Re-thinking how location technologies are used in IoT allows vendors to access the tracking market.
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At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2022, French location technology startup Nestwave unveiled ThinTrack, a tracking device developed in collaboration with wireless system designer Samea. The tracker is a thin (3mm) and light (15g) device which is designed to target logistics use cases such as parcel tracking by slipping the device into an envelope or package. The device communicates over LTE-M and uses a thin battery that offers a claimed “multi-year” battery life. With the announcement of this device, Nestwave enters the device market, and in particular into the smart label or smart-label-adjacent market (the device is not strictly a flexible ‘label’). The device however is not—initially, at least, pending the reaction of the market—designed for mass production and deployment as this is a market adjacent to Nestwave’s IP licensing location technology business. Instead, it is designed as a demonstration platform for Nestwave’s core product: the aforementioned location technology IP. Instead of relying on a developer community slowly to move forward with this product to create a device, Nestwave has accelerated the process by demonstrating precisely how its technology is designed to work and, more importantly, that it actually does work—thus saving time and money for developers, and effort from Nestwave in overcoming traditional resistance towards next-generation technologies.
Reaching the Logistics Market
The logistics market is one of particular interest to Internet of Things (IoT) technology providers, as it offers an enormous Total Addressable Market (TAM) due to the sheer volume of parcels and goods moving through supply chains and postal systems. The size of the market furthermore continues to grow with more globalized sourcing, higher levels of e-commerce, and increasingly global purchasing power. Volumes compound complexity, such that greater supply chain visibility and velocity have become a focus of all supply chains. The ability to track these goods as they move through the supply chain is currently one of the key areas of interest from IoT asset tracking. FedEx’s SenseAware ID (September 2020), Bayer’s smart label (with Vodafone and AT&T in 2020/2021), ZiFiSense products, Wiliot, and Tag-n-Trac (the latter two with funding rounds of US$200 million and US$10 million respectively) are all examples of companies or projects with the intention of tracking individual parcels.
The needs and applications for these technologies are clearly present; in many cases, the implementation business case is what holds the market back from mass adoption. Specifically, tracking devices at the envelope or package level requires very small and cheap devices, but with low enough power consumption to last for trips of several months. Location technology is often seen as one of those parts that needs a rethink for such devices: traditional Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) devices, or devices with multiple chips and radios for communication and geolocation, require high levels of power consumption and add to the total Bill of Materials (BOM) cost of the device. As a result, several companies have started targeting this location space to address these challenges. Most of these target cellular-based positioning, with the understanding that accuracy is compromised in favor of power and cost, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the capabilities of the vendor. Some resistance to these technologies still remains, partly because GNSS is still the standard for geolocation, and partly because vendors’ claimed capacities sometimes are not backed up in real-world situations.
This brings us back to Nestwave’s unique value proposition, namely GNSS-with-a-twist. Nestwave targets the lowest-power use-cases requiring occasional geolocation fixes (from logistics to stationary devices) and offers GNSS-level accuracy without the drawbacks (BOM cost and power consumption). They achieve this with a cloud-based GNSS approach: Nestwave software IP embedded on the communication chip removes the need for a GNSS chip (an antenna is still required), relying instead on the existing chip to store and transmit the received GNSS signals in a small packet to the Nestwave cloud, where the precise position is calculated using proprietary software. By not carrying out the calculation on the device, this approach means that power-consuming GNSS chips do not need to be turned on while the device searches for satellites. Instead, a quick fix is achieved through briefly listening to incoming GNSS signals, with correction and enhancement carried out in the cloud. Nestwave is aiming to enhance this product with proprietary IP for positioning using Wide Area Networks (WANs such as cellular and long range) as well as Wi-Fi Access Points (APs), providing a higher location yield when GNSS signals are not available and offering an all-in-one location solution to chip/module vendors to embed.
The company’s ThinTrack device enables it to showcase the capabilities of its IP, encouraging chip/module vendors to embed its technology as well as proving the efficacy of the technology to end customers. Only recently in December 2021, Nestwave saw a major design win with Sequans embedding Nestwave’s IP to its Monarch 2 LTE-M/NB-IoT module. The company will be hoping that ThinTrack’s ability to demonstrate their technology in action will facilitate future conversations, with more wins with chipset vendors expected in the coming months.
Location: Differentiator and Enabler
Hardware vendors and chipset/module vendors should take note of the announcement and look to assess the technology as part of future product offerings. As location for IoT increasingly becomes a differentiator, adopters have the opportunity to leverage software-only approaches that will enable them to provide a more fully integrated solution and additional services to their customers. Nestwave’s technology is the most developed that allows GNSS functionality without a separate chip and associated size, cost, and power consumption. By re-thinking how location technologies are used in IoT, chipset/module vendors and device hardware vendors are able to target their products towards the large TAM of the logistics market—an integral part of the asset tracking market when it comes to reaching the fleeting ‘massive IoT’.