Mister Beacon Episode #41
Virtual Beacons & RTLS - MistMay 16, 2017
Ex Cisco CTO now CTO co-founder of Mist, Bob Friday, reveals what his company is doing to use virtual beacons to enhance the management of beacons and eliminate them in some cases. He also describes how their technology, which is OEMed by Cisco can be used in an Real TIme Location System to track assets rather than people.
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Steve Statler 00:03
Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. My name is Steve Statler of Statler Consulting. And we've been hearing a lot from people watching the show. Thanks very much. For those of you that reached out, check us out on statlerconsulting.com, you can subscribe there, and check out our book Beacon Technologies on Amazon. So that's enough of me promoting myself, I'm gonna help another company, promote them selves in some small way through this podcast. We're talking to Bob Friday of Mist. Bob is the co founder, I believe CTO, he was CTO at Cisco. So definitely a heavyweight in the industry. Bob, welcome to the show.
Bob Friday 00:42
Thank you. Thank you good be here.
Steve Statler 00:44
Yeah, I'm excited to have you because you are right at the nexus of, of wireless technology, steering the technology at Cisco, and then you and then you left. And you've helped start up this very innovative company with a lot of buzz around mist. So we're going to talk about what the product is, what your customers are doing and your view of the industry. But first of all, what you know what persuaded you to leave Cisco and help stop Mist.
Bob Friday 01:15
And ACV. Also, you know, I was at Cisco, and what I learned there as I was talking to customers, and we started to have more and more of our what I call our E to C customers. And they said, You know what I was there at Cisco trying to promote something called CMX was really about, you know, consumer guest experiences. And when I started talking to these customers, the more I heard about more it was about Bob, they before they were going to put another service on top of their network, they want to make sure they get visibility, you know, they didn't want to put a big bright light on their wireless network with a big mobile app or some new service, unless they're gonna get guarantee connectivity. And probably the second thing was really around what I call speed of adoption. You know, they're basically developing mobile experiences. And they really wanted the network all the location technology because the network had a key part of that experience. They want to make sure the network can keep up with their mobile app development, innovation. So know when I was at Cisco, I did a lot of work on the Meraki acquisition, everything. And the more I looked at this, the more I decided this is really going to require a whole new kind of back end architecture, you know, so we came came up blank sheet of paper problem, where it is is easier to do in a startup where you're very focused, you know, when you're trying to build a whole new architectures, it's sometimes easier to do that outside of a big company.
Steve Statler 02:33
That totally makes sense. So tell us what Mist does.
Bob Friday 02:37
So we're working on two problems right now. One is what I call Watson for wireless IP. And this is really around trying to help wires Ickes take very big symptoms, and that can look related to like doctors, right? You know, when a doctor gets a cancer patient, they get these very vague symptoms, you know, and they basically have tons of data to go through to try to find the answer the cure for that virus, it guys have kind of a very similar problem, right? When you look at a wireless problem, usually get a call and get some very big symptoms. And then you have terabytes of log files go through and try to figure out, you know, what is causing the problem? You know, so one of the visions here is really around, you know, can we bring data science, cloud all together to bring kind of this, what I call a virtual assistant, you know, that we're really helped the wires, it guide you to the problem quicker and faster. And that's kind of related to the other problem of working on, you know, when we talk about trying to put consumer experiences on top of these networks, you know, you need to have visibility. The other issue we're working on is really around, can we bring indoor location on par with GPS. And this is basically leveraging BLE. And, you know, one of the things I've seen in the industry and this is, you know, I think it's similar to what I saw happen on wi fi 1015 years ago, when we saw Wi Fi was kind of nice to have, you know, for those who don't remember, it was kind of hard to sell the Wi Fi 1015 years ago, you don't think about today, right? It's like, you know, Wi Fi is kind of a, you don't argue people argue about it. But 15 years ago, there were still arguments about whether or not they needed Wi Fi or not, I see kind of same thing happening in the indoor location space. Do we really need BLE or indoor location? I think we're starting to see BLE go for my fall nice to have to address that. And I think there's some friction points that are starting to come down, you know, we finally have a location technology and all our devices, you know, Apple, Google, they all agree to do it better or worse, I may not be the greatest location technology that is solves most of the use cases we need to solve. And probably the other big friendship point I've seen with indoor location is really up to now it's always required an overlay network, right? They require to separate infrastructure. You know, and when you converge BLE and WiFi together, you know, you overcome that friction point, you know, now we have a common infrastructure between dealing Wi Fi, so it doesn't require a separate budget. So that's what we're working on. out of the nest is this wireless for Watson and bringing indoor location apart outdoor GPS.
Steve Statler 05:05
Okay, well, it's the location technologies that have caught my eye. But if we have time, I'd like to go back to that Watson thing as well. So you have a device and I don't know whether you can kind of admit to this publicly, but that is something that is resold, rebadged by Cisco, I believe they take your product. Is that something you're allowed to talk about or not?
Bob Friday 05:28
That's a public reo. So Cisco is only I mean, our DLP technology. I can actually say I can show you this is what the inside of it looks like.
Steve Statler 05:37
Oh, fantastic. I love this stuff. So that is that looks like you've got multiple antennas in multiple radios.
Bob Friday 05:47
Yeah. So I mean, if you look at what we did when we started this project, you know, they said, we really started adding to this Watson for us it what we found when we talked to some of the retailers is they were doing these beacon projects, right, they were basically deploying a bunch of beacons for customer engagement and consumer experience stuff. But where they didn't like it didn't like the fact every time they rearranged the store, or they changed their marketing program, they basically had to move all these battery beacons around, you know, so they kind of asked us to do they asked, they said, Well, can you virtualize this beacon function. And that's what we kind of did a combination of an SDK, you know, this array, and some back end software in the Cloud, we were basically be able to take that battery peaking function, and virtualize it and put it in the cloud.
Steve Statler 06:35
So let's make sure we've really nailed this clearly, because virtual beacons, I think, is a great idea. And to give you a practical example, I've been working with a lot of airports because lots of people flow through. So it's a great place to deploy technology. And we we put beacons out at San Diego International Airport advertising a very obscure website, selling something that most people don't know about and don't care about, which is carbon offsets. And what we found was the website traffic just completely went through the roof, when we put beacons out that were pushing out Physical Web IDs driving people to the site. So 55% of the web traffic now comes from beacons, which is fantastic, and we think we can raise that. But they're attached to signs, those signs are going to get moved around. And I'm now thinking, Oh, my God, all my beacons are gonna get lost, how am I going to find these beacons, they're gonna get in some storeroom, they might be thrown away, who knows they may be detonated and diffused by the TSA. So I think that's one of the problems that what you solve, because these things gets attached to the ceiling along with the Wi Fi infrastructure. And then it doesn't matter if there's a reset of the store, it doesn't matter if if if the shelving and displays get moved around, you can just go to a console, you can point and click and decide where your virtual iBeacons are. Is that a reasonable kind of summary of what virtual beacons achieve?
Bob Friday 08:07
Yeah, no, I mean, I think that's pretty Thursday. When you look at our user interface, you know, from an IT perspective, or from really a mobile app development perspective, they can't tell the difference between a real you know, one of these beacons, right. And a beacon, you know, the interface looks like the same, there's a UID, there's a major minor. So from the mobile app program, if they've already written a program for iBeacons. It's not the difference in from the backend point of view, they can basically move these little virtual beacons anywhere in the floorplan where they have this BLE infrastructure installed. And I think, as I said, you know, you converge this with Wi Fi, you know, pretty soon you've got that BLE Wi Fi connectivity solution that solves both your indoor location problem and your Wi Fi connectivity problem.
Steve Statler 08:53
Well, looks like you took a Stanley knife to that Estimote beacon to change the battery. And I guess one of your selling points would be you don't need to do that. In that case. Although I have to say I think the latest generation of Estimote beacons has gotten really excellent battery life. And that's less of an issue, but I'm sure it's still appealing to people that then have to worry about beacon battery life.
Bob Friday 09:15
I mean, I think you talked to me, I've talked to several partners who actually, you know, there's deploy these beacons either at airports or at stadiums right now. Or even at the hospitals, right, you know, and pretty much they have a dedicated like in stadiums, you know, they're basically people flying around the country right now replacing those beacons. And that's, you know, that adds up to you know, probably a couple $100,000 a year at least people flying around keeping this beacon program battery program in place. Hospitals, same thing. They basically have one guy dedicated running around trying to keep all the batteries updated.
Steve Statler 09:49
Now, let's talk about what some of the compromises would be. So people buy the benefit of this virtualization the fact that you can point and click and move around you don't have to worry about maintaining and so forth, you've got to put some extra effort into deploying these. Would you call them antennas or receivers access points? Would you call the device?
Bob Friday 10:10
Want to get like intellectual? I mean, so when you actually look at the finished part, this is what they look like, right? Yes. So what does it what does that look like? What does that remind you?
Steve Statler 10:24
It looks like a Wi Fi access point.
Bob Friday 10:27
Yeah. So that's, that's what they look like. So that point is a you know, if you're going to be deploying Wi Fi, you know, so this is already part of the budget. Yeah. People already know how to deploy, deploy these and maintain and manage them. Billy, you know, the BLE array that we put inside of this, this thing here? You know, once you converge this together, you're already part of an ecosystem that's in place. Right? And that's what the take of the that overlay network problem, right. So yeah, no, it does require it does require cable poles. And you're right, I think what you'll find is that usually people start with the battery beacon, because this is simple and easy. You really don't need it approval or anything, you know, any marketing guy can go stick these up wherever he wants to be his mobile app working. Yeah. But eventually, you have to get to the IT department to actually maintain and read this stuff. And that's where they start to want this more enterprise grade, manageable solution.
Steve Statler 11:24
So you'll kind of positioning yourself for this early majority, when when the technology department finally figure out what these crazy marketing people have done. And they say, Hey, we need to manage this. So I want to get into how the technology works. It's fascinating, and all those multiple antennas. This virtualization only works if you've got something that is more accurate than a regular kind of standalone beacon, because otherwise you'd be pointing and clicking. And it would be some kind of amorphous thing it wouldn't, it wouldn't work. So you're achieving more accuracy with your missed devices? How do you do that? Why do you have eight radios in that thing? Well, it's actually probably more than eight, but a Bluetooth array.
Bob Friday 12:13
So the array basically as a team, so And I'd say there's two main things, here are two fundamental reasons why this fully provides better location accuracy. One is when you have a POV array, we are sending a lot more information, you know, because I don't have a battery to worry about this battery beacon, typically for battery life, since maybe one beacon the second, if you're lucky. The arrays are can send up to 40 or 50 beacons per second. So you have a lot more information to actually average.
Steve Statler 12:45
So you can transmit a lot faster without worrying about battery life, because it's all wired into the grid ultimately, over power over, you said POE power over Ethernet for the marketing people, or those of us who have bad memories, which I would count myself as one. So you're broadcasting very rapidly, and there's no compromise necessary there. And you have eight beams, and they're kind of radiating out. And presumably, my phone is seeing potentially eight beams once really strong, and then maybe two or less strong is that basically is the phone smart and figuring that out and then seeing maybe beams from another one. How does that all? How does the poor phone know where it is.
Bob Friday 13:32
So the beams are probably, this is something you know, 1015 years ago at aerospace when I was working in a Wi Fi location. This is around like this is unsupervised machine learning. So the other key piece of the puzzle here is when you're doing these RSSI based location methods, you have to know this path loss model, like you need to know the relationship between the RSSI and the distance. And that model changes for every different phone, every different device has a slightly different model. So the other key to getting better accuracy is being able to do unsupervised machine learning. And those beings, you know, are a key part of making that work. So you kind of think of each been voting on where you're at. So you have let's say two or three of these arrays, you may have anywhere from 16 to 24 Different themes voting on where you are in space, each one of those beams are being turned into a probability surfaces. You know, so basically, there's a probability where you are I have plenty for different votes and where I think you are, those probability services are which are what key to letting me basically learn what the path loss model for each different model device inside the space.
Steve Statler 14:45
So you're talking about path loss and this is we may be getting into the weeds. And we talked about it in my my book, the fact that with a beacon. It's pretty good at seeing kind of rough diff distances when you close to the beacon as your phone, you know, your phone can tell the difference between three feet and 10 feet quite well. But it can't tell the difference between 30 feet and 35 feet or 36 feet. It's just because it's because it's a curve, isn't it? It kind of goes down. And you're saying that you solve that because you basically have a lot more inputs. And there's some machine learning, which I always get very suspicious about when people say, machine learning, because I don't know, how's it happening? But where is that machine learning going on? And what's it doing, it's unsupervised. So we don't need to worry about it, it just takes care of itself. But tell us a bit more about what that means.
Bob Friday 15:44
So I think what that mean, that basically turns right, and so you have this phone here, right? So it's basically capturing all these beacons. And that's what's key like you're doing, you're doing Wayfinding, someone walking down a room or an aisle or somewhere, right, you need to get enough information to make a good average. So every second someone's moving the meter, if I only gave you one beacon, right, one piece of information, you'd have a very hard time trying to figure out where that person is I just gave you want our society. So when you actually get the machine learning, this phone here is basically sending back information every second back to Amazon, where you basically have unlimited compute and storage to do what you want with. Once all that information gets back to Amazon. There's an algorithm back there that takes all those probability surfaces, and calculates that path plot calculates for this particular phone relationship between our society distance, okay, that's your path loss thing.
Steve Statler 16:44
And that's the name of the company Mist. It's all kind of cloud type references.
Bob Friday 16:51
Cloud grounded in reality.
Steve Statler 16:55
Okay, so it's more accurate. And I think what we're kind of you described, I think we've been talking about two use cases here. One is navigation, which is less about iBeacon packets, waking up apps that have been exited are in the background. And the other one is, I've got my retailer app in the foreground, I'm in big box store, and I'm trying to find where the heck the widget is that I need to buy. So I'm not sure what the but those are quite distinct use cases, are they sending an alert to someone waking waking up the phone, and the other one is finding their way to the right place to buy something? Is that true?
Bob Friday 17:38
Yeah, I think I mean, I think there's two what I call two fundamental use cases. And this is why people are looking into these arrays now. Because they do both of them. Right? Right. There's kind of the use case where I'm transmitting beacons down. And there's something catching those beacons. And that typically is a mobile app or some mobile app catching those beacons, that usually tied to Wayfinding, or proximity notification type of use cases. The other major use case is really about listening. Okay, you know, and that's what that's another thing we found is impaired of the battery beacons, the array can actually listen to things also.
Steve Statler 18:15
Both at the same time? Can you can you broadcast and listen at the same time. So why would you want to listen?
Bob Friday 18:23
So on the left hand side, you have the kind of what I call the workflow optimization. And this is a raw asset visibility. So if you're in the healthcare industry, healthcare is probably a prime example of where you have, they want to do both wayfinding for their customers coming into the hospital trying to help patients get to the doctor office, but they also want to be able to listen to assets, right, they want to be able to track where that fusion pump this. You see it also in manufacturing, where they want to be able to help people get around the manufacturing floor, they also want to keep track of assets that are moving around the manufacturing floor.
Steve Statler 18:55
Alright, so maybe the last technical issue, question, How accurate is accurate? How accurate can you get in terms of figuring out and I still maintain the Wayfinding is slightly different to kind of proximity alerts where you're both kind of on the outbound side, but what sort of accuracy can I expect to get?
Bob Friday 19:18
As I would say, Wayfinding, and proximity actually go together? You know, we have hospitality customers right now that are putting these arrays about every 15 meters up and down hallways, you know, that type of spacing. Right now, we're getting about three meter accuracy for what we call virtual Tiki notification. You know, as people walked up and down the hallways, you want to get enough accuracy. If you want to put like a bubble somewhere, right? You want to put a virtual beacon somewhere in that hallway to help people understand what's around them. Or if you're at theme parks, we also have theme park customers where you have to dig lines, right? They want to get enough accuracy where they can hastily tell you what the point of interest where you are in line what's near you or something up. So those types of species, we get down to about a three meter bubble, you know, the, the accurately placed in that three meter level, if you want less accuracy, if you're just doing Wayfinding, you don't necessarily need that accuracy. If you're just trying to get people up and down from point A to point B.
Steve Statler 20:17
That's very good. Well, um, tell us who's who your customers at this stage.
Bob Friday 20:24
You know, some examples are a big, we have a big hospitality customers want and dolphin in, over in Disney that's using it, you know, and they're using it for two purposes. One is, you know, for their guests, and further mobile app inside of their normal guest. They're also looking at trying to do location based services, right? You know, they have big conferences and event planners coming in there. You know, it seemed like Wi Fi, they want to start providing daily, you know, daily services to the event planners coming in. Healthcare is probably another example, Michigan.
Steve Statler 20:55
So, really surfaces. So I want to be able to see what booth someone is standing out that kind of thing, or?
Bob Friday 21:03
Yeah, I think it's the same thing, right? Yeah, if you go to big events, there's several use cases there. One is, you know, hey, I want to get from point A to point B, I want to be able to help people get to the foods on the back end, people want to get the analytics of you know, how are people actually moving around with zones, locate your game visit the most? I've seen a couple of use cases where it's more of a, a you're at a big show, and you're trying to find your you're trying to find your friend, those kinds of red dot green dot. Yeah, I want to find Steve, Steve, I'm over here. And that the Oregon hands are these big, gigantic, some of these shows are very big, right? You're trying to figure out where's your buddy?
Steve Statler 21:44
The social aspect is really, I think, very exciting. So we got some events and hospitality. What are the verticals and customers? Are you seeing adopting this?
Bob Friday 21:57
I think the other one is commercial real estate, the malls right now in the malls classic. You have big mall, Miami, Brickell, mall, that's actually using it right now. You know, and that's kind of the classic, you know, trying to help people get to the retail shops, I think people are also looking at this as the beginnings of a marketing platform, right? You know, typically, when you look behind these systems, you'll find a content management some somewhere, that's really the content, the marketing platform that's helping getting information down to the guest on site. And you can think about it, when you talk to people or in this business, there's kind of this journey, whether it's in the hospitality space, or in the mall space, of the journey from home to destination. And usually, most marketing guys have a pretty good way of connecting with you, when you're at home, you know, is mean email or websites, they tend to lose track of you once you get into the venue. So when I'm working with the marketing partners now, you know, a lot of the discussions round, you know, how do you stay connected with the guests or the consumer while they're on site?
Steve Statler 23:05
Yeah, very good. And let's just wrap up. But before we do I just be interested in your overall assessment of the beacon ecosystem and last technical question, so you're like, iBeacon, you're not doing the Eddystone thing?
Bob Friday 23:22
Is that all three? We do, we do iBeacon, Eddystone. And all weekend. And I mean, that's another advantage that the, you know, you get to these pod arrays, right. There's no really cost factor, we can transmit all three beacons, you know, and when you look at what's going on, on the handset side, you know, Google and Apple are starting to build in new functionality features into their OSS to support these beacons. You know, Apple has handled a lock screen thing. Google nice, don't have that physical world thing, right, trying to build the URL into their into the web browsers.
Steve Statler 23:58
Very cool. So. So you've got a broad view of the market. What's What's your sense, you described that kind of the early days, the struggles with Wi Fi, where are we in the adoption curve, and any other comments you'd like to make about market maturity?
Bob Friday 24:13
And, you know, like I said, I think on the market side, you know, the thing that got me excited here on the DLP market is, you know, are we at a tipping point, you know, probably similar to you, right? I've been working in low indoor location for the last 10 or 15 years. I was at Cisco. I was the CTO there and I thought originally it was going to be indoor location. Should this come with our phones right? When I started to get into I found out there's a lot of moving pieces. That stopping indoor location from really becoming a standard industry standard. I think BLE is going to be one of those things that may be the breaking point for it. Is you know, back in the Wi Fi days when Intel put Wi Fi inside of our laptops. That was kind of the catalyst for the whole moving Wi Fi from a nice to have a Mustang I see kind of a similar thing going on doe, we have BLE, and all our devices now, as we have a standard interoperable technology that everybody agrees to, as kind of a proximity, location technology. So I think we're there in the ecosystem of that happening. We have the BLE, and that breaks down BLE chip cost, right? That's what happened with Wi Fi. Now, once you break that we started getting very low costs, the elite technology to go on devices, the bigger the beacon ecosystem must be like 40 or 50. Ami vendors do you think out there are making beacons down, I think you're starting to reach critical mass on the beacon.
Steve Statler 25:42
The beacon ecosystem going I should know this 380 companies registered in what used to be called proximate, the proximity directory. They're not all making beacons. But there's a lot of beacons there. We don't need more hardware, we need more solutions. But I think anyone who can optimize operational issues is going to be welcomed as we moved from early adopters to, to kind of the early majority.
Bob Friday 26:12
As I said before, I think the other big hurdle to this thing has been the overlay network problem. And your location has always been associated with an overlay network. You know, ble now, we're basically converging that BLE with Wi Fi. So I can eliminate the friction point around the overlay network problem. And I think probably the industry I've seen the most looking to be early adoption, initially has probably been the healthcare industry. Because they're they have a very strong history of RTLs. Right? There's been a lot, there's been a lot of RTLs in that industry,
Steve Statler 26:47
Wi Fi beacons, right, there's the Stanley healthcare and so forth. But those those things tend to have not great battery life. Am I talking out of school, isn't it?
Bob Friday 26:59
I mean, I think that's, you know, healthcare is kind of a great example where they've had vertical indoor location, right? They had Stanley healthcare where point synth track and they're looking to BLE is kind of moving to this horizontal standards based solution, right? Where there's an ecosystem of Beacon players, there's an ecosystem of BLE infrastructure players, and an ecosystem of business logic players that go on top of this standards based solution.
Steve Statler 27:24
I absolutely agree. And we saw what the first wave was bigger than stadiums, sports stadiums, and other like airports is really big. But I agree, I think healthcare seems to be increasingly where people are focusing. And it's where this nexus of engaging with the public and giving them great benefits, like being able to check in without getting in line in the crowded doctor's studio and finding the appointment. And then you have asset tracking, which to me, that's one of the trends of 2017 is asset tracking, because the ROI is just a lot easier to track. If you're tracking pallets. You know, there's operational efficiencies in factories, there's, I don't have to buy so much expensive equipment, if I know where it is in a, in a hotel. So in a hospital, rather. So I think that's super exciting. And I'm seeing that from my clients, I'm like, I've decided one of the areas I'm going to focus on probably the area is manufacturing. And you know, we're talking offline about exactly that with one of my, with one of my clients. The other thing that I see, and I think it's going to probably be as big as iBeacon. And it's going to be as big as Eddie stone is nee add national emergency address database 911. And it's a dream project. For me, I'm working on it. And it's being driven by something that the carriers have to do. So they're all all the major phone carriers are behind it. And this is basically a project to make your phone Bluetooth beacon aware when you dial 911. And that means rather than a kind of dodgy inaccurate location that goes to the call centers, we'll get dispatchable addresses that are more accurate. And we're gonna get for floor level accuracy, which can save lives. And so I you know, just as someone who's getting on and my friends are getting on then then I want that 911 Call to be responded to quickly. And so I think there's gonna be an obligation, kind of a genuine desire to help guests and make sure they don't die on premises. And then there's going to be and we don't want the legal liability, and that's going to translate into lower insurance rates. If you have a beacon infrastructure that allows 911 to work better in your facility. And it's just starting to get going. We're getting the standards going. We should talk about this offline actually what Miss can do as part of that, but I think, you know, I see a future where one of the reasons why people buy beacons is just to get the info structure in place, it'll be like smoke alarms. Then once you've got the smoke alarms in there, oh, actually I can make money out of it, I can prove improve the customer experience. I think that's gonna be huge.
Bob Friday 30:12
So joining Cisco, I was working on a 911. And as you know, right.
Steve Statler 30:17
You guys are part of it. Yeah, on the Wi Fi. It's not just beacons, it's Wi Fi as well, to be fair, but but beacons have an important place to play in terms of spreading it further at a lower cost with more accuracy.
Bob Friday 30:30
I think in your location, right, I mean, in any one one system to start ingesting other location sources, and especially in your location source. That was an effort at Cisco, we worked out that the whole back end every game, the 911 system, be able to take input from other sources, other media sources besides this the phone system.
Steve Statler 30:50
That's happening, it's happening.
Bob Friday 30:51
It should happen.
Steve Statler 30:52
Very good. Bob Friday, Mist. Really exciting technology, very innovative. And it's been great to hear about your customers and your view on the industry. Really appreciate it. So, so imagine you're on a rocket ship to Mars, and for some bizarre reason, you can only take three songs with you, what would be your three songs, Bob?
Bob Friday 31:44
So that's an easy question right now, because I'm in the process of trying to learn to play guitar. Take it Easy by Eagles Blackbird by The Beatles, and I Know You're Right by the Grateful Dead.
Steve Statler 31:58
Okay, very good. Well, thanks for that.