Productizing The IoT: TrackNet


Boasting a world-class leadership team in the LPWAN (low power wide area network) area and intensive understanding of the IoT, TrackNet has devised a potentially significant strategy to monetize IoT through a series of products. We recently spoke with CEO Hardy Schmidbauer of TrackNet.

Leading With a Consumer-Oriented Product

We have previously observed that an overriding issue for the IoT – after all the hype and after the 50 billion or more devices are supposedly installed – is: Who is paying the bill and what are they receiving?

TrackNet’s first product is Tabs, a family and home security offering. While the company will also derive revenue from products and services it offers to carriers and others, this consumer product is a key test, not only for the company, but also as an example of how parts, at least, of the IoT may eventually become economically viable.

TrackNet has designed a series of smart looking components for Tabs. These include wristbands that can be worn by a child or other person and an object locator that can be attached to valuable objects.

For the home there are small motion and window and door sensors as well as a push button alert device. In addition there is an environmental sensor device that tracks temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels as well as VOC (volatile organic compound) levels in the air.

TrackNet offers an iOS app that allows a parent or supervising adult to see the child’s route and where they are. Geofencing can be set up with alerts if the child leaves acceptable areas. The app also displays the results of the environmental sensor.

At the heart of the Tabs system is the Hub, a LoRaWAN transmitter/receiver, also packaged in a smart looking small device. The Hub creates a virtual hotspot and can transmit a signal for about one-half mile.

Two Current Offerings

TrackNet has packaged these components into two initial product offerings: the Family Locator Kit; and the Home Health and Security Kit. The Locator kit is offered at $249 and the Home Health at $199. The Locator includes the wristband and object locator, a Hub (as well as a Mini Hub that can be plugged in at a location frequently visited by a child, such as a school.) The Home Health kit includes three door and window sensors and a motion sensor as well as the environmental monitoring sensor. Both packages include the company’s iOS app.

Schmidbauer told us that they are preparing to make first deliveries of Tabs in September. Certain carriers have been trialing the product and, he states, they have some orders in hand from some of these operators. Distribution will be primarily through resellers, that may include carriers, in some cases, and various middlemen. They may go direct to retail customers in the U.S. He mentions Telstra as one carrier they are developing a relationship with. They may, in some cases license their technology and collect royalties.

Company Strategy and Team

While there is vast attention to the various networking technologies and issues for the IoT, the founders of TrackNet, who have major experience in the networking aspects, have moved beyond that to the stage of creating meaningful products and applications that can drive revenues, within the constraints of the IoT. As Schmidbauer points out, it is necessary to recognize that within the vast reach of the IoT as it is generally hyped, there are wide ranges of uses and applications. Many of these, while interesting, have extremely low value added.

TrackNet has chosen to focus on areas where the potential value to end users is great enough to warrant a reasonable price and return.

The TrackNet team includes leaders in the development of LPWAN, specifically LoRaWAN from Semtech, IBM and other companies. They originally aimed at industrial solutions that were based on network components that required towers. They found that this did not support a sustainable business case. The tower alternative was high cost and the business apps were not high enough paying.

Schmidbauer explains,”We decided to flip the model for LPWAN. We needed to scale faster and get a better return on capex and opex for networks.”

They saw the consumer and smart home area as one of opportunity but currently not well served. Their first solution had the advantage of giving the customer coverage, which other smart home offerings didn’t provide. In addition, the customer basically pays for the network.

Differing Flavors of IoT Coverage

What about competition, from Narrow Band IoT (NB-IoT, standard developed by the carrier industry for IoT transmission)? Schmidbauer states that NB-IoT is actually not competing very directly with LoRa and that most carriers will need to use both solutions. He believes that what differentiates them is their effectiveness and cost for different types of applications. While higher end apps may use NB-IoT in many cases, it will be too expensive for lower value ones, which will fall to other LPWAN technology. He states, “There will only be a small area of overlapping apps between the two.”

He cites Telstra as a carrier that will use TrackNet LoRa capabilities for access to homes and buildings, but will also use NB-IoT for other apps.

TrackCentral – Network Server

The company also recently released another product, TrackCentral. This is a LoRaWAN network server designed for situations where, the company states, “each server must handle tens of millions of gateways and billions of devices compared to tens of thousands of gateways in a tower-based deployment model.”

TrackNet refers to this network design approach as the “hybrid inside-out deployment model.” The company claims numerous advantages for its approach, including not only scalability, but that it can: handle “multiple different types of LoRa gateways;” accommodate varying types of apps with varying data rates; provide for multi-tenancy among carriers.

Future Directions

Schmidbauer points out that TrackNet has established end-to-end capabilities in providing IoT solutions. This includes: the core network servers; end user hardware and devices; and the end user app. He states that they are in discussions with carriers and others who may want some, or all of these elements.

He believes their biggest current opportunity is in providing the entire end-to-end solution, of which Tabs is their first product. He states that they have an attractive pipeline of business leads which he believes will come to fruition in the next few months.

As for additional products, the company advertises on its site that purchasers of the Locator and Home Health Kits receive a 30-day free trial of Tabs Parental Control, which provides for monitoring of children’s use of the web. He states that they could add other home devices to their service, e.g., WiFi cameras, as well as security alerts against hacking or other intrusion.

In the longer term, two to three years, he foresees development of extremely cheap (probably 50 cents or less) disposable tags. These will presumably unlock the vast market for generalized asset tracking.

Our Take

As we wrote previously, the “overriding challenge of the entire IoT industry” is “the ability of apps developers to come up with capabilities and overall offerings and prices that are convincing to the end user.” (“LPWAN’s Life & Death Struggle: Ingenu’s Answer,” MCE, 9/16/16.)

Having designed an interesting and attractive product, TrackNet faces the major task of bringing it successfully to market. This is a major undertaking.

We believe that Schmidbauer correctly perceived the economic challenge of the IoT, when he told us that it is “not just a matter of connectivity and ARPU,” but is about the viability of applications. We will be extremely interested in TrackNet’s progress and road to success.

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