that I make helium tokens when people get excited about helium. But I'm not I'm not saying this because I make money. I'm saying this because I really genuinely think it's a really, they're doing well. So

    Steve Statler 07:00

    well, one of the folks in our office is doing the same thing. And he's become a great evangelist. I think it's a really interesting, fascinating concept to tie in really, with cryptocurrency, can you just go back a bit on helium? So you've introduced it as a potential contender can just explain a little bit more for someone that's never crossed come across helium, what is it?

    Stacey Higginbotham 07:26

    So helium is building a decentralized LoRaWAN network. They do this by selling people what they don't actually sell them anymore, but they provide the code to run on a minor box like a it's a hotspot that also mines helium is cryptocurrency, that hotspot uses the homeowners or their business owners, Wi Fi is backhaul and provides a lower win signal out. In return. Anytime you transfer packets, you provide proof of coverage, you get a small fraction of what they call a helium network token. And those can be exchanged for money. dollars if you're into it, or you can exchange them to buy data credits on the helium network. So people who use a lot of helium might want to run miners. And that's kind of what Senate and activity are doing there. They brought their miners or brought their hotspots onto their network, and are now part of it.

    Steve Statler 08:31

    So so what what are the relative costs of using sidewalk versus helium then? Didn't you say that sidewalk was free?

    Stacey Higginbotham 08:42

    sidewalk is not free. So pricing for AWS for their L, when messaging pricing, and this is, this is I what we assume our sidewalk, Amazon has not made sidewalk, fully open to all developers yet. So it's not GA, but you can do up to a billion messages for $2.30 per million. Okay. So that's freaking cheap. With helium, you have to buy data credits, and that's a little bit more of a there's a weird thing there. But again, it's like less than five cents to send, you know, messages in like a lot of messages.

    Steve Statler 09:26

    Okay. So they're both pretty cheap, but seems like sidewalk is, is cheaper. It'll be fascinating to see how that plays out. What about matter, this is a different thing, but it's something that I know you talk about. So but we don't so if you could get us or catch us up on matter, that would be great.

    Stacey Higginbotham 09:47

    Okay, matter. This is for the smart home. Mostly, you will talk to people about matter. And they're like, oh, it's for businesses for smart buildings. Maybe we'll wait on that. But 100% matter is for the smart home. What it is, is an interoperability layer for a subset of smart home devices, way back in December 2019, Google Amazon, Apple, and nope, that's it, Google and Samsung, okay, the Big Four, they got together and they were like, hey, nobody's buying Smart Home gear, because they're like, does this work with mme a does this work with Hey, G. And people hated it. And they were like, Okay, we're gonna create a way for these things to talk to each other. Because we really need to sell all this stuff we built. So that's the cynical version, then the pandemic happened, it's taken a little bit longer matter will be formally announced sometime in the first half of next year, ideally, the first quarter. And what it will do is it's really data model that it talks using, it'll work over thread for small data rate, those small data packets and battery powered devices, and Wi Fi for things that need more power consumption and more bandwidth. So those are the two radio standards that matter is going to work on. And what it will do is it shares a data model for how certain devices look in what they do. So you can be a light bulb. And all light bulbs will now be like, I am a light bulb I turned on, I turned off, here's my RGB color scale. And all of that is common across all the many different kinds of light bulbs out there. And that way, for consumers, you know, your goo any matter supported devices will be supported, like on your home pod on Siri on Google on Amazon's echoes, it'd be great. There's much buts, do you want to talk about the buts?

    Steve Statler 11:47

    I do want to talk about the bots because yeah, I'm a home automation enthusiast got into the extent then got kind of disillusioned, came back to it. And I'm just constantly caught. I just bought some home pods, not home pods, the the apple speakers that sound fantastic. And it is, yes. Lovely. Amazing. We're going to dot them all around the wiliest office. In fact, just to kind of have the extend the sound from our gramophone player, which is one, cuz I just love the sound so much. But I'm not taking them home because home is Alexa and bit of Google. And it's like bringing these feuding families together as a nightmare. So I'm really hoping that the matter is going to put an end to that. And so I'm interested in the but so what's the but

    Stacey Higginbotham 12:42

    okay, there are a couple. One, it's not actually out yet, matter is releasing a full SDK, which means that when it launches, it's going to launch really, for anybody to easily develop on theoretically, we don't know it hasn't launched. So we don't exactly know how all of its gonna work. We do know that Bluetooth will be used for provisioning, but not for other things. And that means anybody who's got devices that run on like Bluetooth today, like your Bluetooth light bulbs, they're not going to be matter. Certified, going forward. Even some devices, the thread radio uses the same underlying FI layer as ZigBee. And that means if you have a ZigBee radio in your device, it might be upgradeable to matter. But that's dependent on the manufacturer, it's dependent on how much memory all these things, right. So some of your ZigBee devices may not be upgradeable, which means whole hunks of your smart home may not work with matter. So that's one, two, not all the devices you might expect will work with matter. So matter will not work with like appliances. It will not work with cameras, and that includes like video, doorbells. And it will not work with Oh, there's one other thing it doesn't work with. Oh, wearables. So that'd be that's still a huge category of things that is going to work with but you know, cameras are really important in the smart home. I really would love for like my Fitbit to talk to my home and habit tone things. But not Not today. Not with better. So those are the big buts.

    Steve Statler 14:18

    So what can we expect interoperability between the the apples, the Googles and the Amazons? I feel like this is a Shakespearean feud that is constantly going on. Will it ever come to an end? Will they ever live in harmony?

    Stacey Higginbotham 14:37

    What is likely to happen is in your home, you may have your like if I like you are a Google and Amazon home and like my colleague Kevin has a HomeKit home. You will be both of y'all will be able to buy the same devices and if they're mad or compliant, they will work within each of your homes. Theoretically, you can have more To pull devices in your home, and it should be easy to add those devices and control them from one place. But you're still going to have to pick your one place. So is your one place going to be Amazon is Google? And there are going to be I mean, I expect no shortage of glitches and weirdness simply because you already have that today in the smart home. So the answer is yes. But it's not going to be magic.

    Steve Statler 15:26

    I get it. It's reality. Shucks. I know. Okay, we've got a few more minutes of your time, and I want to use it wisely. So we've been talking about IoT standards, I still want to talk a bit about privacy, because I feel like you have strong feelings on that, and you're educated on it. And I want to get some predictions for the future from you as well. So privacy, before we leap into it, how do you feel about all those cookie notices that pop up on every website that you go to?

    Stacey Higginbotham 15:54

    So misguided? It's so sad? I'm sorry, he you you tried so hard? Yeah, that that didn't work. But so broadly, I have real issues with privacy. And I think everybody does, because one, I don't think people are, are aware of how intrusive IoT can be. And I think in some cases, we're worried about the wrong things. So like, we spent a lot of time worrying about cameras, and I get it because no one wants your naked pictures on the internet. But we don't spend a lot of time worrying about things like RF based wireless detection systems that are being put in alarms, or like, you know, we're talking about using like fall detector detectors that are like 60 gigahertz in, those don't create like naked pictures that can be put on the bed, but the computer is trained, those algorithms are trained to understand what you're doing. And I always tell you, I'm like, Look, if they wanted to, they could create an algorithm for having you pick your nose, right. And then they could see when you're picking your nose, because that's something probably nobody wants people to see. And the same thing goes for things like radar with like soli, and all the microphones that are we're putting in our homes. And so that's one thing, I feel like, we don't really understand what we're bringing into our homes. I don't mind that is much, because I think we're seeing a shift. And this will be countless is one of my predictions, a shift towards local processing. So thanks to machine learning algorithms that are getting better at running at the edge and a shift in thinking Amazon. Well, Google and Apple, apples always been aggressive, Google's getting aggressive, a lot of this data is going to happen at the edge, so then we don't have to worry about it going anywhere. And that's great. Because that's the next aspect of privacy that is a problem to me is that this data isn't just staying with a company, these companies, they're not securing it. And they're also selling parts of it. And they're saying they're selling it in a D anonymize fashion. But that's not true anymore. Because you can, you can store it in an anonymous fashion, and you can D anonymize it. And so, there's a lot, there's a lot to unpack. But, but bottom line is, if I if I'm talking about this with people, I just give people informed consent about what they're buying. So list your sensors, list the the privacy practices, you follow on the device, you as a buyer, so in your home before you bring something in, talk to the people and tell them, hey, this device listens to everything that you say. And then, you know, for their get their buy in. So that's kind of a lot.

    Steve Statler 18:49

    It is. But I mean, it's so important, isn't it? And I want to add, I see, I fear that, you know, business models will be crushed, good ideas won't come to life. But I also think that unless there are rules of the road, then, you know, we can only expect you know, bad things will happen. And it seems like we're not. We're fortunately we're in such a joined up world that GDPR really protects all of us because no one can really hear. Maybe that's not true. No,

    Stacey Higginbotham 19:20

    I can tell from your accent, it protects you and maybe not me. What we say is the Internet of Things makes the invisible, visible. And that is both a huge blessing. And it is a curse, right? And so if you want people to embrace the full benefits, so things like personalized medicine, being able to reduce your carbon footprint by pulling in information from around you to like telling you hey, this is where you should go or what you should do. If you want us to take that you have to also guard against the negative use cases in the punitive use cases. And we do don't have a very sophisticated understanding of that, like in economics in building policy. So, you know, our, our carrots are pretty much like cheaper stuff in our sticks or like, you go to jail. We need we need better stuff. They're better, better regulatory incentives, I get regulations and incentives.

    Steve Statler 20:21

    Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, as someone that's working in a startup, I think we have to take the high road, otherwise, we won't be given permission to do the fun stuff. And people will find out, the old days of hiding, what you are going to do in the small print are over. And thanks to crowdsourcing your privacy policy will be read, maybe not by 99% of the people, but the 1%. Well, and they'll tell the 99% if they're going to get abused, and then if you don't do what you say you're going to do, you're going to get into trouble. And so I wish people would just behave well.

    Stacey Higginbotham 20:57

    But me too.

    Steve Statler 21:01

    Okay, so I want to get your view on the future. Where are we going? And I had one specific question was, because because you cover a bit of, well, you cover a lot of home automation, but you also cover the industrial and enterprise side of things. Do you what do you see as the crossover between those in the future? Are they? What's the relationship? Are they will they always remain separate? Or are they destined to meld together?

    Stacey Higginbotham 21:27

    I mean, mostly, I hope so that they stay separate, because like, I don't want my personal data going into the bottom line of most of these companies. But I think the places where we're gonna see them near term crossover are things like matter matter wants to be, you know, if you think about the sensors that could be truly interoperable, you can start building sensors into your house, you'll also build them into campuses and factories. And you'll be able to take advantage of that data for things like lighting better each back. I don't know what else, cleaner air quality. So I think we'll start seeing crossovers in terms of energy, intelligence, security. So some health and wellness, maybe people tracking crossover between the two. And then I do think on the industrial and enterprise side, we are seeing much more sophistication, thanks to thanks to time passing, honestly, but also COVID really acting like a kick in the pants for everybody to get on. Whoa, oh, my gosh, we got to do all we can people are coming into the office, we need ways to get out to them and let them do their jobs, we attract people, there's a lot of forward momentum towards digitization there.

    Steve Statler 22:43

    Very good. Any other thoughts on what the future holds for us any other predictions you'd like to share? Through as tough as always,

    Stacey Higginbotham 22:52

    I do. I feel very down on IoT. And it feels very bad. Like I have a hard time. Like real talk, I have a hard time doing my job right now. Because I feel like we're on the if you imagine this as a pendulum or a teeter totter, with one side being, you know, social good in, you know, also economic good, but acting well, the high road and the other side being optimizing for as much cash withdrawal as possible. We're still on the optimizing for as much cash withdrawal as possible in I used to be very optimistic because IoT helps you measure externalities, so things like pollution, you could tie it very easily back to its source, and then think about ways to like charge for that. But that's not actually what we're doing. We're just, we're still optimizing for immediate ROI. And I think that's gonna that's just gonna continue us on the same road. We've been down faster, and increase inequality, continue to, like, push forward with climate change. I mean, it's just really a bummer. Just a real bummer. Steve,

    Steve Statler 24:07

    though. I'm pretty optimistic. That's that's interest. Maybe it's just the the, my mood coming into this sort of studio. I feel like with just touching the, the, we're, maybe at the end of the beginning, we haven't. We've barely got started and there's just so much that we can do and yeah, things, bad things will happen. But I really feel like the solution to climate change is in our hands as an industry if we can. The moment we're connecting a tiny fraction of things to the internet. It's the internet of expensive things, not the internet of Everyday Things. And I really feel like there's so much good technology that can help us solve have massive problems, like making our Lean supply chains that we thought lean, they're not actually lean at all. And I I'm the reason I'm optimistic is I think that a lot of the savings that can be drive the bottom line will be really good for the environment. If you can get people to drive shorter routes and just replenish things that need to be replenished, then you can save a lot of money and a lot of carbon, and we may actually be able to, you know, stop the whole planet melting. But that's

    Stacey Higginbotham 25:35

    just by more efficiently using IoT. Is your kind of your hope there. I think that's not sarcastic to

    Steve Statler 25:42

    know. Yeah, no, I believe this. I think there's massive inefficiencies, this huge wastage of food, half the food that we make is wasted. There's, you just look at the delivery vehicles and the chaos in stores. And I think there's so much opportunity for efficiency. And ultimately, that's what's going to get out of this getting people to kind of do the right thing, never going to happen. Getting people to save money can happen. And I think there's a lot of money that can be saved. And every time you, you know, you get more efficient, you're typically reducing carbon footprint. And I mean, I'm a tree hugger, I buy carbon offsets and all that sort of thing. And, but I realize most people aren't going to do that. And it's got to be something that is helping profit as well as Planet otherwise it's significant work. That's my view anyway.

    Stacey Higginbotham 26:38

    I like it. I appreciate I mean, I hope your view is correct,

    Steve Statler 26:43

    Stacy, it's that time of the show where we focus on you. And I have to say, I'm a great admirer of your show. I listen regularly. And I'm also just like, fascinated with how you ended up in the position that you're in. You have like 100,000 people downloading your show, and how did you get this incredible job that you have this position you have in our ecosystem?

    Stacey Higginbotham 27:11

    I built it. And I think it was it was serendipitous in the sense that I had covered semiconductors, I had covered cloud computing just broad computing trends, like supercomputing. What they used to call it, I'm trying to remember what they called it grid computing before it became the cloud. So I covered all of that. And then I did wireless data standards, and just all kinds of stuff. And really, probably around 2010 2012, it all kind of started coming together in a way that like, suddenly was exciting to people. And it was called the Internet of Things. And I know that the term was invented in 1996. But it really with smartphones, it really kind of opened up things for everyone. And so I just happened to have all the things I needed to be able to talk about it. And that's really how I got into this and I'm just really lucky.

    Steve Statler 28:11

    So you you are a writer, a journalist Giga ohm, is that right? I have you segue from that to creating a podcast and I think you did some you were part of time as well. So small, small publication house.

    Stacey Higginbotham 28:28

    Yes, actually, it wasn't as much fun as kick it on, believe it or not smaller is better, I think when it comes to jobs and businesses, but that's just me. I actually started out covering finance, because I like learning nerdy things. So like I took my CFA exam, and I did not pass because quant is hard. But so I went to giga ohm. I did a lot of things there. And then when Giga ohm exploded in like 2015, at Giga ohm, I had started a podcast on the Internet of Things. They made me do it. And I didn't want to do it originally, but it was a lot of fun. And then when that exploded, I went over to Fortune, and I was the senior editor there. And I brought the I just kept doing the podcast because we were having a good time with it. And then fortune was kind of like, Yeah, it's fine. If you do this in your spare time. I was like, Don't you want a podcast? And they were like, No. And so eventually, I thought the podcast would be more fun. And my husband, he runs his own publication. So he was like, I'll do all the ad sales. I'll do all the hard stuff. You just get to write content. How could I say no to that?

    Steve Statler 29:37

    And so you brought an audience with you from the Giga ohm days.

    Stacey Higginbotham 29:43

    About an audience from Giga ohm it expanded a bit with Fortune. And then when I launched on my own, it went from when I started the podcast again after Giga ohm exploded, it had only like 6000 downloads per episode. And then when I got when I left. Fortunately, it had about 20,000 downloads per episode. And then it went up to about 25. And then the pandemic and changes of metrics happened. And now we're at about 2020, between 20 and 23,000 downloads per episode.

    Steve Statler 30:18

    Amazing. And so how did you? How did Kevin become part of the formula? What was how did that come about?

    Stacey Higginbotham 30:27

    I've known Kevin since 2008. He joined Giga ohm. He was a mobile device expert. And Giga ohm bought his company because he was a blogger from way back when, and then we just, we stuck it out in the second I was able to like, Kevin is awesome. He did it just for fun. The first like from, I guess, April of 2015, all the way too late April of 2016, when I finally sold my first ad, and I could actually pay him. So he just was like, Yeah, I'll spend two hours a week talking about IoT with you just for fun. So and now now I pay him and it's awesome.

    Steve Statler 31:09

    And it's it's a great aspects to it, it just sort of seems to bring the thing alive. You both have very compatible views, but slightly different views. And so there's inherently a little bit of conflict. And that kind of adds. Maybe conflict is overstating it, but it's just great. That dynamic that you have, between you do you kind of decide Do you have like a decision about wanting to introduce more or less? How do you conflict? Or how do you decide on how you're going to interact? On Air?

    Stacey Higginbotham 31:45

    We interact in person, just like we interact on air. I mean, there's, like, there's maybe more singing by me in person. But really, it's it's pretty much the same, like, and that's I think that's why it works, because we're really not faking anything. We're just talking to each other. And he's a super device gadget, heavy person. And I'm like, super, like, hardware, nerdy, and kind of weird, esoteric business things. And he is just like, he could care less. But he loves talking about like programming and things like that. So we work well together.

    Steve Statler 32:23

    You do you do? You mentioned singing. So I think that's the perfect segue to our traditional three questions or one question about three songs. Are there three songs that favorites or favorites as of today that have some special meaning to you that bring back memories or something like that?

    Stacey Higginbotham 32:44

    Sure. So I think this is hard. This is not a song. It's an entire album. But when you hear the album, you're gonna understand why it's not a song. It's Brian, he knows Music, Ambient Music for airports, because there's like, four songs. That's, I mean, that is it's my I do it. When I'm traveling. I do it what I like need to meditate but can't meditate. So that's a really important. I know it's an album. And then my favorite song probably is Paul Simon. Again, the whole album for Graceland is excellent. But I'm gonna go with Graceland the song, because it's just a good song. And then Patti Smith, and because the night because it's just awesome to sing to

    Steve Statler 33:31

    say, wonderful. That's, you're the first person who has included ambient music in their list. So congratulations on that. And it's actually a personal favorite of mine. So extra points.

    Stacey Higginbotham 33:45

    Do you do? Do you know even the songs on there

    Steve Statler 33:48

    is no, no. Okay.

    Stacey Higginbotham 33:51

    I felt like a cheater, but I'm like, oh,

    Steve Statler 33:54

    no, I love his bush of ghosts. thing that he did with? What's his name from the talking heads. Anyway, yeah. David burn my life in the bush of ghosts. And I just, he's just a fascinating, fascinating musician.

    Stacey Higginbotham 34:12

    He's one crazy musician, like just crazy thinker. I like it.

    Steve Statler 34:19

    Yeah. And done all the production with you too, and so many other great groups. Wonderful. Well, Stacy, it's been a delight. Thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing a bit about yourself.

    Stacey Higginbotham 34:32

    Thank you for having me.

    Steve Statler 34:33

    So I hope you enjoyed our show this week. For me it was a real treat. I thought Stacy's background was fascinating. I love hearing the story about how people start their businesses. And this is a unique one of the most influential podcasts. So if you haven't, thank you very much for listening. As always, please do tell your friends rate us on whatever platform you Use and look forward to speaking to you again next time