Taoglas uses a range of technologies to ensure its antennae solutions deliver on a wide range of IoT and smart city applications
A smart city is built around a wireless infrastructure and vital to the effectiveness of this is the humble antenna. These bits of hardware are playing an integral role in the adoption of the Internet of things (IoT) and smart city facilitation.
One company that is witnessing the smart city revolution from the front line is Taoglas, a leading global antenna products and RF service provider. Established 13 years ago in what was termed as the machine2machine (M2M) ecosystem, the company has gone from strength to strength reporting year on year growth and profit since 2007.
Taoglas is headquartered in Ireland and has manufacturing facilities in Taiwan and production and testing centres in Germany and the US. It first started out with early telematics but soon segued into other verticals such as health and utilities. However, in the past six years, the IoT has overtaken to M2M landscape, offering up a steady stream of possibilities.
“There’s a huge variety of different applications now and all sorts of devices of different shapes and sizes, some crazy things, some really smart things,” says Taoglas’ Co-CEO, Dermot O’Shea.
In terms of smart cities, the company’s antennae solutions are used in the prevention, detection and monitoring of remote assets by utilities companies. They feature heavily where it comes to smart metering, as they can transmit readings from hard to get at places such as basements, or meters surrounded by lots of metal or concrete.
“The more efficient the antenna, the better the intended smart city integration,” says O’Shea.
Other examples of antennae applications are found in the subterranean identification of faults in hydraulic hoses. These routinely carry hazardous liquids under streets and buildings and any weaknesses in the hose can be detrimental to human health. By clipping tiny sensors to these hoses, any leaks can be immediately detected, but more than that, these sensors can predict where a leak is likely to occur up to a fortnight before.
Waste management is another area ripe for smart city innovation. Taoglas’ antennae have been used in a waste management solution from Massachusetts-based waste and recycling management company, Bigbelly. Installed in waste and recycling bins, which communicate when they are full, the antennae help to determine waste-collection frequency patterns and collection routes, making significant savings on fuel as well as reducing emissions.
Security, too, has been given a new lease of life under the smart city umbrella. All security appendages – alarm panels, security gates, doors, cameras -- are pretty much monitored and controlled remotely.
“Practically all the alarm systems have cellular connectivity inside as a back-up even though they’re still probably providing the service by a line or by Wi-Fi,” says O’Shea.
On the more novel applications IoT front, O’Shea says, “We’ve had a lot of people doing the same things like luggage trackers, pet trackers, you know cheating spouse trackers, but I’ve never seen a successful company do it, although there’s been a huge amount of activity and investment in these areas.”
As Taoglas is on the coalface of IoT development, it is well placed to see the hype in action as well as the real innovation and development that is going on. It’s a given that the antennae market will increase, as it’s a vital enabler for successful IoT deployment, but he sees that the size of the hardware will shrink, costs will drop due to economies of scale and greater performance will be demanded.
It’s not surprising that one of big things the company is working on at present is 5G trials: how to deliver ultra speed wireless services in a built environment.
One of its customers is undertaking a millimetre wave technology trial in San Jose, where Taoglas has a production site and lab. This is in a bid to ensure all round connectivity. Four antennae have been placed on top of each lamppost, each facing in a different direction, which allows connectivity to hop from post to post. If you’re close to a post, then bingo, you get free, superfast Wi-Fi broadband.
O’Shea sees that 5G is only going to make commercial sense in an urban environment. Cities put in the 5G infrastructure, which will see an explosion in the type and range of services on offer including connected cars and driverless vehicles which need total connectivity everywhere.
But cellular is just one of the connectivity technologies Taoglas is working with. It offers solutions across a whole range of technologies to cover the needs of all IoT apps and devices including Sigfox, LoRa, Ingenu, LPWAN, GPS and multi-user, multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO) technology.
Says O’Shea: “Cellular is great but it is very expensive for a lot of this smart city type stuff. If you’re only going to communicate with something only when there is an event triggered, cellular doesn’t actually make commercial sense.
“We even had a customer in Minneapolis who was doing cellular rat traps. You could tell when the rat trap was being activated, especially around places where food was involved because you don’t want rats stinking out the place because you didn’t know it was there.
“It didn’t go well because although it’s a great idea, people just didn’t want to pay for it. They didn’t want the subscription and the cost of the rattrap etc. I think if you could do something with Sigfox or LoRa then it could work. That is why we make sure that we’ve got all these products for our customers.”
Ensuring that the customer has the right solution for the job in hand is vital. The company offers both off-the-shelf products as well as customisable solutions. The ratio stands at about 80:20 to off the shelf. However, the smaller and more complex the antennae the more likely it is to be customised.
“We work with the customer to optimise their device performance,” says O’Shea. “We really try to work with the customer. What’s important to them? What’s the use case? What are they are trying to achieve? How much range do they want, and what about power consumption? If the antenna is not efficient, then a lot of the energy you’re sending to it is being dissipated. If we do this with customers, it makes a device better. They are more successful in the market and we end up selling them more antennae.”
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