Making Sense of Location Based Services

An Interview with Glenn Collinson Co-founder of Neul

The following interview was carried out with Glenn Collinson on July 9th 2012 at Neul’s office in Cambridge. 

Glenn Collinson – Board Member, Chairman of the Strategy Committee. Glenn Collinson is a co‐founder of CSR and helped to manage its growth from a start‐up in 1998 to its listing as a public company in 2004. He retired from the Board of CSR in 2007. Glenn was a non‐executive director of Sonaptic Ltd from April 2005 until its sale to Wolfson in July 2007. Glenn currently holds positions as a non‐executive director of DiBcom SA, Inside Contactless SA and Wolfson Microelectronics plc. Prior to co-founding CSR, Glenn held senior positions at Cambridge Consultants Ltd. (1996‐1998) and Marketing Manager at Texas Instruments (1989‐1996). He is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and holds a B.Sc. in Physics and an M.Sc. in Electronics from Durham University, as well as an MBA from Cranfield University.

What is Neul’s mission?

 Neul is a complement of two great ideas which makes for a really great company, the ideas being on the one hand the use of TV White Space spectrum and the second M2M (machine to machine) communications.  This encompasses our mission statement – The Internet of Everything.

Would you see the terminology of the Internet of Things being changed to the “Internet of Everything” ?

Possibly.  That would be a natural progression. The internet of Everything is all encompassing and Neul’s present focus is on M2M which we are very good at but the technology will also be used to connect people as well.

Could you expand on this when you say for connecting people, can you explain?

 Starting with the topic of white space, this is the biggest change in the field of wireless communications since 3G with over 100 MHz of prime spectrum now available in the band that would have been chosen for cellular telephony had it been available 30 years ago.  This is ideal spectrum for long range wireless communications and is now available for free today in the US. This availability will be closely followed by the UK in 2013 catalysed with Weightless’ seal of approval from Ofcom this year.

The train has essentially left the station, with the UK’s liberalisation which will be closely followed by the European Union in 2014.  TV white space is a homolgated band meaning that the majority of the worlds TV broadcasters operate in the same spectrum – 100MHz to 700MHz.  So once there is a proven business model and a technology demand, there will be a key driver to adopt the same regulatory approach (worldwide).

The use of TV white space is a gigantic subsidy (in the order of $10 billion) effectively to the technology industry compared to the costs of licensed spectrum. A case in point is the £21m auction for 3G spectrum as an example.

Neul has the only few fully functional radio TV white space units which can be used for the Internet of Everything.  The biggest trial so far for TV white space operation  in the world was conducted between June 2011 and April 2012 in the UK by a consortium of cross industry groups.  The industries represented include the Broadcast Industry with BSkyB and BBC, the Telecommunications Industry, with BT,  the Technology World with Samsung and Nokia and finally Microsoft which was a key sponsor from a publicity and organisational perspective.

So this large group of companies partnered with Neul to design a  trial effectively equipping the City of Cambridge in the UK with white space coverage utilising several base stations.  A number of extensive tests were carried out to determine that that the use of this spectrum did not interfere with the TV and wireless microphones which are prime users of this band.  Significant detailed analysis was carried out with TV detector vehicles driving around Cambridge looking for whether the use of this network caused any problems with TV signals.

The results of the analysis were conclusive in the that the technology is benign and does not interfere with the other prime users as long as the Geo Location methodology approach is adopted.  With this positive outcome legislation will be passing through parliament later this year making it fully legal to use TV white space for machine to machine applications.

For a rural trial a base station was installed at Melbourn, a rural community south of Cambridge, and linked to a household in Orwell.  Residents in the hamlet were able to achieve download speeds of up to  8Mbps over a distance of 5.5 kilometres.  The result was successful with no break in service which has led Neul for its first commercial take up of Fixed Broadband Service in the US which will be rolled out in the UK in 2013.

You mentioned about Geolocation database, could you explain what you mean about that?

 The use of TV white space has been the debated for quite along time.  People have been aware of the very inefficient use of this spectrum and the increase in demand for mobile data has brought this into sharp focus.

The initial idea was based on cognitive radio either smart radio which would sense what signals were out there and  adjust in real time to avoid interfering with the prime users.  This proved to be a too significant a technological challenge and an alternative method was adopted using a Geo Location database.  This in essence is a central repository or knowledge base of all the prime users for the TV band (its a record of all the TV transmitters recorded in one database, ie their location, polarisation and power levels).  The database also includes other users in particular wireless microphones.

Will M2M usage affect people directly?

It is true to say that a person will not be able to purchase a M2M unit from a retail store.  Neul’s core technology is first of all a radio that works well in white space but it is deeper than that. Neul is bringing to the values of short range communication (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC) to long range communications. Neul’s technology is characterised by lower cost, a dollar or so silicon on the radio, very low power, so that the batteries work for a very long time (up to ten years) and as a result of that can be deeply embedded into many, many devices.

We are bringing that “core ethos”  to the world of long range communications and the basic methodology to do that is to use a spread spectrum technique, that is spread the signal out in time such that the power levels at which  one needs to transmit are reduced significantly without compromising the long range capability.

 “In a nut shell, Neul’s radios will cost a couple of dollars, they will work for 10 years off a small primary battery that does not need to be recharged and yet they will still transmit up to 10 kilometres.”

 That dramatic statement is the logical value add that Neul is bringing to the table.  There has been a massive technological barrier that has held back the the world of M2M communications. Neul has now addressed that.

When you mean everything, does that mean that if I lose my car keys I will be able to find them again using Google?

 Absolutely.  Effectively you will never lose your car keys again and why stop at that.  Never lose anything again.  The size of the device would be in the order of a key fob in a couple of years time which includes the chip, external electronics and the battery.

You will need a location based capability as well in there but with the cost of GPS coming down it wont be a problem. And then with the final icing on the cake, we can build into the Weightless specification an Indoor Location capability.  It wont be very finely tuned but it it will be a complementary technology in that the Weightless technology can triangulate and get a fix on any terminal through a Weightless base station to within 100m or so.

How can commercial companies use this technology?

 The real low hanging fruit is logistics, that is asset tracking whilst in transit outdoor.  There is a trial that is being carried in Cambridge,  over the summer holidays in which we have fitted our terminals into a local company’s trucks to demonstrate that we can accurately monitor their location with Weightless base stations.

Can you explain further the statement of “Internet of Everything”?

 Internet of everything rules nothing out and this has started with Neul’s roll out of fixed broad band communication in the US, and the major paradigm change for people would be with M2M internet of things unlocked by this revolution in the core technology via the ability to fit these very low cost, long battery life devices into everything.

Alongside with asset tracking there are thousands of industries that can use this connectivity.  Smart Cities with a parking lot, smart traffic with a  real time view of traffic and smart pollution monitoring to get a real time view of  where there is a problem.

Another application would be in disaster monitoring where an immediate real time assessment is priority. Our sensors can be dropped from the air via helicopter and have them give an instantaneous, real time view of key factors such as, temperature, flooding water levels and radiation.

And finally, the ageing society in the West is a great theme.  Neul’s high quality communication devices can be easily and cheaply embedded into home medical devices to help monitor sick people in the safety of their homes.

Effectively what we do is to democratise the availability to communications.

What about competitors?  Would you see Microsoft as a direct competitor?

 There is no other company doing exactly the same thing as Neul and on that basis there are no direct competitors.  Microsoft is not a competitor but seen as an enabler particularly through their “Geo Location  database” applicability.

Microsoft do take to a longer term view of how standards evolve and will tend to back standards that are intrinsic to enabling more connectivity.  Therefore Microsoft would view white space as a core enabler for more communications and therefore more value added to whom they are selling to.

In conclusion 2G and 3G are not sustainable for the M2M arena. White space offers the platform for Neul and Weightless to succeed.

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