Q & A with Dan Mathers, president and CEO of eleven-x
"We are an IoT solutions provider with Canada’s first coast-to-coast public LoRaWAN network."
May 9, 2019
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(this article first appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of BIoT Canada)
By Doug Picklyk
Please tell us, who is eleven-x?
We are an IoT solutions provider with Canada’s first coast-to-coast public LoRaWAN network. When we started our business in May of 2014, we began with advanced communication software for cellular IoT (LTE-M), and then we recognized a huge gap in the market for addressing use cases that required a very low total-cost-of-ownership, very low power consumption, but very consistent, reliable, data transmission.
And that’s what IoT is all about; you’ve got to get the data wherever you’re collecting it from reliably and at the lowest possible cost, and deliver it into whatever application software platform you’re using. Devices, network connectivity and application software—we view that as the DNA of IoT, and we develop those end-to-end solutions.
Could you briefly explain LoRaWAN?
Sure. LoRaWAN (long range wide area network) operates in the license-free spectrum, which means it’s the same as WiFi or Bluetooth.
One of the challenges of WiFi is that devices on a WiFi network require a lot of power, so it’s not appropriate for low-cost battery-operated devices. And WiFi gateway routers only cover an area of about 50 to 100 meters.
Bluetooth devices can be low powered, but the range is even less, about 50 to 100 ft., so in a building it would require a lot of gateways.
LoRaWAN stands for long range, so a single sensor will connect to a gateway up to 15km away. If you place a LoRaWAN gateway on top of a building it will cover 15km (if you’re in a dense urban environment it can be three to five km).
And the wireless frequency that LoRaWAN operates in has very good characteristics to penetrate buildings. And we augment that coverage indoors through inexpensive gateways (for example, a 40,000 sq. ft. building might only need two gateways).
Also, LoRaWAN is a very large open and collaborative ecosystem. As an open standard, devices on our network can also work on other LoRaWAN networks. There are over 100 operators around the world.
How are you involved in the BIoT market?
We focus on providing complete IoT solutions for intelligent building applications, including environmental monitoring, measuring temperature, humidity, natural sunlight, occupancy levels and movement patterns, as well as water usage and water meter monitoring, leak detection and also parking monitoring.
We’ve realized that every customer’s problem is a little different, and if you wanted to implement some of these solutions you would go to individual experts for their sensors and application software solutions.
Our innovation is to offer all of these sensors and incorporate them into our software platform. A client doesn’t have to buy them all at once, but can select what’s needed and expand, as required.
Is your platform like a building management system (BMS)?
We’re a good retrofit solution that can add functionality to an existing BMS. But while a BMS generally focuses on lighting, access control (security), fire safety and HVAC, what we do are functions that can be added to complement a BMS. Our solutions are low data. We’re not streaming video or images. The sensors are lick-n-stick, set’em and forget em. The overall systems are very inexpensive, and there are no long-term service contracts. Of course we provide services, but generally once the systems are in place they just run.
We’re more about monitoring and providing data. Not so much operations and controlling systems.
So who is your target market in the building space?
As I said, we can link into an existing BMS, but what we’re finding is that among commercial office buildings across North America—and there are about 1.14 million—our solution doesn’t suit the state-of-the-art 100-storey office building.
We think 10,000 to 100,000 sq. ft. buildings—and there are about 250,000 of them in North America—are really our sweet spot, and a lot of those sites don’t even have a BMS. So it’s a unique IoT offering for that market.
How complex is the set-up?
We do not require linking into an existing building IT manager’s connections, which is often a barrier to entry. What we do is install the infrastructure in the building. The devices (sensors) communicate to gateways (they look like WiFi routers), that then backhaul to the cloud through cellular. So we don’t touch the company’s network, and the building owner doesn’t need a network. The platform sits overtop of that independently and communicates back into our software application, which we supply to the building owner.
What building owners need is the data to either generate more revenue from their properties, or reduce costs and make themselves more operationally efficient. Our philosophy is that we’ve got to get the data into the building owner’s/manager’s hands reliably, and it has to be low cost and run on autopilot.
It’s all about the data.
Can you talk about your collaboration with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University at the new evolv1 commercial building in Waterloo, Ont.?
Evolv1 is an all-new environmentally-friendly zero-carbon low-rise commercial building. We’re part of an academic project that is deploying a suite of office monitoring devices that will be used to track the health and wellness relationship between the building and its inhabitants, including the tracking of air quality, water consumption, and sound and light levels.
People spend a large part of their lives in office buildings, so from our standpoint (and why we get excited about this topic) is we need to make sure our buildings are healthy spaces optimized for the productivity of employees.
Buildings are dynamic and people are dynamic, so when you overlay these environments it becomes a very complex problem to make sure these environments are comfortable and optimized.
You’ve also recently announced a parking application being used at the University of British Columbia.
Our Intelligent Parking solution is monitoring usage for all parking spaces designated for persons with disabilities across the UBC campus, and the school will now also track usage in all high traffic “drop on and drop off” spaces.
Sensors are collecting data which will be used to build out a profile for the university’s parking assets so that evidence-driven decisions can be made on current and future requirements. For example, with the support of digital signage, spaces in high-traffic areas can become flexible spots that can be designated for specific uses at different times, depending on the need.
We also have smart parking applications in Stratford, Ont. and Fredericton, NB. And we’ve done a lot of water monitoring and automated meter-reading projects for municipalities.
Our strategy is to penetrate and fully deploy our solution in the intelligent building sector and in the smart city sector as well.
Do your solutions pose any cyber security issues?
LoRaWAN is a very clever standard. They recognized the major issues that needed to be addressed, and one of those was data security and privacy. So LoRaWAN is set up so that rather than just encrypting data between a SIM card and the cellular network, the data is encrypted end-to-end, and the only people who have the keys are the device manufacturers who load it onto the device, and the customer. So data travels from the device to the application completely encrypted.
Secondly, the devices in the LoRaWAN ecosystem have all sorts of physical security features as well to prevent tampering. It’s a very secure system, whether it’s needed or not.
Finally, what’s the significance of the company name?
Well, most of us came from corporate backgrounds, myself from IBM and many on our team were formerly with Blackberry. In high-tech corporations you often here, “We need a 10x improvement.” Well, we’re one better. We’re eleven-x.
Dan Mathers is the president/CEO of eleven-x based in Waterloo, Ontario.