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Mister Beacon Episode #84

Tailored Bluetooth Solutions – From Beacons to NB-IoT

December 28, 2018

Headquartered near Barcelona, Accent Systems’ main business is designing and developing tailored Bluetooth enabled IoT devices, from concept to an end-to-end solution. Accent Systems has worked with well-known brands such as Samsonite and Volkswagen, enabling them to offer unique services to their consumers through beacons technology. In this episode of Mr. Beacon, we talk to the CEO and Founder, Jordi Casamada about the evolution of the company over the past 11 years as well as the evolution in the beacon market: including his opinion on the retirement of Android’s Nearby and how it will affect the future. We also discuss an area where Accent Systems has pioneered, using Narrow Band IoT to connect Bluetooth devices directly to the IoT.


  • Narration 00:07

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

    Steve Statler 00:16

    Well, welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. It's been a little while things have been busy, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to talk to Jordi Casamada, who is the CEO of Accents, who are really a very major beacon provider that we haven't had a chance to, to cover. So Jodi, welcome to the show. And thanks for joining us.

    Jordi Casamada 00:40

    Thank you so much for having me.

    Steve Statler 00:42

    Well, you're in a beautiful part of the world. Where are your offices?

    Jordi Casamada 00:47

    We have the we have the headquarters near Barcelona, in Spain. And yeah, it's it's a very nice place very close to Barcelona, very convenient. And we enjoy weather like this almost every day. So it's a very good way to, to start your day.

    Steve Statler 01:04

    And your building is really quite iconic. i Yeah. Because normally, you know, we quite often we talked to Beacon companies, and they're pretty small, they're working out of a few rooms, and but you have your own building, and the whole thing is painted in a very distinctive way. What, what, what kind of led you to take that approach? And how long have you been in this incredible facility?

    Jordi Casamada 01:29

    Well, we have been in the business for the last 11 years, not only because, of course, but we are a technology company. We offer IoT solutions. And we have this building, because we also have our own factory. So we needed this bigger space to have the warehouse production land. We have people in our factory, we have people in the office. So we have 2000 square meters in this in this building. But we changed the building seven times in the last 11 years. So I think we arrived in this one, three years ago already. So I hope to stay here for a long time. Because as you can imagine changing the building is a very tough work. You need to move everything to plan everything. So it's not like a convenient way to spend your time.

    Steve Statler 02:25

    Yeah, we're actually facing the same thing in our San Diego office. So I've put it off for as long as I can. But but you're actually making your your your beacons and other electronics there. Why? Why did you decide to to make your product in Barcelona rather than offshoring the manufacturing?

    Jordi Casamada 02:49

    Actually, in the beginning of the company, we started to outsource this process in China. Actually, I was living in in Hong Kong. Like five years ago, I was very familiar with processes and so on. But nowadays, it doesn't make sense because everything if you design correctly, everything can be assembled by automatic machinery. And what we do is a specializing in some technologies, and then we can create these products using this technologies. And we reuse the same components on the same designs. We say that we have these a standard hardware platforms, that means that we can manage the same components for the same for different projects. And this is very optimized way to control your warehouse, your operations, even your production line. So this is why it's optimal to have your own factory, if you have a scenario like this, of course, this is a way to increase your fixed cost. But if you have volume enough, this is a good way to have a very short time to market process. And in the end, that means less time and best price best cost for our customers.

    Steve Statler 04:12

    How many people do you have in the company? And can you give us a sense of what those volumes are that you refer to?

    Jordi Casamada 04:21

    Currently, we are like 30 people in the company. And as a reference last year, we produce 300,000 devices, including everything. So this is this cell the number secularly a bit more. It was a bit more than 300,000 devices.

    Steve Statler 04:41

    And can you give us a rough view of of what you guys make? And maybe we should take a step back and just say I introduced you as a beacon company but you're a very distinctive company and you make a lot more than just beacon so so you know what, if you meet someone in Elevator? How do you introduce that? How do you describe what you guys do?

    Jordi Casamada 05:05

    Okay, I think I need more than elevator pitch to explain the story. But this is because probably is our baby. And we like to explain so much. But now we started as a, as a company that developed electronic products for others. It was 11 years ago, and we started a couple of people. And we designed it only disabilities. But then we started to realize that the market was requesting something more like not only one part of the process, but everything like okay, people expected electronics, but also fine. Were also the housings, cloud applications, mobile applications, all those things. So we started to hire more people with different profiles, and are starting to offer these different services around electronic products. And finally, then I went to Hong Kong, it was kind of inspiration trip, I spent there half, half a year. And actually, I went to China so many times before controlling our processes and so on. But it was very good to stay. For me, it was a very deep change of my mindset. I met some some people there that they were doing very well project. So it was a kind of inspiration for me. And well, I came back we continue with with our activity. And finally we got the factory as well. Nowadays, we have an end to end process here, we offer end to end solutions. Starting from the concept, some companies approach us with a problem or maybe an idea. We help them to identify the potential solutions with key tech to the different technologies that we can use for solving it. Different elements like okay, devices, cloud apps, all these things, we can develop everything in house. So we take 100% of the responsibility of this development. So we cannot say okay, this is not working. But this is not our fault. This is something that companies used to like. And finally we have the factory so we can produce all these things in the same place. So this is what we offer IoT solutions for any kind of problems. So we are working in many different verticals with different customer profiles, different application. So this is this is why as interesting ourselves, it's always changing. It's always solving something new. So this is quite interesting for for engineers like us.

    Steve Statler 07:51

    Yeah. And I'd like to a little bit later on in the discussion I'd like to talk about in depth about some of the projects where you really have taken Bluetooth places where it's never been before. From beacons in Samsonite suitcases, you have a product, female reproductive health products, so you're definitely taken to places it's never been before there. So very, just incredibly creative. fascinating thing. I just want to go back to the comment you made about the inspiration you got in Hong Kong. What was that paradigm shift? What was it that you took away from Hong Kong that you didn't have when you went there?

    Jordi Casamada 08:37

    Well, the situation here in Spain was really critical because the economical crisis, everybody was talking about how hard was running company? Unemployment, all these things. So it was the standard conversation that you could have in elevator. And, yeah, we were starting our company, it was like 2008 2009. So everybody was talking like this. And it was very hard to get energy to do something bigger. So at some point, I was traveling to China some some times for controlling this small processes at that point. And my my head was Hong Kong, I always went to Hong Kong first and then went to the mainland China. So I knew very well the city, it was a very dynamic city with a lot of energy, and so on. So I decided to go there. And I spent this six months there and we opened up a, let's say, a sales office there. We started to get some contacts, international companies. So I had a very good experience there and not only not only for the business, but also in a personal way. And I met so many people Some of them just wrote some integration. But some others, they are still our clients. So it was a very interesting way to open our mind. So it was a like that very good energy.

    Steve Statler 10:15

    And what was it that inspired you to get into the beacon space?

    Jordi Casamada 10:20

    The Bluetooth? Yeah, actually, we were approached by several companies at the same time asking for the same thing, something called beacon. And they were asking to develop a beacon and production for 1000 units, something like that. And we said, Okay, why everybody's asking for the same thing now. So we investigated a little bit, and we said, okay, maybe it's more more interesting for us developing our product and selling 1000 1000 1000 Instead of selling it to just one of them. So this is how we started to think about the iBeacon. And, and we did like that. So it was our first 3000 units that we sold at that point.

    Steve Statler 11:07

    And so now you're over 300,000 units a year? Can you give us some color in terms of what because you have a, maybe we can use this to talk about your range of products, as well, because you, you have a number of interesting products from basic beacons to a narrowband IoT Bluetooth gateway, I think you have a directional hub under development. So So can you describe the volume and which of the products is driving the volume for you?

    Jordi Casamada 11:45

    I would say that probably only 20% of our sales are coming from a standard beacons. And by DECA Yes, you probably know. But the rest of revenue is coming from from customers projects. So we did this keyfinder for Volkswagen, we did. Marketing gifts for banks, now are working really hard for access control devices. So things like that. So this is more or less the course, you know, when a big company has a project, a big project, and they are not normally purchasing the standard product. So this is why axon is a good partner for doing this. They come with the idea. Maybe they can use the standard products for voc. But then when they want 100,000 of units or something like that they require a lot of changes or maybe something from us pet is that gap that we are covering in the market.

    Steve Statler 12:48

    And what's what is your view of the of the market, we saw the Google announcement recently that they're retiring nearby, so Eddystone URL will no longer pop up on the on the lockscreen of Android devices. What's your take on that? And do you do use? Is the Bluetooth beacon market dead now? Or is it just going through an evolution?

    Jordi Casamada 13:21

    I think it's changing. But it has been changing all the time from the very beginning. Right? Even we have been working together with Google to develop the first tip, protocol and so on. So we had really involved in this technology, I think they never supported in in a real way. It's like they did the VR they were supporting it, but sometime along with they already stopped the support on us iOS version in Chrome. So it's not surprising that now they are dismissing it in regression. But yeah, as you know, they are now using Bluetooth beacon for some something related to that, but it's not clear yet what the what is the strategy, but I think it's consistent with Matthew of Google's business, right. So yeah, it's tending probably everybody was thinking that because it was created for proximity marketing, but again from the very beginning was so amazing use cases super different than our proximity marketing solution. So, we are we attending the projects, we are attending the use cases. So that means that the potential customers profile is different than before that this is happening all the time.

    Steve Statler 14:52

    Yeah, my dogs joining in the discussion in the background so that the so In terms of the impact on projects that this is going to see, do you do you expect this retirement of nearby to have a serious dent in in your sales?

    Jordi Casamada 15:14

    Not actually, because I think people that used to purchase beacons for this use case, they were just buying a small kit for small shops or small businesses. So this is not a big impact for us. Because we were more involved in big projects we had, we have actually process to configure the beacons automatically. So we have like some tools for big deployments. And this is approaching, that makes sense for big projects for big companies. So I don't think this is a big impact. It's a pity, of course, we will see how this is evolving inside Google strategy. But anyway, I don't think this is good. This is a big impact for us.

    Steve Statler 16:06

    And of course, Eddystone UID is still useful. And you can still track other beacon formats within within Android. It's not like you can't use a beacon on an Android phone. Is that fair to say?

    Jordi Casamada 16:24

    Yes, I believe you have an app. I think you can manage protocols in many different ways. So this is not an issue, I think.

    Steve Statler 16:34

    What about discovery? I mean, maybe this is a good way to segue to some of your customers. But what are you seeing? So if we don't have Eddystone URL, what what is left available for to get people from no app to, to having an app in the United States, we have a number of networks of companies that have SDKs and free apps. And there to me, they this is good for them. They're, you know, if you have an SDK and 100 million news and weather apps, which you know, companies like reveal have, there's companies like in market who have who have SDKs in applications like Epicurious and WebMD, that have, you know, 10s of millions of downloads, then they're still in the business of, of engaging with beacons, even though someone may not have a particular brands app, you may have a brand of parmesan cheese where people are not going to have a parmesan cheese app, but they can they can use those. Is there anything like that in Spain? How are you seeing companies and brands who kind of want to get into the beacon space, get into it and overcome this hurdle of, you know, not everyone can can have a groundbreaking mobile app?

    Jordi Casamada 18:07

    Yeah, I think this is not only in Spain, of course, we are operating everywhere in the world. And we see the same scenario everywhere. And I think this is the biggest barrier for the proximity marketing, you need to create this audience. This is why we were involved in this project, like Volkswagen or Samsonite, because they have a lot of users. So they are creating the community immediately not. And but again, now, if they cannot use the Big Daddy stone URL, they they need to partner with some other applications with a lot of users. So this is the this is the key point for the proximity marketing, use case for the beacons, you need to create this audience. And this is the most critical point for most of the projects. But the only way is to partner with a bigger app in some in some way. And get this this channel.

    Steve Statler 19:09

    Yeah, I was really interested. Yelp is, is obviously very big in the States. That's beacon aware, Shazam has been beacon away for many years. And of course, Facebook is as well. And my sense is that the advertising companies Facebook and and Google still have an interest in using beacons as a way of doing attribution to see okay, someone saw an ad did they go into a store and you know, personally, given what Wiliot outs doing with with tags that will be passive and be embedded in products, then I see that attribution going, not just did they go into the store, but they pick up the product. And so I think those companies have a huge opportunity with beacons Then they obviously have the hooks to, to leverage that. Are you seeing? You know, do you have a perspective on that? Or should we focus on other some of the other products?

    Jordi Casamada 20:14

    Well, I have my own opinion. But again, this is just a personal opinion, I think you'd like this. But yeah, so some news last last week, Google is spreading some beacons in small businesses. And this is not clear the final intention, but I think it's, we can, we can assume that what they are trying to do is combining this beacon technology for for adverse application. So yeah, they are solving our audience, I think, because everyone is using Android or Google Chrome or something like that. So they are really have this, this audience. This is the difference between regular company and Google. Facebook, they also have a big audience. So all these companies, they have the channel, they only need to be come in sometimes. Sometimes, the small companies or smaller companies have the opposite situation they have. They have the app, they have beacons, but they don't have many users, right? Yes. So this is my opinion. This is why probably Google dismissed at this time Eddystone URL, but now they are trying to integrate this beacon functionality on that verse problem.

    Steve Statler 21:39

    Yeah, that's it's kind of interesting. They're making it harder for the small companies to ramp up on beacons. But they don't have that problem, because they have the footprint. Can you tell us a bit about the SAM Samsonite project, the suitcase project? That's really a classic. And I think it was the most prominent deployment of Eddystone e ID there a femoral standard? Can you tell us the story behind that and how that's gone?

    Jordi Casamada 22:10

    Yeah. So as you can imagine, we have an NDA in place. So I cannot share more information than when it's it's public. But yeah, it started, like the project to start. The day they came to axon, and they explain it the problem, which is abuse, people want to have control at the suitcase, they want to track. They had the community of users, but they are facing some legal issues, regulation issues, as you know, ERP, airliners, they like to have these smart things on the plane, especially when they you have to take in the luggage and you are not controlling it, because of the battery because of the emissions of of signals. And this is the situation they are facing few things like that.

    Steve Statler 23:11

    Yeah, that's challenging, but it's it's a great idea. Tell us about some of the other projects that you guys have been been doing with beacons where the beacon has been embedded in, in a consumer product.

    Jordi Casamada 23:30

    Probably the most successful for us is the Volkswagen keyfinder. It was not only iBeacon. But it was a way, we included an iBeacon frame on this device. So it was a way to control when the app was close to the to the keys. And we created this app, all the community, every everyone that got a Volkswagen car in Spain, Turkey and New Zealand, they got a keyfinder like this. And it created automatically a big, big commodity. So it was interesting for the for the brand, because this is a way to almost obligate the user to download an app, accepting the terms and conditions and opening a new two ways communication channel. So it was a way to get some information for for the customer from the customer. And then activating the push notification with irrelevant, irrelevant information as usual. But it was one of the interesting use cases it was not be called for proximity marketing, but we changed the architecture. We put the beacon on something that it was mobile. And actually it was the beginning of the discussion about the Eddystone ad because some privacy issues came with this project. We needed to protect them privacy of the users. So this is why all the companies are starting to think about, okay, we need to rotate the MAC address, we need to rotate everything to ensure that we can identify the user. But we are the only company or only a system that is able to identify the user more than anyone else. It was especially important for the Samsonite project, you know, when you are traveling, and depending on who is the person that is bringing the suitcase, it's quite critical to keep the identity of this person and

    Steve Statler 25:37

    What proportion of your tags or beacons use an ephemeral ID versus some kind of stack static ID.

    Jordi Casamada 25:48

    Not that much, because it's quite complex to ensure that you will keep the temporary rotation in place. So in case that you need to replace the battery or something like that, you can create an issue because then you lose the synchronization between the device and the cloud. And as you know, this is end to end encryption, and they are rotating at the same speed. And this is quite critical. It's not, it's not. In my opinion, it's not a good solution for all the use cases. So if you can avoid it, then it's better. You are safer.

    Steve Statler 26:26

    Yeah, we've in our tags, we have no batteries. And so we've definitely been dealing with. With that. And I think there's a lot to be said for eliminating that synchronization issue. Okay, let's, let's talk about your NB IoT gateway product. That's really interesting. It's fairly new, I think, what are the use cases where you're bridging? Kind of the wider area network with with a with a Bluetooth connection?

    Jordi Casamada 27:05

    Yeah, it's not. It's not quite new. Actually. We launched the product two years ago. All right. Yeah. But yeah, it was probably a bit too early because of the maturity of the network, you know, NB IoT. Now, last week, we saw this lounge between Twilio and T Mobile, they are now starting to offer the connectivity. But yeah, we we got the opportunity, actually, because of the assessment project, it was an asset tracker, because this device can be connected become it can be an asset tracker, and it can be a gateway as well, it depends on how you configure the device. And we've had the opportunity, we started to create a device like this, but still dealing with a network.

    Steve Statler 27:57

    Yeah, that's another layer of complexity. On your website, you show the device embedded in a pallet is that a real life use case that you've

    Jordi Casamada 28:09

    Yes, we bring this to yours, we have been doing a lot of POCs. Actually, we have been working really hard with mobile operators, because even they have the network already working. Probably they don't have a commercial plan and so on. But they finally need to test the network and so on. So we started to, to do some POCs with specific client and so on, we have more than 100 units spread around the world, especially in Europe, some in us, a small cities in Asia, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Middle East as well. So we have POCs, everywhere, testing it. And this this video, I think you are talking about a video that we published some some months ago. This is a real POC. We are we are testing the technology to track the assets during the test transportation, so we can collect things like temperature shock detection as well. And especially in that location. We are using several technologies. So this is a this is a good way to have a second life for beacons. We are using Bluetooth beacons for indoor location, this high definition, localization for indoors, but we also use Wi Fi to triangulate and get the get the location you don't need to have your own Wi Fi network. So even when you are in the street, we scan for the MAC address of the surrounding networks. And we resolve the location using third parties. databases like Google's API here maps on this. And finally we use the satellites like GPS As long as so this is, this is a way to get allocation in other spaces. And we use narrowband IoT LTM to transmit this, this information to the to the cloud, which is a very efficient way, because of the power consumption and cost of the subscription.

    Steve Statler 30:17

    This is a very sophisticated, complicated building block here, it's a long way from this simple tag with a coin cell battery.

    Jordi Casamada 30:28

    Yeah, it's a totally different device. But we had this vision two years ago, we really thought that it was the next step for a big company. And actually, I think it's the finally demonstrated that everybody is now approaching this asset tracking projects and functionalities. Of course, it's more complex than iBeacon. But it has so many other things in staffed in, in the device. But this is, you know, this technologies, new technologies open, new opportunities that it couldn't be resolved in all classical technologies.

    Steve Statler 31:08

    Where do you see the future? What are the applications that will drive beacon volumes for you? That sounds like this POC is a fairly low volume at the moment.

    Jordi Casamada 31:20

    Yes, for the for the asset tracker for this IoT tracker. Of course, this is again, an issue for the because of the maturity of networks. Now this is increasing. But for specifically for the weekend. We think that this is a very good way to promote the contract Knology because we have clients with big buildings, they need to track assets in, in a warehouse, airports, things like that. But so we don't have the classical barrier. Like, we don't need an app or something like that. This is totally different strategy, totally different approach. We have these beacons, we have these trackers, you don't need anything else. So this is a very good way to track everything inside these buildings with curacy and really low power consumption.

    Steve Statler 32:15

    Well, God, this is been really fascinating. I really appreciate your giving up some of your time to give us an insight to what you've been doing and what you're doing in the future. Thank you so much.

    Jordi Casamada 32:29

    Thank you so much for having me. I had

    Steve Statler 32:38

    What songs they would take on a trip to Mars.

    Jordi Casamada 32:42

    So if I had to decipher three songs, I would say better together by Jack Johnson on song because it reminds me a nice moment. Highway to Hell by ACDC which is pure energy. So this is like a good way to start helping. Maybe Someday like Passenger, because when you are very stressful, you know, you used to think about okay, someday I love blah, blah blah. It's a nice song as well.

    Steve Statler 33:14

    Fantastic. Thanks for indulging us with that little tradition.