Our Development Process
With our experience in developing mobile platforms among other software projects and having spent several years developing mobile apps we've been fortunate enough to identify what we see as the best approach to developing products and software, from the Users' perspective.
What your customers want to achieve
You know what your customers want to achieve by using your product or technology and that's where we start, the process is all about making it as easy as possible for a user to achieve a task.
We begin by writing 'User Stories', a short description of what a user is trying to achieve, an example might be, "Alice wants to make a phone call", we would expand on this to add detail. "Alice's phone is on her desk and wants to make a phone call, she picks up the phone, finds the phone number and makes the call". There are a number of details missing from this story but it is then our job to find the easiest way for Alice to achieve her goal of making that phone call. Firstly how does she find the contact? does she have to log in? if so, what's the best way of doing this, pin number? voice recognition? touch ID? etc.
We continue this process until we have scripted out all the goals that the project requires, we then go-through each 'user story' and drawing out on a whiteboard what each screen needs to contain to allow the user to complete the task as easily as possible. This is also applicable to hardware determination, what buttons/technologies might I need to include in my product.
This of course is not the only way to develop projects however our experience has shown us it is very effective in ensuring that real consideration is given to the user to get the best outcomes in terms of design and functionality.
Available Wireless Technologies
Below are the technologies available for connecting sensors and products to devices and to each other to facilitate connectivity to the internet and other services. Choosing the right technology for your application depends on what information needs to be transferred, at what rate and the environment your application has to operate in. For example, if the radio signals need to travel through multiple walls or metallic materials a lower frequency radio signal is probably required.
Bluetooth is a very well established technology, popular because of its use in wireless headsets for cars, it is now one of two ways to get information to and from a mobile or tablet.
Originally just known as Bluetooth but now known as Bluetooth Classic, this technology was designed for wireless communication with phones, allowing a high data rate and thus a lot of information to be transferred quickly from one device to another, the usual example being a headset for talking on the phone while driving. Nowadays the phone more likely connects to the car infotainment system directly but still using Bluetooth.
In 2010 Bluetooth SMART™ previously known as Bluetooth Low Energy was released, this is a 'light' version of Bluetooth Classic and is designed for data transfer of smaller packets of data which greatly improves battery life. Bluetooth SMART™ has grown hugely thanks to Apple including it in the iPhone 4S in 2011 and allowing third party products to connect to it without having to go through an approval process.
LoRa or LoRaWAN is a Low Power Area Network specification designed for wireless battery powered devices, it suits applications in the IoT very well that are in remote locations etc. A good example would be a sensor or device which had to transmit information several times a day over a distance of 10km, it allows for long distance communication but with very low power in comparison to the other technologies.
Sometimes projects require a wireless protocol which is customised to the application. An example being a sensor located in a difficult environment perhaps surrounded by metal objects, where a lower frequency needs to be used to ensure the signal can get through to the receiving device and other steps in the way the signals are processed can be taken to help mitigate the data losses that will occur.
This is generally known as using a proprietary protocol. The disadvantage with a proprietary protocol is that both the sending device and the receiver have to be custom.
Founded in 2009, SIGFOX is a French company with the ambition of being the de facto communications protocol for the 'Internet of Things'. Designed for low power applications, it works on 868MHz meaning that it can penetrate into most buildings and travel across landscapes further than some other technologies, however the downsides are it has more infrastructure issues. Currently coverage in the UK is not at a practical level but is better across France and other parts of the world but it may be slow to provide full coverage across countries as the company seeks to own the infrastructure.
Without the coverage issues, SIGFOX would be ideal for low power remote devices where small pieces of information (in the order of bytes) might be sent one or two times a day up to the cloud.
'Narrow Band-Internet of Things' or 'NB-IoT' for short is a low power radio technology which is designed to provide a better way of connecting to multiple devices across the world. Pioneered by Vodafone the target applications are low power devices which might send small packets of information a few times a day. The big advantage over SIG-FOX is the use of the existing 3G infrastructure, NB-IoT uses a single band on the available spectrum and so can integrate with the existing infrastructure across the globe. It is more early stage than SIG-FOX and is starting to be rolled out across the UK and most likely will be available by the end of 2017.
An obvious wireless technology used by every smartphone and tablet to connect to the internet, it is everywhere, allowing us to connect to the internet, it works on 2.4GHz frequency meaning that it can transmit large amount of data quickly but it is not very good at travelling through walls and indeed to do so, requires more power.
It is a power hungry option but with a large bandwidth allowing video and other large files to be transferred quickly to a device it has its applications and has the advantage that a lot of hardware is readily available to plug in and boost coverage.