José Ignacio Guerra: “We’re playing a leading role in IoT scene in Latin America”

Beatriz Sanz Baños    15 March, 2017

The Telefónica R&D centre (TID in Spanish) in Chile is a benchmark for Internet of Things technologies. This is the only research complex in Latin America to bring together all the disciplines comprising IoT. In this regard, it develops innovative solutions for Smart Cities, Agriculture and Mining, the key areas in the region’s industry and economy. José Ignacio Guerra is the Communications Architect at the core and leads several projects and initiatives aimed at improving the adoption, penetration and consolidation of IoT technologies. In this interview, he is going to tell us about his experiences.

1.     The Telefónica R&D Centre in Chile is an International Centre of Excellence focused on research and development. Could you tell us a little more about the centre?

The Telefónica R&D Centre in Chile is the only Telefónica centre in the world that specialises in research, development and innovation in the technologies comprising Internet of Things, including those related to low-power networks and connectivity which are so essential for the development of the sector. This is a joint initiative undertaken by Telefónica and the Chilean government through CORFO, the agency responsible for supporting entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness in the country, and its programme to attract International Centres of Excellence.

We have two main objectives at TID Chile: the first is to become part of the new technology wave that is IoT by developing new products and/or services that can be part of Telefónica IoT catalogue in the short or middle term, not only in Chile but also internationally. The second is to promote the use of this kind of technology in the Chilean economy, where the strongest sectors are mining (Chile is the largest copper producer worldwide) and agriculture. We strongly believe that the IoT has a fantastic chance to meet historic challenges that technology has been unable to resolve so far.

2.     In your opinion, what are the most interesting projects being tackled at the centre?

We are entering a consolidation phase this year in which we aim to achieve prominence in industry after the first two years, during which we focussed on validating our proposition through proof of concepts in pilot scenarios in partnership with future customers of the three business verticals that define us (Agriculture, Mining and Cities). 

Three projects that we are working on together with Telefónica IoT Global particularly stand out in this consolidation phase:

  • Mobility Broker: A reusable solution for different mobility cases which is capable of using different data sources (in-house or third party) in a scalable way.
  • Reference Architecture: A platform that efficiently supports Big Data solution use cases using the physical Open Telefónica Cloud (OTC) infrastructure.
  • Open IoT Lab: An open LPWAN mobile technologies lab covered under the programme of the same name launched by the GSMA and aimed at promoting the rapid adoption of this kind of technology in Chile and Latam.

3.     Can you explain your role as Communications Architect to us? What is it like leading some of the most promising IoT experiences in Latin America?

As Communications Architect, I’m responsible for leading all projects involving research and development in IoT connectivity, starting with mass data acquisition from all kinds of sensors rolled out in multiple environments, then integrating these sensors in IoT communication devices, and concluding by sending this data to Internet platforms through some of the varied IoT connectivity technologies currently available. 

This is a very dynamic area that is constantly changing, which has allowed me to be at the forefront of the technology, mainly in connection with IoT connectivity networks (LPWA networks). The experience we’ve gained at TID Chile has given us significant visibility in the industry, which  gave me the chance to be invited to share this experience at the first LPWA network conference for North and South America, held in Dallas on 1st and 2nd November. 

4.     Talking about Latam, in your words, what role does the Centre play in Technological Development in Chile? And in Latin America?

We certainly play a key role in the adoption of this kind of technology in local industry and in Latin American industry as well. I would daresay that we are the only Research and Innovation Centre in Latin America to bring together all the disciplines comprising the IoT; this gives us an implicit responsibility in the adoption and subsequent penetration and consolidation of IoT on our continent.

5.     Can you tell us more about the areas of Agriculture, Mining and Smart Cities? Where is the most effort being made?

These three areas are the business verticals that have been our focus since starting the project; therefore, they define us as TID Chile, giving us an IoT vision with very close ties to industry. 

Mining and Agriculture are the two most important industries in Chile and Latin America, and we’re proposing solutions with an end-to-end IoT vision in both which depend on the acquisition of mass field data which is then processed in real time through IoT platforms developed at our centre. The platforms aim to transform the data into useful information for making important decisions. I have examples of this in two of our projects that are the closest to the production phase, which are based on prediction models that have led us to attain our first two industrial patents: an irrigation prediction solution for the agriculture industry, which is able to recommend irrigation schedules and periods through a mobile app based on soil moisture and weather data measured in real time; and an energy-efficient solution for mining which is able to recommend practices for more efficient energy consumption through a web app based on real-time data acquisition from industrial PLC networks.

Finally, one of our most interesting projects is with Smart Cities, which has given us our first customer, the development of an anonymous urban mobility platform (PUMA) capable of analysing city traffic by processing the network’s CDRs practically in real time.

6.     And what role does IoT play in these projects? Can you give us some examples?

IoT is a complex concept with different definitions used in the industry. One example of this is the multiple results that come up when searching for a definition on the Internet. We define IoT as all the technology that allows generated data to be processed, through the connection of any object to the Internet, in order to provide information that is useful  in making important decisions. This is a vision that involves multiple disciplines such as connectivity, platforms, application development, user experience, data analytics and business vision, and it only gives the user value when we are able to provide useful information for decision-making. This IoT vision is what defines us at TID Chile, and we’re committed to integrating it into all our projects.

7.     Is Chile’s industry adapting to an “IoT world”?

Yes, and proof of this is the visibility and prominence we have gained at the industry level over the course of these first two years. We need to keep in mind that Chilean and Latin American industry is characterised by a fairly conservative and traditional view, which makes it more complicated to incorporate innovative technological concepts that have not previously been validated. However, the future looks promising and we are convinced that 2017 is the year that the IoT will start to penetrate industry throughout the region.

8.     What are the main challenges of adopting a truly inclusive ecosystem with Internet of Things at the industrial level? Are there any sectors that are more advanced in this regard?

The conservativism I mentioned above is undoubtedly the biggest challenge, but we have found that by uniting the vision and drive of private industry with a more academic or research vision, this inertia can be broken and innovative and cutting-edge technology can be applied in traditionally closed environments such as mining, or those with less technology such as agriculture.

9.     Talking about LPWAs, what role do you believe they play in communications?

One of the keys to the massification of IoT solutions is the networks connecting all these “things” to the Internet. In the majority of cases, these networks are not traditional, such as mobile or WiFi networks, but rather new kinds of networks exclusively designed for IoT. LPWA is the acronym which encompasses all these connectivity technologies. The acronym comes from two key IoT concepts: the low power consumption of the devices that connect to these networks (Low Power) and the broad coverage that they can offer (Wide Area) compared to traditional mobile networks.

10.  How will the LPWA ecosystem work, taking into consideration licensed and unlicensed solutions? Where will they play a prominent role?

The business opportunity that IoT provides is so great and the scenarios in which LPWA networks are the only scalable option are so diverse that there is certainly opportunity for the entire LPWA ecosystem, both licensed and unlicensed. However, I think that unlicensed networks have a particularly promising scenario in Latin America due to the historical debt held by mobile network coverage in all the countries, a debt that will remain for licensed LPWA networks which perfectly matches the industrial scenarios that are very interesting for the IoT, such as mining and agriculture. This opportunity clearly depends on whether unlicensed LPWAs are able to take advantage of the one- to two-year window still remaining for operators to commercially offer standardised LPWA connectivity.

11.  Tell us about your experience in promoting the creation and consolidation of a local IoT HW development ecosystem and your responsibility in the TID’s IoT open innovation programme.

At TID Chile we strongly believe that promoting a development ecosystem is a key milestone in accelerating the adoption of IoT in industry, and we are certainly willing to shoulder the risks arising from this belief. We launched the first of four open IoT HW development challenges over a year ago, which are covered under our Open Innovation Programme that I have the privilege of leading. So far, this programme has sought to meet the twofold objective of resolving technological boundaries (particularly related to the cost of IoT devices or the lack thereof) that have prevented us from meeting certain interesting use cases, while at the same time promoting the creation of this essential local development ecosystem through agile projects in which selected entrepreneurs are supported with $10,000. The experience has been a resounding success so far: 52 projects have been received and seven of them selected, representing a total investment of close to $100,000 to date.

12.  What is your personal vision for Internet of Things in Latin America?

I’m convinced that Internet of Things is an unparalleled opportunity for Latin America, mainly for our continent’s most important industries, such as mining and agriculture. These scenarios, which have such specific and yet homogeneous conditions throughout our continent, are where the mass IoT which all the market analysts are talking about has the opportunity to become a reality.

13.  Who is playing a leading role in IoT scene in Latam?

We’re certainly playing a leading role in Chile, but we’re not alone. The opportunity offered by IoT isn’t a secret, and it has served as motivation for actors from very diverse technological niches in Latin America to start considering the possibility of participating. I think Sigfox in particular has been very active by making investments for network rollout through third parties in Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. This year, they should be joined by Argentina, where they have already officialized a network rollout agreement on last December, Chile and Perú.

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