Interview with Oriol Patau, CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at Accent Systems
Accent Systems committed with transforming all what reaching his hands on connected objects for more than 10 years. They began developing electronic products, when still even IoT could be heard, in 2007. But its perseverance analyzing a growing market and its constant research in new technologies have situated the company in a privileged place in the sector of the Internet of Things.
They are focused on developing connected objects, both standard products as to third parties; what is known as IoT devices. And always use the latest communication technologies to connect them to the Internet.
To help us shed light on this matter, we talk with Oriol Patau, CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of Accent Systems.
At Accent Systems you are experts in communication technologies, especially wireless. How have these technologies evolved since the company began?
Wireless and Low Power technologies have evolved a lot in the last decade, and one of the most important factors has been the emergence of smartphones. When the company was founded, smartphones just started out. There was the iPhone, but still had no connectivity. With the passing of years, smartphones began to connect with things mainly thanks to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and at Accent Systems we saw it was a potential technology and started to work with it.
We became an important manufacturer of beacons and begin to develop all kind of devices connected to the smartphone with BLE (from safe boxes to smart locks).
One of the keys in the evolution of these technologies has been the constant search of Low Power. When we started, ZigBee technology was considered a low power technology, but over the years have appeared new and improved options.
And which way these technologies are forwarding today? How do you think they will evolve in the short future?
From a year and a half ago, approximately, the tendency is not only to connect devices to a smartphone, but directly to the network. We are talking about technologies like SigFox and, above all, Narrowband-IoT and LTE-M, two super Low Power Technologies, with which the battery can last for 10 years, and have longer range. In addition, as noted, the idea is that these two technologies end up being part of 5G.
And it is here where we can start talking about IoT, IoE… But Accent Systems began when even these concepts had not shifted the public sphere…
Yes. Our experience as telecommunications engineers made that the first product we developed was already connected. We started developing electronic products, but we soon saw that the key was to turn them into connected objects. And we started to connect devices to computers, because the mobile still did not give us that possibility. Our key has always been being attentive to the new standards to study them and see how we could help to provide best connected solutions to our customers. We didn’t still think of IoT, but in the end the sector assumed this words.
Correct me if I’m wrong… One of the strengths of your company is its constant research in new technologies. Why is so important R&D in your sector and why you decide to invest in this engineering efforts?
When a new technology appears, the first informations always talk about its best features, but if you want to offer a good solution to your customers, you have to know its pros and cons. And you can only know it by researching and using this technology: go to the lab; testing at a technical level; look at consumption, costs…; know about the deployment…
It is important to also force the technology beyond its limits. For example, according to its characteristics, NB-IoT is not able to track objects that goes at speed above 40 km/h, but we have verified this is possible by putting one of our IoT trackers in a car above 100 km/h.
When a new technology appears, which procedures do you follow?
Undoubtedly, the first and most important thing is to get access to that technology. It’s not an easy thing; you have to use all your contacts. I give you again the example with NB-IoT: we ask for access to the network to Vodafone, an operator; get pieces of hardware that are not yet on sale… We have to make so many movements.
Once you do this, the rest is easier. Just need to study it thoroughly, test and analyze its connection and its low consumption: coverage indoors, comparison of consumption with respect to other technologies… These are some of the things that interest us as an engineering solutions company.
When and how you decide that one technology is going to be in your catalog?
Tests help us decide. We never say we won’t have to use a particular technology; we say we are technologically agnostics. What we do is evaluate whether this technology could give us the expected results, both to us as developers and customer for their final solution. And that only can be achieved if you’ve worked hard previously with this technology.
As developers, what factors make you decide to use one or other technology in a new project?
Technically, we analyze: low consumption, coverage, scope, if it will have movement and at which speed… We also have in mind the geographical factors, since not all territories have access to the same technologies, or the costs of hardware and subscription, if any. At the end, we have to evaluate very well the use case to comply with its specifications of the customer, at the level of device features and costs.
Does the client arrive at Accent Systems knowing which technology to use in its project? Or does Accent act as a consultant?
We have all kinds of customers. From those with a more industrial profile that know what they want at a technical level, to those who know they want a connected product but do not know how. In this case we act as consultants, we review our portfolio and recommend which technology or technologies are the most appropriate for the device they want to develop.
Why is it so important to choose the right technology for a device?
There are many technologies and each has its strengths, which will allow you to evolve a product to one side or the other. It is also important to do well the choice to have competitive advantages in the market. It is essential to know well the needs of the client and make the technology chosen the best that suits all the requirements of the client.