IoT Blog
IoT Blog

25 Years of Creating a More Connected World

This year, Sierra Wireless is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Even before the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined, we were a pioneer in building it – enabling the integration of devices, wireless networks and software so that first responders, retailers, utilities, consumers and others could connect to data that allows them to be more productive and make better, faster decisions. 

Over the past 25 years in the wireless industry, we’ve been privileged to see our customers using IoT technology to create a better and more sustainable world, helping to save lives, reduce carbon emissions, make communities safer, track assets, maintain equipment and improve products. We’ve worked with customers to help them embrace connectivity and transform their businesses – whether through our first cellular modems for vehicles or later innovations like Smart SIMs and Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) modules. Let’s look back at some technologies that have impacted all of our lives and ahead at new innovations that our customers are using to reimagine their future in the connected world.

We Were IoT Before IoT Was Cool

In the 1990s, we were one of the first companies to deliver devices that connected to wireless data networks to transfer data. Some of our first products were cellular modems that could be installed in cars and other vehicles, allowing first responders, outside salespeople, line workers and other mobile workers to access applications and update information even when they were out of the office.

We took this technology a step further in 1999 when we introduced the first Wide Area Network (WAN) interface card. Users could plug it directly into their laptops and then access the internet and enterprise applications via wireless data networks. For the first time, anyone with a laptop – untethered from their office or home Ethernet – could connect to the internet as long as they had a cellular data plan and coverage. 

As 3G, 4G and LTE wireless networks were introduced, Sierra Wireless marked more “industry firsts” launching new products that allowed our customers to take advantage of the enhanced data capabilities of these new networks. Perhaps most importantly, we delivered the first embedded SIM for the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) market and the first 3G M2M gateways in 2007. These new products marked an important inflection point for the IoT, in that they fully enabled vehicles, shipping pallets, point-of-sale systems, eReaders and other “things” that were not computers to easily and continuously connect to the internet via cellular networks. In doing so, they accelerated the development of supply-chain, retail, industrial and other IoT solutions that connect to, manage and optimize these things.

As the IoT has grown and matured, we have expanded into new areas, working on standards for and developing entirely new types of connectivity hardware, launching new open software and hardware platforms for IoT developers and introducing our Smart SIM and Connectivity Services.

Low Power Wide Area – A Wireless Network for the IoT

Our involvement in the development of the Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) wireless network standard has given us a unique view into the endless opportunities that LPWA technologies create for IoT. LPWA technologies (LTE-M and NB-IoT) cost less, require less power, have greater coverage and can connect to more devices in a given area. 

IoT developers can now build solutions with longer expected lifespans (10 years battery life or more), because LPWA devices require up to 100 times less power than broadband LTE, enabling devices dependent on batteries to last much longer. LPWA can also reduce IoT device costs by as much as 50 percent, dramatically improving the ROI of IoT solutions. LPWA’s coverage advantages extend cellular coverage into underground, indoor and rural locations, enabling new cellular IoT use cases such as pipeline monitoring, building energy management and smart farming.

Earlier this year, we showcased an exciting LPWA use case at Mobile World Congress. French startup Intellinium has designed a smart safety shoe to improve worker safety in remote, dangerous or noisy workplaces, such as construction sites, factories, mines, oil platforms, and commercial fishing and agriculture operations. Connected using our AirPrime® HL Series cellular LPWA module, the smart shoe allows workers to send and receive messages handsfree by touching a toe to a sensor in the shoe. 

“By leveraging Sierra Wireless IoT technologies, we were able to transform a simple work shoe into a smart device that can speed up response time to occupational accidents and is quickly gaining traction with international industrial companies.”
–Mathieu Destrian, CEO, Intellinium

Smart SIM and Connectivity Services – More Resilient, Higher Quality Coverage

Thanks to Apple’s recent eSIM announcement, the industry is abuzz with discussion about the impact of embedded SIMs on IoT and businesses around the world. An embedded SIM is built directly into the device and allows the device user to switch between network operators without changing the SIM card. 

We’re proud to say that in 2016, we were the first company to roll out a Smart SIM that can hold multiple operator agreements on a single card. With a Smart SIM, our customers benefit from devices being able to connect to the best available network using a cost-effective single SIM solution for IoT connectivity.

California-based Sentient Energy took advantage of the Smart SIM’s capabilities to enhance their grid analytics system, which offers utilities a cost-effective remote monitoring solution that can be deployed and deliver results within hours. When Sentient wanted to expand their grid monitoring capabilities to quickly and easily deploy with multiple carriers around the world, they chose to use a single SIM solution. 

“With the Sierra Wireless embedded modules and Smart SIM, we can deploy our cellular solution without making large changes, and we can deploy anywhere in the world.”

–Samir Badia, Program Manager, Sentient Energy

Sentient’s grid monitoring system is equipped with a Sierra Wireless Smart SIM that works with most operators in a region, anywhere in the world and will connect dynamically to the best carrier network when a data-service failure is detected. By using a Smart SIM, Sentient saved a significant amount of time on deployment – there was no need to manage multiple carrier agreements or integrate with multiple SIM management platforms. Plus, regardless of operating region, the company only needed one SIM for every deployment. 

Opening Up the IoT with mangOH and Legato 

In recent years, we’ve also seen increased adoption of open source hardware and software platforms, like our own mangOH® and Legato™ platforms, that enable IoT developers to accelerate the commercialization of IoT solutions. For example, mangOH provides developers with as much as 90 percent of the hardware and software they need to build a proof of concept or prototype an application, which means they can bring products to market faster and at lower cost.

Open source hardware and software platforms are being used by innovators around the world, from university students and startups to major household names. For example, this year we worked with a team of students at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to add a telemetry system to their solar boat using mangOH Red. We also saw design house Glassboard use mangOH Red to develop a first responder equipment tracking solution over just 24 hours at the AT&T Civic Hackathon – Glassboard won “Best Use of an AT&T Starter Kit” for their innovative solution. 

“The mangOH red development kit allowed me and my hackathon team to quickly build and test a new and innovative mobile RFID and GPS tracking solution that will assist first responders in their response to disasters and emergencies.”

–Drew Westwick, VP of Technology, Glassboard

We’re excited to see open source hardware and software platforms being embraced by well-known, established companies like Bosch Software Innovations; the company is using mangOH Red in their connected agriculture application, designed to optimize harvests, with sensors to measure humidity, temperature and luminosity in different plants. Plus, AT&T recently released the Connected By AT&T developer kit, using our mangOH Red platform.  

A More Connected World 

Although 25 years might seem like a long time, we believe we’re at “the end of the beginning” regarding the use of wireless networks and IoT to build a more connected world. As we enter this new phase for IoT, we look forward to the pace of transformation in businesses, industries and markets accelerating even further and having customers who Start with Sierra lead the way.