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2021 business strategies AI Connected Devices Data and Security data science Data scientists Soft skills

5 Vital Soft Skills Data Scientists Must Possess in 2021

data scientist

Technical skills are overrated, particularly in data science. Many data scientists quickly realize that much of their job challenges aren’t due to what they can or cannot do. Rather, the mentality with which they approach tasks matters a lot.

For instance, a data scientist who has mastered communication will present their insights better than their more (technically) skilled counterpart whose reports are jumbled. Likewise, extrapolating insights from raw data require a huge dose of creativity and critical thinking, both of which are not taught as technical skills but must instead be developed personally.

Other soft skills that are necessary for data scientists include business aptitude, problem-solving, and adaptability.

All of these are time-proof skills that transcend technological innovations. Success in 2021 and beyond as a data scientist will heavily rely on the development of these soft skills.

Critical Thinking

This author defines critical thinking as “the judicious and objective analysis, exploration and evaluation of an issue or a subject in order to form a viable and justifiable judgment.�

Critical thinking is often regarded as the most essential skill in data science.

It makes you well-informed, enhances your judgment, and makes you better equipped to make more effective decisions. As a data scientist, you must be capable of examining the available data from multiple perspectives. To develop critical thinking, do the following:

  • Question your assumptions: as a scientific field, your job is to apply empirical methods to analyzing data and extracting insights. However, the human mind remains subject to all kinds of biases and presuppositions. You must thoroughly interrogate them to hone your reason and avoid decision pitfalls.
  • Engage different perspectives: As social beings, we are drawn to people who act and think like us. But the lack of healthy dissent leads to poor decision-making. Thinking critically means consistently seeking out fresh perspectives. This doesn’t necessarily mean disagreement; it could be as simple as connecting with colleagues from another department in order to understand their outlook.

Communication

The purpose of data analysis is to make informed decisions. And your responsibility as a data scientist includes being able to present your findings in a clear manner to the non-data-scientists who have to make the decisions.

Your non-technical audience needs to know how you reached a specific conclusion, the justification for your methods, the implication of your findings, and why you consider one solution better than the other.

You can make your presentation more effective through storytelling. As Brent Dykes says in his book, Effective Data Storytelling,  “…narratives are more compelling than statistics if your goal is to make an impact on your audience.”

Visuals achieve the same effect; when used right, they help your audience see and understand patterns between scraps of data. Your insights don’t matter unless you can make others understand it and drive them to take the necessary actions.

Problem Solving

A data scientist is like a detective. Both workers investigate the available facts and data to address problems. In one case, the purpose is to solve crimes; on the other, the purpose is to deliver business value.

Data is what we make of it. And a data scientist needs to be resolute at, and equipped for, investigating issues to the root. Project managers love a data scientist who can identify creative solutions to problems.

For instance, discovering that your company’s customers behave in a certain way is different from why they behave so. And even then, the job is most likely not done. You must still use the available data to determine how to make the customers behave differently or to make the company adapt to the customers’ habits.

Data science is a continuous job of evaluating data and weighing options, determining why one approach to fulfilling a goal is better than the other. The consequences of your conclusions could be massive; so you need to get it right, at least based on the data available to you at the time.

Practice makes you a better problem-solver. There are websites that help you learn to tackle various data science challenges with real business impacts.

Business Aptitude

Analyzing data is one thing; contextualizing it to solve real business problems is another. Dr. N. R. Srinivasa Raghavan of Infosys is widely quoted thus: data science is more than just number crunching: it is the application of various skills to solve particular problems in an industry.

Without a good understanding of business processes and operations (such as supply chains, customer service, finance, human resources, logistics), it would be impossible to extrapolate actionable insights.

Data science is a field involving so much theory but has far-reaching practical implications. Therefore, a good data analyst is one that understands the business model and can quickly adapt to various business situations.

How does the business work? How does your company work? What do you know about your industry? How does your company make money? What product/service does your company deliver, and how does that work? What makes your company lose money? Who are your competitors?

These questions, and more, are important to understanding business operations. You can develop this by research. But you first need to possess a keenness for business and understand that data science is not just about Python, SQL and all the technical parts.

Adaptability

Adaptability has to do with how quickly you are able to adjust to new conditions, which may be positive or negative. In this information age, innovation grows at such a rapid pace that it is often difficult to keep up. We are living in a world of possibilities, and what’s new today can become outdated in a few months or years.

In fact, the tools you use for data analysis five years from now may be different from the ones you employ today.

Adaptability is also important for moments of crisis, a time when data scientists come under greater pressure to deliver. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic. The global spread of this virus has disrupted business operations everywhere and altered, perhaps permanently, the course of work and business.

When there is a setback, people seek answers; they want to know exactly what went wrong and how they can move forward.

Today, everyone relies on data. In this world of several unprecedented changes, you must be ready to adjust to the prevailing trends.

Conclusion

Soft skills deal with how you approach data. You may know all the technical bits of data analysis, but a wrong approach almost always leads to wrong results.

More importantly, the technical aspects may change. In five years or a decade, the currently popular data science tools may be entirely out of the limelight, edged by newer advanced tools.

But skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving will endure. Developing these skills early is a great way to secure your career in the future.

Image Credit: pixaby; pexels

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AI Alexa Voice Service amazon voice search Connected Devices Tech voice assistant voice assistant technology voice technology

Futurespective on Voice Technology from the Google Assistant Product Team

furture of voice by google

Technology isn’t silent anymore. It talks, and its voice shapes the way we live — working and virtual learning, shopping for cleaning supplies, playing daily music mixes, cooking new recipes, or exercising — all by just asking for it out loud. Since the pandemic hit, more and more brands realize the endless possibilities for interacting and engaging with users in a natural, contactless way.

Whether for working, learning, or playing, here’s why voice is the “natural,� touchless solution for next-level brand engagement.

Some of the world’s leading companies like American Express, Estée Lauder, Nike, Headspace, Campbells, Dunkin’, Snapchat, Tide, and Bank of America have started rethinking customer experience and brand strategy from the voice tech perspective and the opportunities it presents. Brands like these are finding that voice brings their relationships with customers to a new level. A touchless interface is a straightforward reason to adopt voice in the current pandemic. Still, another is how voice technology offers greater accessibility and inclusiveness to customers regardless of ability, race, age, gender, or geographic location.

The voice space has become a topic of heightened interest for thought leaders across industries, including Sofia Altuna, who heads Global Product Partnerships for Google Assistant and hosts VOICE Talks, a monthly live-stream series focused on the voice sector and the experts, technologists and innovations impacting voice technology. The coronavirus, she says, “has provided a new perspective of the importance of this technology.”

Additionally, in a recent VOICE Talks episode, she emphasized how inclusion and accessibility are being prioritized for ambient computing and noted that disabled rights and social justice are equally essential.

To learn more about the innovations in voice, the brand partnerships working to solve users’ needs, and the growing voice community (VOICE Talks has grown to nearly 50,000 users in four months), we recently had a conversation with Altuna, who is working (and exercising, cooking, learning and playing) and now filming VOICE Talks live from her apartment in New York. The interview is slightly edited for length and clarity.

What is so intriguing about voice technology for you?

I’ve always been very passionate about empowering people through technology, so one of the most intriguing things to me about this space is that voice is universal and easy for anyone to adopt. Voice is the most “natural” way to engage with technology and requires no user manual. All types of people of all ages are using Voice Assistant, defying the early adopter stereotype.

As host of VOICE Talks, what do you strive to bring to the monthly live streams?

Every month, we try to bring viewers insider content from the world’s leaders in voice technology. From industry trends to case studies to business tips to product demos and announcements — there is a lot we want to cover. We want the content to resonate with the viewers, so each episode also focuses on what questions or themes the viewers have submitted at #AskSofia. This is about reaching the community in a way that is meaningful and relevant to what they want to see, learn, and share with each other.

Tell us on a professional level why you are at the right place, at the right time, as host of Voice Talks and your work on the Global Product Partnerships?

Previous to working on the Google Assistant, I was already interested in the space and was involved with other projects at Google around Conversational AI. Since I joined the Assistant team three years ago, I’ve worked across multiple different product features globally and with many partners.

This has given me a broad understanding of the voice tech ecosystem, the possibilities and challenges across the platforms, and the opportunities for brands and users. Being at the intersection of product engineers and partners also provides a unique perspective to understand both the technical complexities and our partner brands’ vision, goals, and requirements. We work with partners to allow for powerful user experiences that help solve users’ needs.

How has your background prepared you for this role?

Having led the go-to-market strategy and execution for multiple Google Assistant initiatives globally with many different brands across multiple industries has provided me a broad view of the voice tech ecosystem and a good perspective. I’ve also participated in many conferences, client summits, and as a guest speaker at MBA classes. I’ve been passionate about raising my voice and sharing my perspective on this technology.

Typically events are always a great opportunity to learn about the ecosystem, exchange ideas, and listen to partner feedback. However, without these this year, VOICE Talks is a great platform to bring the voice community together and share learnings that can propel this technology into the future.

Fun fact: when I was 15, I also did a pilot for a Spanish TV show as a host. Maybe it was all practice to lead to this moment 🙂

Has the pandemic heightened your awareness of the importance of voice technology?

Definitely. Although we began our journey towards voice technology long before this current crisis, COVID-19 has provided a new perspective of the importance of this technology. First, as more people are at home, voice assistants can play a bigger role in work productivity, education, and family activities.

Secondly, people want to avoid touching shared devices (or any device), so I think Voice is poised to be part of the solution that helps shape our new normal and make our lives easier and safer. This is something that makes me excited about this space, of all the opportunity there is and the impact that we can have.

Why do brands want to include Voice in their strategy?

Today, brands are particularly excited to join the Voice ecosystem at the ground floor with the vision that it can grow into a large surface for their business.

There’s a clear new medium with Voice that users are getting more and more comfortable within their homes and on-the-go. As brands look to innovate and adapt to cutting edge technology, they partner with voice tech companies, like Google Assistant or Amazon, to learn what works for this new medium (hand in hand with us). The conversational design also seems deceptively simple, so brands incorporate voice technologies to create more seamless conversations with their customers and learn how these users engage with their brand via voice.

Google Assistant’s large footprint across devices (1B devices) also excites brands that are interested in making their content available across new surfaces.

Why should more consumer brands utilize voice technology?

Voice has taken a major leap forward, and it has emerged over the last couple of years as a new foundational interaction model in computing. As users start to have access to this technology everywhere, and this behavior becomes more normalized, if brands want to meet the users wherever they are, they’ll have to start incorporating voice technology into their strategy.

Voice technology also allows brands to engage key audience segments in personalized conversations through more natural and seamless interactions, which can ultimately drive retention and business growth.

Brands that are using voice technology as part of their strategy today are not just creating new experiences for their users but are beginning to learn and invest in the future of customer interactions (i.e., they are developing the technical know-how to navigate the new computing era — the first-mover advantage).

What are the one or two things that brands always ask you about building for a voice assistant?

The first question brands normally ask is: how should we think about what experience to build? Users are not just looking to access a brand’s website in audio form (at least not now). Voice is a much more “intent� base (i.e., use case base). Brands should spend time thinking about those moments where they can be truly assistive with voice and create re-engagement.

At first, it’s important to think about how to help users in sustained, often daily/weekly/monthly repeatable interactions. For example, it’s become common for food ordering apps to start their voice journey around use cases like “reordering,� as well as for banks to build an experience to quickly check your account balance or bills vs. purchasing a new credit card or opening an account.

Secondly, brands also ask questions about their personas. Voice can be the most natural and personal way to engage with brands – it has more to offer than a website or a device, so for the first time, brands really need to think about who they want to be and evolve their brand identity into a fully-developed personality. However, while this is important for a successful voice strategy, it can feel daunting and will likely require a lot of time since developing a voice that represents your brand is no small feat. For this reason, my advice for brands is to not let this deter them from starting to experiment now (without their own fully-developed personality), but rather to do both in parallel.

What do you want potential brand partners to understand by watching the next episode of VOICE Talks dedicated to predictions for voice technology that is coming on December 10?

Virtual assistants are increasingly becoming part of our daily life, but we are truly just at the beginning of this new era of voice and ambient computing.

This new era won’t just be something we launch, but something that we work towards — a new way of thinking about computing and about how we engage with technology. For this reason, VOICE Talks is not just about Google Assistant, it’s platform-independent, as it aims to teach viewers about the wider advances and opportunities in the space.

Given the novelty of this technology, when watching VOICE Talks, my hope is that brands can learn and be inspired by peers and users alike, from the top companies that are investing in this space and from the broader community.

The opportunity for Voice is huge. Through creating a platform that unites the community as VOICE Talks does, we can all learn from each other and propel this technology forward, creating extraordinary experiences that empower all users.

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Connect Connected Devices sales tools

Top Sales Tools for Virtual Selling

virtual sales tools

We are in unprecedented times in business because of COVID-19 — and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. All of the world’s problems, at present, have forced the tech industry to rapidly pivot to develop products and services to match business virtual needs. Virtual everything is at the forefront of everyone’s mind — and virtual selling will keep business and the economy moving. Here are the top sales tools for virtual selling.

Top Sales Tools for Virtual Selling

Prezi Video

  1. Prezi Video 

It’s time to say goodbye to screen-share. Sales pitch presentations are no longer happening in person, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the face-to-face connection for virtual selling.

Prezi Video is a sales tool that lets you interact with your on-screen content like a newscaster or weather-person as you present on live or recorded video. Prezi Video allows sales professionals to have a presence within their visual content while maintaining eye contact with their audience. Many professionals don’t understand the eye-contact as essential to help establish the human connection and facilitate the two-way conversation — but Prezi Video gets that eye-contact is essential for effective sales pitches.

Through Prezi Video, you can visualize data, share case studies, and showcase products as you engage and build rapport with potential customers on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Google Meet, and most video conferencing platforms. Sales pros can also use Prezi Video to record engaging and memorable prospecting videos to share via email or social channels. Nifty.

Owler virtual selling

2. Owler

News monitoring tools like Owler can ensure you stay on top of industry updates, announcements, and events without the added effort. With Owler, you can create a customized news feed for competitor news – the platform allows users to filter in the most relevant information, provides complete company profiles, and generates automatic insights.

Owler Daily Snapshots feature is akin to having your very own theSkimm tailored for your business. If you were looking for a sign to graduate from Google Alerts, this is it.

Khoros virtual selling

3. Khoros

Community management can feel like a whirlwind at times with the sheer volume of conversations happening at any given moment. Khoros turns cacophony into a streamlined dialogue by simplifying social media listening with automatic insights and providing a clean interface to ease community management.

Customer acquisition and engagement doesn’t have to be dizzying if you have the right sales tools.

Regie virtual selling

4. Regie
Many sales tools offer endless optionality and functionality. While that might be nice for expansive enterprises, most companies drown in the product. It’s like attempting to mow your lawn with a helicopter; it’s technically possible, but you’re probably wasting your time (and money).

Regie is a sales engagement tool with guardrails. This tool takes your marketing list (or buyer persona) and turns it into qualified sales meetings. Regie streamlines your workflow and focuses on the most important leading indicators — sales meetings and qualified opportunities.

Regie automates repetitive sales operations tasks and offers timely recommendations on your sales and prospecting strategy. Regie is different not because of the endless things it can do, but because of what it won’t do — waste your time.

Salesforce virtual selling

5. Salesforce

As its name suggests, Salesforce is a powerful sales tool. This multifaceted customer relationship management platform helps with everything from task management to customer service, employee performance management, and tracking. You can customize Salesforce to your needs using the sleuth of add-ons and build your own sales toolkit.

 

RankTools virtual selling

6. RankTools

RankTools is essential for any sales team who relies on SEO and moving into 2021, that will be just about everyone as digital marketing has become more important than ever. RankTools offers a variety of different products that help with reporting and analysis and is pretty much a one-stop-shop for all your SEO needs.

The RankTools SEO Tool package fully analyzes your website to ensure you’re implementing all the necessary practices for the best SEO optimization, and you can even track your competitors’ websites to see what you’re up against. It doesn’t just show where you’re lacking but informs you of the steps you need to take to improve.

Lucidchart virtual selling

7.

8. AeroLeads

Any B2B business knows how tedious manually digging for leads can be and how time-consuming it is to keep databases up to date. AeroLeads scouts contact information and stores it in an easy-on-the-eyes interface while checking in on your existing contacts for outdated information. Use this tool to simplify your contact research and keep your data current and organized.

CircleBack virtual sales

9. CircleBack

We’ve all had that moment of endless scrolling through email threads looking for that one person whose name we vaguely recall. Can you count how many business cards you’ve lost or accidentally thrown in the trash? With CircleBack, you won’t ever have to spend another minute of your time digging.

CircleBack pulls contact information from the depths of your conversations (whether they be email exchanges or text messages) and compiles them into a single neatly organized address book. You can scan contact cards for safekeeping in an instant, automatically delete duplicates, and trust this tool to save contact information from all your interactions so you can stay productive.

Conclusion

Having great connectivity with your customers and understanding your customers persona has always been a hallmark of good sales in business — and never so more than now. Find sales tools that will catapult your sales in the new year — it all begins with a finely-tuned virtual sales tool at present.

 

Top Image Credit: nataliya vaitkevich; pexels

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ad growth platforms CCTV Connected Devices Marketing ott Platforms

OTT Subscriptions are Growing: Why Advanced TV is the Way to Go

advanced tv

Streaming platforms have seen a big surge, along with the growth of subscription video on demand (SVOD). As subscriptions are skyrocketing, OTT becomes the mainstream way of consuming video content. Based on eMarketer forecasts, by 2020, viewers will spend over 50% (130 min per day) of their daily free time watching digital videos on OTT.

In the recent report by Digital TV Research, the global subscription growth predictions look optimistic. Based on these estimates, by 2025, SVOD will reach over 460M in APAC, 100M in LATAM, and about 30M in MENA. In the US, the number of subscribers will reach 317M. Also, there’s a curious forecast regarding Western Europe. Namely, out of 191M subscriptions expected by 2025, only 35M will join this year thanks to the lockdown.

The growing trend urges new OTT services to enter the market. In turn, it drives more viewers to take up a subscription. Along with more advanced TV platforms, the industry sees new ad services. Especially, specific CTV ad services such as Allroll or Roku native ad platform aimed to help publishers grow their OTT channels. As CTV keeps evolving, we’ll see more independent-channel promotion opportunities like these.

Increasing the number of services also encourages viewers to take multiple offerings simultaneously. For instance, in the UK, the proportion of users subscribed to at least 3 streaming services accounts for 14%. That number has grown by 4% since 2017 and keeps increasing.

In the US, where the number of available OTT services has increased by 140% in five years, consumers get a wide range of options to meet their video needs. Most consumers find it’s not enough for them to go with a single service. And this is where small and medium-sized services can fill in the viewer gaps by providing exclusive content.

Advertising on CTV: Why It Works And Is Accepted So Well

Something else that is growing apart from OTT subscribers is the number of people tolerating the CTV ads. For instance, 80% of US CTV viewers watch ad-supported content. The leading cause is the viewers’ behavior and the things they are getting used to while watching videos. To get insights into this, let’s take a closer look at the actual CTV audiences.

Thus, the core audience of US CTV viewers in 2020 is Gen Z representatives (45.7 million), millennials (56.5 million), and Gen X viewers (48.5 million). Most of them are cord-cutters and cord-nevers who have abandoned linear TV or have never consumed one.

By cutting cords, this hard-to-reach audience segment gets to their favorite video content collected all in one place — on the CTV screen. Hence, Gen Zers, Gen Xers, and millennials are open to consuming whatever goes alongside the content they are going for.

Another critical group of the CTV audience, which is still fewer than younger cohorts, is boomers. However, the adoption of streaming video among boomers is growing slowly and methodically. Compared with the same figures a year ago, boomer viewers increased by 8.3%, accounting for 32.8 million viewers. As viewers of this kind have been watching commercial breaks for years, they don’t feel any irritation seeing ads on CTV.

Challenges and Factors Nurturing OTT Ad Growth

While CTV advertising looks like fantastic exposure, it has its limitations, though. Advertisers who decide to leverage CTV need to get ready to face challenges like lack of standardization and ad buying nuances.

When it comes to CTV channel owners, one of their essential needs is accessing tools for promoting their content. In this regard, they can leverage Roku. This platform provides them with the most advanced promotion toolkit compared to its competitors.

However, Roku native promotion tools don’t let channel owners get the most of it. Specifically, with Roku, they are getting 60% fewer installs compared to what could be achieved with the same promotion budgets. A solution can come from marketing platforms, helping channel owners increase their audience and spend less.

However, these limitations don’t mean video content producers and advertisers should postpone CTV ad adoption. Alternatively, the reasons contributing to OTT expansion come from all flanks. The already mentioned speeding up of cord-cutting, cancellation of live sports events, and stay-at-home trends are just a few factors leading to increasing CTV video consumption and OTT subscriptions.

Other ingredients in this recipe are:

  • High viewability. Unlike the way they work on desktop or mobile, OTT ads mainly go full-screen. It means there are no controls to minimize or skip them. Therefore, this creates an advantage for advertisers who can reach a large screen and better engagement. Besides, advertising through OTT grants access to the living room, where families spend time together.
  • Consumer behavior shift. Viewers tend to explore the wide range of OTT services and experiment with multiple subscriptions. Their goal is to get a particular mix of content through various services.
  • Devices and viewership are growing in volume. The market for OTT devices keeps rising and evolving. Hence, it demonstrates more opportunities for publishers and advertisers. Indie content producers especially have their moment now. They can attract new audiences by investing in their OTT presence and producing more exclusive content and ad inventory.
  • Advanced targeting and data. OTT targeting empowers advertisers with the opportunity to set up their ads granularly. Advertisers can serve it to the viewers with specific demographic or lifestyle traits. Along with that, OTT provides more capabilities for data collection, processing, and measurement. Data on specific content viewed, time spent on it, and other parameters help enrich targeting settings.
  • Premium content. New streaming platforms come with plenty of premium content, fueling their consumption growth even more. Both great and small platforms bring tremendous content libraries to subscription OTT. At the same time, platforms like Apple TV+ and Roku pour money into original content, as well as opening the gates to small and medium-size content producers, encouraging them to present and promote their content in front of CTV audiences.
  • Large media companies start adopting data-driven TV ads. Seeing the value OTT brings to today’s media mix, large advertising companies start offering OTT-specific platforms for serving addressable ads.

What to Expect In 2021: Channel Owners’ and Advertisers’ Perspectives

As traditional pay-TV keeps losing its audience, this might be a great opportunity for streaming platforms and CTV content producers. To meet and greet new audiences, they have to offer viewers high-quality and engaging content.

Especially when it comes to young cord-cutters, it’s vital to deliver them a content viewing experience similar to what they are used to. Reality shows featuring celebrities, lifestyle shows, or documentary series are just a few ideas to start with. Content producers who can afford TV series and original movie production will have a CTV moment now, considering Hollywood has been on hiatus over the lockdown.

In turn, brands should pivot their advertising to the OTT environment, which is a breeding ground for them. Today, advertisers get a powerful collection of tools that don’t compare to what linear TV or even digital ads can provide. This includes creating ad-supported content with CTV channel owners and interactive, immersive, and shoppable programmatic ad formats.

Takeaways

OTT content consumption and advertising are rising. This provides both marketers and content creators with tremendous opportunities. What is essential for them now is to meet, and exceed, their viewers’ expectations by providing content of genuine quality and ads.

What about outcomes? We believe it won’t take too long until advertisers and content producers, who are ready to embrace OTT opportunities, achieve remarkable growth.

Image Credit: jeshootcom; pexels

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Connected Devices ReadWrite Tech

Carpool Lanes Don’t Cut Traffic. Here’s How We Can

cut traffic

Traffic is a daily reality. We burn billions of gallons of gas, waste billions of hours, and generate copious amounts of pollution in stop-and-go traffic. What a waste of time, resources — and a colossal piece of our lives. We know that carpool lanes don’t cut traffic — but here is how we can.

Carpool lanes were supposed to cut traffic by motivating people to double up. Researchers estimate that only 10% of carpools are “induced� or formed to save commute time. Far more cars in the lane are natural carpools (e.g., families), already-shared rides (buses and rideshare), exempt single vehicles, or cheaters.

It’s been a little better while we’re working at home — but what about Post-COVID?

Post-Covid culture will only make this worse. Right now, states use the lanes to encourage green vehicles — and collect tolls. These may be valuable goals, but they don’t help traffic. The results are clear: carpool lanes do not work.

Much worse, the fundamental concept is flawed. Carpool lanes are only valuable because we can’t keep the other lanes moving. That is just plain wrong. The goal should be to use all lanes effectively.

Why does this happen? What can we do about it? We can use modern robot-car technology to do more than help us drive. We can use it to reduce traffic.

Everyone knows that Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) can someday replace human drivers to save lives and enable mobility. But even well before AVs completely replace drivers, they can work another wonder: today’s emerging AV and metering control technology can be redirected to reduce traffic. Longer-term, we can completely eliminate traffic by repurposing carpool lanes.

What Causes Traffic?

Traffic has gotten worse and the carpool lanes that should have helped congestion, haven’t helped.

Let’s start by understanding the problem. Traffic engineers usually plot “flow� vs. “density� to model traffic. As a networking engineer, I’ll try a different view, based on network congestion models. The plot below shows a typical throughput graph from the queuing theory.

Consider it a single lane on a freeway. The vertical axis is throughput, measured as the number of vehicles passing a given point per unit of time. The horizontal axis is “offered load,� the number of vehicles entering the system per unit time.

Lane Throughput. As cars enter the lane, the throughput increases. Eventually, the throughput hits a maximum. Adding more cars after the maximum causes congestion, with a dramatic loss of throughput.

At low offered load, each new vehicle rolls along at the speed limit, increasing the throughput by one. So, throughput rises linearly with load. At some point, the lane gets congested, and the throughput can’t keep up. So, it rolls off as cars pack into the lane. If you keep adding load, throughput “crashes.� A congested lane supports greatly reduced flow.

In a typical traffic situation, the maximum throughput corresponds to a speed of about 45mph. That’s where drivers have packed in as close as they are comfortable, and the brake lights start twitching. So, if you are moving at 45mph on a freeway…get ready to stop. Any more load or any disturbance, and your lane speed will drop to almost zero very quickly.

Phantom Jams

That’s the story for our lane at only a single point. It gets much more interesting if you look at a lane over a distance. As you pack more cars into the lane, the congestion will somewhere exceed the maximum. Throughput drops at that point. Behind that, cars pile in at a faster rate than the blockage can handle. Traffic backs up as the jam grows.

Of course, now the congested lane can’t carry as much traffic, so at the front of the jam, offered load drops. That raises throughput, and cars speed away from the blockage. You have likely noticed this “phantom jam� phenomenon. Sometimes there’s a reason for blocked traffic, like an accident or lane merge. But, most of the time, when you get to the end of a slow spot, traffic clears out completely, and there’s no obvious reason.

Congestion Model. When a block forms, throughput is low in that region. Cars from behind add to the block quickly. Cars in the front leave the block. Thus, the blockage moves backward over time. If enough cars enter, the entire lane becomes blocked.

The Congestion Model shows how a block forms — creating a “waveâ€� of stopped cars that move backward over time. High throughput feeds the block from behind. High throughput clears the block from the front. The blockage shifts backward over time.

In reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that because, in most situations, vehicles are entering and leaving the system. With uncontrolled entry, the entire system can exceed the maximum throughput level and everything gets completely clogged up.

Metering lights can help by restricting incoming flow. Unfortunately, today’s metering lights simply slow down the offered load. They keep adding cars, even when the road is already blocked. They simply aren’t smart enough to keep the lane moving.

Wither Carpool Lanes?

So, how can we fix this? First, we have to agree on the goal. If all lanes were always carrying their maximum flow, potential improvement in overall throughput is dramatic! Even operating short of the maximum throughput is much preferable to blockage. We must set a clear goal: no lane should ever stop. With such a system, throughput will rise. Commute times would be well-bounded. There would be no reason to check Google for traffic conditions.

And carpool lanes would make no sense.

This does imply some “storage� of vehicles waiting to join the flow. We can still reward carpools, or electric vehicles, or motorcycles, by offering quicker access to the moving traffic. Drivers would have to realize and agree that the long wait time to get moving is well worth an overall shorter commute.

Limit Offered Load

With that goal agreed, we can get smarter to control the offered load. If we can measure the traffic speed, we can detect congestion waves. Waves move backward, fed by incoming traffic. By holding back that incoming traffic, we can then send “anti-waves� of lower offered load, reduce the blockage and keep traffic moving.

Today, we try to control the offered load with metering lights. But they’re not even based on active sensors; they merely space out cars with timers. The metering lights and flow rates must be based on measured traffic conditions, not on inflexible timing.

Traffic blocks build and ease in a few seconds. This is an active feedback control problem: measure the load and dynamically adjust the load. It has to be fast enough to detect and cancel waves. Effective control cannot react and adjust flow rates over hours as metering lights do today.

Effective control can use dynamic sensing provided by apps like Google Maps to change metering in real-time. The change from timed, random, ineffective metering to actively measured feedback control alone would greatly reduce traffic.

Avoid Blocked Lanes

But we can do far more with some cooperative vehicles. Lowering load with metering lights can’t easily control flow when lanes merge or when there’s a temporary block that concentrates flow. There are many ways that load can exceed carrying capacity.

To keep lanes moving all the time, we must also prevent blockage with the vehicles already in the flow. This could be done with cooperative driving. For instance, we can ask drivers to look ahead for slowing cars and slow down immediately before adding to the blockage. Of course, that assumes the other cars also do this rather than just passing the slow car. That’s unlikely – history is riddled with failed plans that assume a change in human nature.

AVs can help here; they don’t suffer from human nature. Even a few “altruistic� vehicles that slow in advance of a blockage could reduce the incoming offered load, mitigate the blockage, and greatly increase overall flow.

They have to know when to slow down, and that would require sensing of the blockage. A widespread vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) system would be best, but that’s hard. Fortunately, simpler local solutions could work. For instance, some researchers suggest backward-looking tailgating control could suffice. Updates from today’s online traffic monitoring like Google Maps may even be fast enough, and that is already available in every car.

We don’t have to wait decades for this improvement! Google may be the sensor. The vehicle control is effortless. The vehicles just need to choose a lane and a speed based on traffic. That is possible today with systems like Tesla’s AutoPilot. There are plenty of Teslas on the road, at least in California, so an Auto Pilot anti-traffic app could greatly reduce congestion — right now.

It won’t be perfect, but feedback metering and blockage mitigation should be able to get close to our most important goal: to keep all lanes moving. And they are both doable with today’s technology.

Robolanes Can End Traffic

We can do far more by making even better use of carpool lanes with smarter AVs.

How? We have all those soon-to-be useless carpool lanes, already separated from the main flow with special lanes and flyovers. If these carpool lanes allowed only AVs, smart vehicles could be programmed to maintain equal spacing (csaildotmitdotedu) both front and back. That alone will end phantom blocks.

Much more enticing, an AV has a much faster control system and could be programmed to reduce vehicles’ distance greatly. This may sound unsafe, but the spacing is only really needed to account for human-response delay. An automated control that reacts to milliseconds changes instead of seconds can safely drive in much closer formation.

Even better, it’s safer. Collision severity is a function of the difference in speed. If the car in front of you has less space to decelerate, then it will not be as high of a relative velocity if there is a collision.

The safest way to drive, if possible, would be to touch the bumper in front and behind you, like a train. That way, you can “ride downâ€� the acceleration profile of the cars in front of you. That is much better than crashing into a stopped car. Of course — this mode of travel won’t happen.

Putting these together, an “AV onlyâ€� lane could pack in far more cars, avoid phantom blocks and be safer. Implementation will take some work, including controller and V2V standards. However, properly written safety-protocols can work without perfect communications between vehicles. The communication protocols aren’t easy to attain — but it’s a big win in the traffic game.

Just converting carpool lanes into never-blocking robolanes could easily double throughput. Programming cars to drive together to eliminate inter-car space could add another factor of five or more. And as we increase the number of capable cars, we can migrate more lanes to be robolanes. This incremental path can end traffic — forever.

Let’s Fix Traffic

We have already invested billions while building flyover interchanges, metering lights, and carpool lanes. Let’s face it; they haven’t worked. Instead of these strategies, we should focus on a new goal: intelligently controlling traffic.

First, let’s keep all lanes moving all the time. Simple fixes can make a difference quickly: using inexpensive sensors to control metering and using our existing best AVs to mitigate blockages.

Longer-term, we can repurpose carpool lanes to work with the emerging AV revolution. These together will cost less than the current trend to improve or build new carpool lanes. Instead of slightly better carpool lanes, let’s stop the absurd waste of all the other lanes.

For one, I would much rather spend our billions solving the problem than perpetuating a broken system.

Top Image Credit: Bob Ward; Pexels

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11 IoT Securities You Must Have for Your Smart Devices

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When talking about IoT securities — smart homes are the hot new trend that is completely changing the house security situation’s face. It is a revolution in people’s life. The internet of things has made life much simpler and hassle-free. The world is now in a gold rush of the internet of things. Tech tycoons are launching products that are entering our homes, offices, and cars. The webcams, digital assistants, motion sensors, and much more play a big part in making your life easier. Here are eleven IoT securities that are must-have for your smart devices.

Our inter-connectivity world.

Though internet-connected devices make lives a cakewalk, many fail to understand that all the connectivity is a two-edged sword. The security tradeoffs in IoT are not paid attention to by many. Let’s look at how your IoT has a second life — and how to handle this and cut it out.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

IoT refers to physical objects embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other systems over the internet. These things range from ordinary household objects to the industrial tool. 

The importance of IoT now extends across; multiple sectors, including:

Consumer applications: This comprises consumer products such as smartphones, smartwatches, and smart homes. These can be used to control everything from air conditioning to door locks.

Business sector: The internet of things used by businesses ranges from smart security cameras to trackers for vehicles, ships, and goods to sensors that record industrial data of machinery.

Government sector: You might wonder where the government uses IoT, but the IoT makes the government official’s work trouble-free. Few areas where the IoT plays a great role are wildlife tracking, traffic monitor, disaster alerts.

The number of IoT devices is surging to more than billions, and this number will not stop here. With the rise of internet-connected devices, one of the great concerns that are surfacing with users is security. As the devices are connected to the internet, it is open to threats worldwide, increasing the scrutiny of inherent security issues.

How your IoT makes you vulnerable?

Some hackers can enter your network through the most innocuous device connected to the network. Your smart devices, like smart TVs, smart locks, gaming consoles, smart thermostats, or anything, can be the gateway to your network. It provides the entry point for cybercriminals. They can access a lot of information like your daily routine, life status, or sensitive information like passwords or financial information. This will make you more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and other problems. The attackers can install malicious programs like malware, which renders your router inoperable and collects all the details from devices connected to the router. Smart home devices are more vulnerable because they have little or no built-in security.

Anecdote of an IoT attack

In 2016, the Mirai botnet compromised a huge amount of devices — all scammed by teenagers. A botnet is used to conduct large scale cyber-attack by combining the processing power of small devices. The Mirai botnet took down famous companies like Etsy, GitHub, Netflix, and Spotify. The Mirai mainly attacked older routers and IP cameras and launched a DDoS attack. The out of date versions and easy credentials was the prey to this malware. To prevent your devices from cyber-attack, practice the following steps to make it more secure.

Another massive attack in 2010 is using the Stuxnet worm, a sophisticated computer worm that hunts down specific machinery used in the nuclear industry. These viruses commenced the attack in 2006 but executed a mass play in the year 2009. The viruses targeted the control system and the data acquisition systems and infected the instruction to the machinery. Therefore it is imperative to understand that the internet of things is open to attack at any level. 

Vulnerabilities that puts you at the risk 

Though we cannot stop the hackers and cybercriminals from performing the attack, the best thing you can do is take some measures. To establish the right security measures, we can be safe and secure from these hackers’ curbs. But to understand this, first, you have to understand the security vulnerabilities that invite breaches and crimes to your home or organization. 

  • Weak, guessable, or hardcoded passwords
  • The insecurity in-network services
  • The insecure interface ecosystem
  • Lack of up-to-date mechanism in the devices with the latest software
  • Use of components that is out of date or insecure
  • There is no enough privacy.
  • Overlook the transfer and storage of data
  • Default settings that grant permission to unnecessary
  • Lack of physical measures

IOT Securities You Must Have

1. Make sure your device secure by design

Before purchasing an IoT device or solution, make sure it is secure by design. If the provider cannot supply the adequate details, reconsider going for a particular device or solution. You should also make sure that the manufacturer provides timely patches and updates for the device all along its lifetime. The timely patches and updates for the device keep it up to date with the latest trend at that time.

2. Name your router

Change the name of your router from the one that is given by the manufacturer. The manufacturer provided name is used to identify the model of the router. The router’s name has to be unusual and not associated with your personal information like your name or address. The name of the router should not be a personal identifier.

3. Know your network and connected devices

The moment your device connects to the internet, it becomes vulnerable right at that point. With more and more devices connected to the network, it becomes tough to keep track of it. To be secure, you have to know about the network, the devices connected to it, and the type of information the devices can access. If the devices have apps featuring social sharing, select the permissions carefully.

4. Use strong encryption

Your router should have a strong encryption method. Don’t use the public WiFi networks or one that doesn’t have a reliable encryption protocol. Use the latest encryption standards like WPA2 instead of WEP or WPA. Installing updates and timely patches helps in having a minimum level of risk.

5. Use a strong password

The first main thing to do while installing a device is to change the default passwords. The cyber attackers might already know the default passwords and usernames of the IoT device. If the device doesn’t allow you to change the password, then consider a different one. Second, use a strong password and username that cannot be easily identified. Ditch the passwords like “password� or “123456.�

The password should be a combination of lower case, upper case, numbers, and special characters. Also, make sure that you change your password and username frequently.

6. Check the settings of your devices

Usually, the smart devices come with default settings that might be insecure for your device. The worst thing is that some devices won’t allow changing these settings. The things that have to be checked based on settings are weak credentials, intrusive features, permissions, and open ports.

7. Install firewalls and other security solutions 

The security gateways stand between your IoT devices and network. They have more processing power, memory, and capabilities than IoT devices. You can install more powerful features like a firewall to prevent hackers from accessing your IoT devices. The firewall systems block unauthorized traffic over the wire and run IDS or IPS that is an intrusion detection or intrusion prevention system to scrutinize the network system.

To make your job easier you can use vulnerability scanners to unveil the security weaknesses within the system. You can employ a port scanner to identify the open ports. 

8. Use a separate network

If you are running a big enterprise, then this tip is for you. Using a separate network for smart devices apart from the business network for the IoT devices is one of the most strategic approaches to ensure IoT security. When segmentation is in place, even if the hackers lure the way into the IoT devices, they can’t get hold of your business data or sniff the bank transfers.

9. Make sure that universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is off

The Universal Plug and Play is a set of network protocols that allow network devices to discover others’ presence seamlessly. But the same has rendered the possibility of exposing you to hackers outside more easily. The UPnP comes as a default setting on many routers nowadays. So check the settings and disable this feature if you don’t want to compromise on security for the sake of convenience. 

10. Implement physical security

If you have the privilege of controlling the smart device with a phone, then be double-cautious that you don’t lose your phone. Have protection like Pin, password, or biometric on the device. In addition to this, make sure that you can erase your phone remotely. Have automatic backups in place or selective backups for the data that are important. 

11. Increasing consumer awareness

Many consumers overlook security while purchasing an IoT device. The users have to be aware of the latest security measures that have to be enabled for protection. As a user, you have to be aware of updating the default credentials and software update application. Beware of the security threats that are happening around. 

Bottom line

Despite the risks, it is no brainer that the internet of things has a mammoth potential. It has made day to day chores easy like a smart kettle. But the best experience is when these devices are completely secure. By adopting the necessary security measures, you can enjoy the benefits of the devices without any lag to its fullest.

Image Credit: cottonbro; pexels

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Addressing Security Challenges in an IoT Dominated World

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Adding connectivity with a degree of intelligence to household appliances gives rise to the Internet of Things (IoT). Integration of these inter-connected appliances, with our daily routine, inside our personal spaces, is resulting in smart homes, and the adoption is already exponential. Here is how we are addressing security challenges in an IoT dominated world.

Many industries are deploying the IoT concept, such as security and surveillance systems, home appliances, manufacturing, automotive, and recently we also experience numerous innovations in the HVAC industry (cielowigledotcom – HVAC tech). All players’ goal is to provide connectivity plus automation, resulting in comfort and even energy savings.

Smart homes promise an automated living experience, with in-built convenience and an efficient style of living. As per IDC projections in 2015, there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, with a market worth 1.7 trillion USD. This widescale acceptance of IoT is a fascinating part of the future. It bodes well for the times to come for the smart home industry. But with all good things, there is a catch. Security of data is the most significant risk to such large scale integrations. Moreover, preventing any backdoor entries into a secure home should also be an emphasis on IoT security.

Smart home devices’ mass use provides a larger pool for potential hackers and data attackers to target, resulting in a significant disruption of service, financial loss, and physical loss instead of promised convenience and energy savings.

Erosion of confidence in smart home appliances through security risks is a stark reality for the IoT industry. It would consequently lead to a slowdown in the adoption of smart home products by consumers.

IoT Vulnerabilities

Wi-Fi connected devices create a great volume of sensitive data, creating an inherent risk of data and identity theft, device manipulation, and server/network manipulation, and providing many avenues for hackers to exploit.

As per Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), IoT vulnerabilities include inherent insecurities in the web interface, mobile interface, cloud interface, network services, and firmware. The vulnerabilities also include insufficiencies in authentication/authorization and security configuration. The lack of transport encryption, privacy concerns, and poor physical security also adds up to the list of vulnerabilities.

Limited memory and computational power of microcontrollers is another challenge that is unique to IoT. Both these components are essential to convert dumb appliances into intelligent connected devices. Implementation of security at the device level is a big problem for IoT solution providers. They have to keep in view the balance that needs to be maintained between the security and marketability of the end product.

Often, resource constraints within the design of the product do not allow sufficient computing resources, which are necessary to implement strong security. Consequently, many devices are unable to provide advanced security features. As a case example, temperature and humidity sensors cannot handle advanced encryption protocols and various security features.

Even over the air (OTA) updates are not utilized, with many IoT devices used in a “set and forget� mode. High-end manufacturers are the exception to this, though. They can provide regular FOTA updates and a robust security mechanism all the way from the cloud protocols to on-device safeguards. Other manufacturers are not so forthcoming, prioritizing low-cost development and a faster timeline for conception to sale.

Strategy to Mitigate IoT Vulnerabilities

An all-encompassing strategy is to mitigate any potential vulnerabilities from design conception to end product. Post-sale software updates are a critical part of aftersale support. Without being hampered by cost restrictions, a security-centric approach needs to be adopted. The strategy must include proven security practices, prioritization of security measures, and transparency across the whole eco-system.

Another major issue that needs to be addressed in the amalgamation of legacy assets with modern technology. The security challenges of today were not kept in mind when older generation devices were made. Outright replacing the legacy structure with new-generation devices is a very cost-prohibitive venture. This is why smart home providers are more focused on retrofitting already installed equipment with plug-and-play devices and sensors.

But the cross-link between a legacy device and smart sensor will inevitably leave a little gap in the proverbial door and can be exploited by those with malicious intent.

Time restrictions are also a cause for concern. Many smart solution providers only cater to updates for a few years, after which their after-sale support becomes only rudimentary. With devices running around for a much larger time period than support provision, this can be a security lapse. Achieving security at par with the current standards can be challenging without assistance from manufacturers.

Industry Acceptance

A major component of security protocols and networking is industry-wide acceptance through well-established standards and procedures. Although multiple independent security frameworks operate in somewhat isolated bubbles, a single, comprehensive, industry-wide standard needs the hour. Major manufacturers and service providers utilize their own internal protocols.

To develop these protocols, a large number of resources have been put in. But smaller companies are at a disadvantage. They have to resort to making do with third-party frameworks, which are often not up to the mark. Moreover, they can also be incompatible with other major players in the industry. Due to this, not only is security an issue but also inter-operability.

Putting IoT Security Strategy Vehicle into Action

The IoT solution providers have to involve security issues at all stages of the IoT cycle. Emphasis should be on cybersecurity. Security begins at the design stage with a special focus on threat modeling, secure component selection, component adaptability to future security measures, and finally, resilience testing. The FOTA functionality is a must for remote updates, failure patching, and data protection in case of security breaches.

The options of standalone operations in case of connectivity problems can also give greater confidence to users. The manufacturer must also educate the users for setting stronger user preferences through user configurations.

The users on their part can reduce the risk of security breaches by using strong passwords for device accounts and Wi-Fi networks, use of stronger encryption method when setting up Wi-Fi networks such as WPA2, disabling the remote access to IoT devices when not needed, and disabling features that are not currently in use like location information.

Privacy is an Essential Part of Security

Privacy issues have lately been at the forefront of the discussion on networking. IoT has the potential to provide unprecedented amounts of personal information. Such information may land in the hands of information abusers. OEMs would need to provide privacy policies on how they handle such data. They should also adopt best practices to avoid reputational damages and adherence to regulatory requirements.

IoT is here to stay. The sooner this realization comes in –the better it is for both the consumers and smart solution providers.

A robust framework is needed by the industry to ensure that consumer confidence in IoT is not hampered in any way. Rather, the focus should solely be on providing the utmost in convenience and comfort to the world.

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How Smart Homes Power the Post-Pandemic Energy Evolution

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Many of us have been cooped up inside for months in the face of the ongoing pandemic, transforming our living spaces into all-in-one offices, gyms, and schools. As a result, those lucky enough to be working remotely and earning expendable income during the “new normal� have been investing in upgrades for the home.

The upgrades for the home is evident.

The home’s upgrades are evident in the embrace of connected devices that transform today’s humble abodes into tomorrow’s smart hubs. We are scrambling for new gadgets that are energy efficient and have automation, convenience, affordability. We want devices that give us enhanced health and wellness.

Energy efficiency shows great promise to simultaneously cut energy bills and carbon emissions in the post-pandemic world.

With the world’s climate crisis at a tipping point, this moment could be the trigger that sees millions of homeowners install advanced monitoring to optimize energy use.

Today’s shift towards smart energy products sets us on the right course for an evolution following COVID-19. Still, it is one that must be pursued relentlessly and backed by cybersecurity best practice.

Working From Home Or Living At The Office?

The world we know is vastly different from the world we knew. Offices have moved online; supply chains have been turned upside down, international routes have largely ceased.

People, meanwhile, have been ordered indoors. About 30% of the global population has been put in lockdown with different levels of nation-wide quarantines, forcing many to spend more time at home than ever before.

The mass uptake of working from home or living at the office all depends on your perspective.

Working from home is subsequently changing how people interact with their living spaces. Without the possibility of vacations or lavish dining experiences — many homeowners are spending what disposable income they have on home upgrades.

No lavish upgrades right now.

However, the upgrades are not simple furnishings or decorations but rather smart devices that bring comfort and efficiency.

Smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart garden sprinklers – smart everything – are becoming commonplace inside the contemporary home.

The ongoing lockdowns are predicted to spur the global market for smart home devices to 18% growth this decade.

A Peek Inside Today’s Smart Energy Home

There are two ways to look at contemporary smart energy inside the home. First, there are standalone devices. These products serve specific efficiency purposes, like regulating the power flow to outlets or automatically turning off lights.

The most popular of these smart additions remain heating and cooling upgrades since air conditioning consumes approximately 40 percent of any building’s electricity.

For example, the German smart thermostat company Sorel enables remote app access to display home temperatures and humidity in real-time. You can even select the operating mode and target temperatures, monitor the correct functioning of the system. The thermostat configures a time program, and activate holiday mode.

Standalone products are all about identifying waste and shifting consumer habits.

Second, there are devices that monitor energy production and manage the home’s overall energy use.

Home energy management solutions are much more holistic with a ‘hub’ communicating between devices that produce and store energy in the home. This includes solar panels, battery storage, and devices that use energy within the home – appliances, heating.

In some cases, these energy systems allow for two-way communication between energy providers and end-users. The communication can result in huge energy and cost savings since the end-user can take advantage of different time-dependent pricing schemes such as time-of-use tariffs, critical peak pricing, and real-time pricing.

The Bigger (Greener) Picture

Perhaps the best part of smart home energy is the elegance of the solution. Smart home products do not try to restrict the homeowner’s energy consumption, nor do they try to force them into doing it alone. Instead, these products often use machine learning to track the homeowner’s lifestyle and find ways to cut bad energy habits.

Regardless of whether homeowners choose to integrate standalone devices or larger smart energy systems, the desired result is the same: to cut unnecessary energy use. The insights and efficiencies offered by smart homes can cut home energy costs by 40 percent. This is an especially important reduction when the economy is down, money is tight, and housing accounts for one-third of the average budget.

More important than the financial savings are environmental savings.

Humanity finds itself on the climate precipice, so many have warned about, with experts calling for global carbon-based emissions to be cut in half by 2030. Housing contributes to one-third of global emissions, and its evolution – or not – will make or break such ambitions.

Thus, this one-two punch of economic and environmental benefits presents a powerful case for further smart home integration in the post-pandemic world.

Why Cybersecurity Matters in Smart Energy

As with any expansion to connected devices, however, it is imperative to consider cybersecurity. Connected devices are infamous for their weak security protocols, and this risk only multiplies if hackers gain access to any home’s energy production or management capabilities.

There are too many hacker horror stories to count – from children being harassed through Amazon Ring to vulnerable connected cardiac devices – and these security blindspots are much more pronounced when dealing with something as integral as energy.

Industrial energy companies have been the target of cyberattacks during this pandemic. In many cases, hackers using phishing emails have sought to gain access to the computers of remote workers and disable company systems for a ransom.

But security experts warn that about a dozen state-sponsored actors have been trying to infiltrate US networks and meddle in the nation’s energy supply.

Homeowners, therefore, must enter into smart energy with best-practice cybersecurity solutions.

One way to do this is by selecting devices that ensure commands between the client and the device are not intercepted by any third-party, such as peer-to-peer. Sorel, for example, uses this private connection type in its heating system to ensure the smartphone app communicates without interference.

Moreover, the peer-to-peer connection offers the company minimized risk since end-users only manage their data on their device.

The reward of smart energy for the home far outweighs the risk when safeguards are in place. Therefore, conscious homeowners who do their research and protect themselves should not stop taking the smart energy plunge.

Planning for Tomorrow Starts Today

While it is tough to find silver linings in moments like this, they are there. Smart energy devices are growing within the modern home, household power bills and carbon emissions are falling as a result, and consumers are learning more about energy responsibility and conservation.

These are all very positive developments, and they are developments that would not have happened as quickly without the pandemic.

Additionally, smart energy evolution is far from over. Smart home products offer many other benefits in addition to energy efficiencies, and these encourage further uptake.

For example, smart products can enhance home security, offer telemedical functions, assist the elderly, and bring lifestyle benefits like connectivity.

Smart energy tech is only predicted to grow further as the market of other products matures, such as electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid, solar power, and battery storage, all of which can be integrated into a smart household energy system.

In addition to these positive trends, homeowners are increasingly willing to pay for smart home solutions. A recent study of New York residents during lockdown found that most are willing to pay for home energy management systems.

The study found relatively high intentions to adopt home energy management systems among the more than 600 surveyed, with nearly 80 percent willing to pay in general and about 30 percent willing to pay more than $5 per month for such energy features.

Reevaluation of energy within the modern household could not come at a more important time. Energy is a sparse resource and one which contributes significantly to our collective carbon footprint.

While most people implementing smart energy solutions are likely more interested in the monetary savings, their environmental importance must not be overlooked when the world has just ten years to halve its emissions.

Today’s shift towards smart energy products sets us on the right course for an evolution following the pandemic, but it is one that must be pursued relentlessly and implemented entirely.

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How to Invest in 5G – The Definitive List of Stocks

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One of the newer investing themes some are diving into is 5G stocks, but many pick from. Most 5G stocks are about more than just 5G, so it’s important to look at what other themes they represent. Some 5G stocks are also a bet on the Internet of Things, while others are mobile carriers with exposure to the telecommunications market. Here is how to invest in 5G and the definitive list of stocks.

If you look at any list of the top 5G stocks, you’ll see a variety of different approaches to selection.

The key to identifying the best 5G stocks goes beyond looking at which ones have exposure to 5G technology.

Some stocks are obvious, like Apple, Verizon or T-Mobile. However, these stocks have even greater exposure to other things than 5G. In fact, it could be argued that they aren’t really 5G stocks at all because their exposure to other markets is much greater than their exposure to 5G technology. In fact, their 5G exposure is more incidental rather than a core part of their valuations.

Thus, it’s best to dig deeper when picking out some 5G stocks to invest in. Some common 5G-related themes to look at include chip makers and telecommunications infrastructure providers. When trying to choose stocks, you should consider these other themes, which are why the companies’ exposure to 5G technology.

Let’s take a look at some 5G stocks you might not have even thought of.

Micron

This may be a contrarian play because CNBC’s Jim Cramer called Micron the one chip maker everyone hates. He’s actually wrong about everyone hating Micron because well-known hedge fund manager Monish Pabrai actually loves it. In fact, Micron may very well be his favorite tech stock.

Pabrai hasn’t talked about his thesis for Micron, so it’s unclear whether he likes it as a 5G play. However, it’s clear from the company’s website how important 5G is to it, and the good news is that it’s not only a bet on 5G but also the Internet of Things.

Micron’s exposure to 5G technology comes in two areas: low-power-consumption DRAM and multi-chip packages designed for specific applications. The company said it takes a holistic approach to 5G, which makes it unique. Micron specializes in memory for devices, providing vast exposure to 5G technology.

Not only does Micron produce low-power DRAM that’s used in thousands of devices, but it also produces automotive-grade memory, which gives the company exposure to the autonomous vehicle market as well. This is a nice bonus that makes Micron one well-rounded 5G stock.

Qualcomm

Another way to approach 5G from the internal components of devices is with Qualcomm, which modems for mobile devices. Qualcomm is benefitting from the growing number of smartphones that are equipped with 5G technology.

In their second-quarter earnings report, the company’s management said that they expect 175 million to 225 million 5G smartphones to be shipped this year. A significant number of those smartphones will ship with Qualcomm modems inside.

One bad thing about Qualcomm is that there could be less upside to its shares than with some of the other stocks on this list. The median price target for Qualcomm stock is $121, and the shares trade above $110.

However, if you look at Qualcomm in a long-term investing horizon, there is still plenty of time for its stock to increase, thanks to the long runway on 5G growth.

Skyworks Solutions

If you like Apple for its 5G-equipped iPhones, you will probably want to look at Skyworks Solutions, which provides 5G chips for Apple’s iPhones and iPads. About half of the company’s revenues come from Apple, so the more iPhones and iPads selling, the better off Skyworks Solutions and its investors will do.

One other reason to like Skyworks Solutions is that it should benefit from ongoing trade tensions with China. The U.S. has banned 5G devices from China, which means good things for Apple because it eliminates all China’s competition.

Skyworks Solutions is also an Internet of Things play through its Sky5 platform, which supports 5G network infrastructure and user equipment.

Broadcom

Another chipmaker that’s commonly named as a 5G stock is Broadcom. Unlike Qualcomm, Broadcom doesn’t sell standalone cellular modems, but it manufactures many chips that play a role in 5G technology.

The company won a contract to provide 5G chips to Nokia, although that isn’t its only customer. Apple has bought Broadcom chips as well. Broadcom doesn’t advertise its 5G technology as much as Qualcomm, Micron, and Skyworks Solutions do — but it clearly is benefitting from the transition to 5G.

Broadcom should benefit from 5G for many years because as the 5G standards become more and more advanced, the company will have to update its chips, and its customers will keep buying the newer chips to keep up with their competition.

Nokia

Looking beyond internal components for 5G devices, we start to look at names like Nokia. Most consumers think of Nokia as a now virtually defunct handset maker, but the company doesn’t make its big money in handsets anymore. Nokia’s big business is in mobile infrastructure equipment.

In fact, the company said in a press release earlier this year that it had 63 commercial 5G contracts worldwide. It also says that it is the only network supplier whose 5G technology contracted by all four major mobile carriers in the U.S., all three of South Korea’s carriers, and three of Japan’s nationwide carriers.

Nokia also said it’s the only vendor with a “globally available end-to-end product portfolio” covering all 5G network elements, from radio, core, cloud, and transport to management, automation, and security.

While Nokia stock does look rather cheap than some of the other 5G stocks on this list, it’s also interesting that a battle is starting to break out over the stock. Bloomberg reported this month that the Finnish government is buying shares of Nokia to demonstrate that wants to protect the Finnish company when the U.S. has also expressed an interest in taking up an ownership stake in it.

Ericsson

Nokia isn’t the only way to play the infrastructure part of 5G technology. Ericsson also makes 5G infrastructure equipment. The company advertises itself as the first company to launch live commercial 5G networks on four continents.

Ericsson said its Core solutions support 2.5 billion subscribers from 2G to 5G, amounting to one-third of the world’s population. The company’s network features interoperability with six major chipset vendors, so a wide variety of 5G devices can use it. It collects $5 per phone in royalties from smartphone manufacturers due to the patents it holds, according to data from Strategy Analytics.

Ericsson is also a less expensive stock compared to some of the other 5G stocks on this list. Some have been concerned that the coronavirus pandemic would cause mobile carriers to delay their spending on 5G equipment. Still, so far, that hasn’t been the case for Ericsson, according to the company’s second-quarter earnings report.

Crown Castle

Another mobile infrastructure provider that will benefit from the 5G transition is Crown Castle, the biggest provider of communications infrastructure in the U.S. The company provides cell towers and other equipment for mobile infrastructure. The company provides fiber technology and solutions, making it more than just a 5G play.

Crown Castle said earlier this year that it expected to see a strong ramp in 5G mobile infrastructure spending during the second half of the year. The company also said it didn’t see any impacts on its business from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, its CEO also said that they were preparing to deploy 10,000 small cell nodes this year alone. He said it takes about 18 to 36 months to get small cell nodes on air due to negotiations with utilities and municipalities.

Crown Castle is on the expensive side of 5G stocks, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good investment. The shares have been range-bound since the second half of May. Other than a deep dive in March during the market selloff, Crown Castle shares have been fairly steady. One other thing to note about Crown Castle is that it’s also a real estate play via its cell phone towers. Additionally, the company pays a dividend, and some investors specifically seek out dividend-paying stocks.

American Tower

This company is a competitor to Crown Castle, and it also is paying a dividend to its investors.  The stock is also on the expensive side, and it’s also been range-bound since the second half of May. Also, like Crown Castle, it’s a real estate play because of its cell phone towers. Both companies are structured as real estate investment trusts.

One thing American Tower highlights more than other companies is its solutions for providing good 5G connections inside buildings. The company says 80% of 5G data is consumed indoors, so it’s important to provide strong 5G connections inside buildings. Building owners must also keep in mind that customers a variety of different mobile carriers. Therefore, owners have to support each carrier inside their venue.

The company also markets its technology for use in the Internet of Things, especially its fiber technology, so there is additional technology exposure. Further, American Tower’s CEO said 5G would require cell towers to be closer together, which means more business for American Tower and Crown Castle. American Tower should also benefit from DISH Network’s mobile network’s build-out to position it as a fifth major carrier in the U.S.

Qorvo

One chip maker that doesn’t get a lot of attention is Qorvo, a U.S.-based chipmaker that provides radio-frequency systems for wireless and mobile data connections. One interesting thing about the company is that it doesn’t just make chips for mobile devices. It also provides chips to base station manufacturers, meaning exposure to mobile devices and the infrastructure side of 5G.

Among the infrastructure products offered by the company are front end modules, digital step attenuators, discrete switches, driver amplifiers, gain block amplifiers, gaN HEMTs, high-frequency amplifiers, infrastructure power amplifier modules, low noise amplifiers, phase shifters, power amplifiers, RF filters, switch LNA modules and voltage controlled attenuators.

Qorvo’s products for mobile devices focus on radio frequency solutions for 5G. The company recently boosted its guidance because the demand for its 4G and 5G mobile products came in better than expected. The company also has exposure to the Internet of Things through its wireless products.

Qorvo stock surged after the chipmaker said it expects to see up to $1.03 billion in revenue, up from their previous high-end guidance of $955 million. Other chipmakers’ stocks also surged on the guidance news from Qorvo.

Ciena

Another company that isn’t mentioned much in the 5G conversation is Ciena, which provides equipment and software solutions. The software connection is what makes this company different from all the others on this list.

Ciena’s 5G software solutions are designed to reduce network complexity and drive the migration from 4G to 5G for network operators. The software is used in radios, data centers, and “everything in between.” The company utilizes “intelligent automation, next-generation routing platforms, advanced professional services to support the delivery of differentiated 5G services… and ultra-reliable Low-Latency Communications.”

One negative about Ciena’s stock is its recent guidance is weak compared to other companies with exposure to 5G. Unlike other 5G plays, Ciena has noticed an impact from the COVID-19 pandemic on its sales.

Ciena’s peer Infinera also saw its stock fall as a result of Ciena’s weak guidance. Ciena guided its revenue to fall by 13% to 17% year over year during the fourth quarter. The firm is warning investors of “limited visibility” for the foreseeable future.

Other 5G stocks

The number of companies that benefit from the 5G revolution is pervasive, but those named here maybe some of the best bets. Some other companies could benefit, such as chipmaker Analog Devices. Other companies like Marvell Technology Group could also see some benefit, but they have broader exposure to other technology areas beyond 5G.

When it comes to investing in 5G, there is a lot to think about. Investors should consider how well-exposed companies are to the 5G transition and what other areas of exposure they offer. Many companies are benefiting from the shift to 5G, so this is one area where there will be many winners and many opportunities for investors to make money.

Disclosure: I have no position in any stocks mentioned or any other equities in the sector.

Image Credit: christina morillo; pexels

The post How to Invest in 5G – The Definitive List of Stocks appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
5G networks Connected Devices IIoT Industrial industry 4.0 manufacturing trends Tech

Cellular Connectivity Will Revolutionize Industry 4.0

cellular connectivity

Few manufacturing trends in recent years are as buzzworthy or as promising as Industry 4.0. This data-driven industrial revolution promises to make factories a safer and more efficient place, but today’s technology can’t see it through. While currently connected factories are a marked improvement, manufacturing needs better cellular connectivity to experience Industry 4.0 in full.

With more than 50 billion IoT devices in the world, today’s connections will soon be insufficient. Manufacturers can already integrate many IoT technologies into their facilities, but modern connections may not support bigger busier networks. That’s where 5G IoT comes in.

5G will take the IoT to the next level. This upgrade is particularly beneficial for manufacturers. Here’s a closer look at how these new networks will revolutionize Industry 4.0.

Shortcomings of Hard-Wired Connections

Some people may push back against the onset of 5G networks. After all, the U.S. needs eight times the infrastructure to support these new connections, which may seem too substantial an inconvenience. Why switch to cellular networks for Industry 4.0 when hard-wired connections already provide such speed and reliability?

While fixed connections do present some advantages of wireless ones, they come with their fair share of shortcomings. In a factory, where people and machines are continually moving, physical wires present a problem. Someone could easily unplug an ethernet cable, jeopardizing any mission-critical operation relying on it.

Hard-wired connectivity also limits flexibility, which is a problem many facilities already have in excess. If a factory needed to reorganize or adjust its operations, it would take time to cost money. Since many new technologies only support wireless connections, sticking to a hard-wired system could restrict facilities to legacy tools.

Physical connections, although reliable, aren’t suitable for manufacturers. Wireless connectivity is a necessity, and 5G provides the kind of wireless network the industrial IoT needs.

How 5G Improves Cellular Connectivity

The advantages of wireless over ethernet connections are evident, but why is 5G necessary? The fifth generation of cellular networks benefits IIoT in three primary ways: speed, latency, and bandwidth. Each of these improves with 5G, and each is essential for the IIoT to work.

Experts expect 5G to be at least 10 times faster than today’s 4G LTE connections. Some have even predicted it will be as much as 100 times faster. Such a tremendous increase in speed would make it possible to run virtually any operation online.

With near-zero latency, these connections would also be far more reliable for handling mission-critical workloads. Many companies may be hesitant to move some functions onto the cloud in fear of disruption on current networks. They wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore with 5G.

Finally, an abundance of IoT devices requires a considerable amount of bandwidth. That’s one of the most significant barriers to IIoT adoption today, but it wouldn’t be an issue with a 5G-powered IoT. 

The Internet of Everything

That bandwidth upgrade is one of the immediately noticeable advantages of 5G in manufacturing. Since it can support more devices in the same area, manufacturers can implement IoT devices on a massive scale. The industry could move beyond the IoT into the internet of everything (IoE).

In the IoE, everything — including processes and sometimes people — is online instead of a few physical devices. Imagine a factory where every machine, product, utility, and function can communicate on a single network. This level of connectivity would be impossible without the bandwidth improvements of 5G.

If the IoT makes manufacturing more efficient, then the IoE will revolutionize it. In a sense, everything in a factory is already connected since a mistake at one point can disrupt the entire process. The IoE would give facilities the ability to see and react to these mistakes before disruptions happen.

Predictive Maintenance

One of the most promising benefits of the IIoT is being able to perform predictive maintenance. Instead of repairing machinery as it breaks, sensors communicate when it might need attention. This practice is possible with today’s networks, but 5G can enable it on virtually every machine in a facility.

Even a regular maintenance schedule isn’t always optimal for machines’ health. Too many factors can affect a system’s condition, and maintenance needs, even if frequent, rarely occur on a schedule. Constant monitoring and analysis is the best solution, but running these sensors on several pieces of equipment takes a lot of bandwidth.

On a 5G network, bandwidth wouldn’t be an issue so that manufacturers could use widespread predictive maintenance without worry. Since this gives machines 10 to 15 more days of availability a year, this would lead to a considerable boost in productivity. The savings from this application alone would make up for the cost of 5G infrastructure.

Remote Monitoring and Service

The sensors within a machine aren’t the only part of monitoring and maintenance that would improve with 5G. On a cellular network, workers could look at monitoring data no matter where they are. This accessibility isn’t only convenient but would also save time workers would otherwise spend walking to each machine to check on it.

Remote monitoring doesn’t just apply to machine maintenance, either. Data analysis is a cornerstone for many business practices today, and being able to do so remotely makes data-driven processes far more flexible. Companies could show real-time data to investors, share information with analysts while out of the building, and more.

Not only would workers be able to look at data remotely, but they could also act on it. 5G IoT devices could run troubleshooting and even basic repairs without workers needing to be physically present. With these advantages, manufacturers could make service a far more efficient process, reducing downtime and saving money.

Automated Guided Vehicles

5G networks in cities could finally make self-driving cars a reality, thanks to its speed, bandwidth, and low latency. Manufacturers can take advantage of this benefit before municipalities, enabling more automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in their facilities. Some factories already use AGVs, but Wi-Fi can’t support too many of them, limiting their usefulness.

With 5G in manufacturing facilities, it would be possible to run an entire fleet of AGVs. Numbers aside, the lower latency these vehicles have, the better since any network disruptions could hinder their navigation. If these are to work safely alongside people, they need a reliable network.

Despite their efficiency and safety benefits, AGVs haven’t seen high adoption rates in manufacturing. Nonmanufacturing environments have deployed more than 12 times as many AGVs as manufacturers as of 2018. The onset of 5G networks could make these technologies viable for more facilities.

Operational Flexibility

Flexibility is becoming increasingly critical for manufacturers, but the industry is historically inflexible. Today’s market expects on-demand, personalized service, and products, which requires manufacturers to adapt quickly to changes. Since cellular connectivity enables further automation, it leads to greater flexibility, thanks to higher efficiency.

Automation predates 5G by decades, but 5G makes it more reliable and efficient. Its benefits in maintenance, communication, and accessibility enable manufacturers to use more robots and efficiently. As a result, facilities can move toward a more on-demand model, cutting down on in-house inventory, enabling flexibility.

Without sitting inventory, facilities could adjust their operations without much disruption, which is crucial in today’s digital world. Since 5G would also allow manufacturers to run all machinery on a wireless network, they could issue updates far faster. Today, automated machinery is notoriously inflexible, but the connectivity benefits of 5G could change that.

New Cellular Networks Enable and Improve Industry 4.0

The shift toward Industry 4.0 is already taking place, despite the lack of 5G networks. Without these new cellular connections, though, manufacturers won’t be able to push Industry 4.0 to its fullest potential. Today’s systems are too slow, unreliable, and limited to handle the scale of IoT devices that manufacturers need.

5G in manufacturing will help the industry move past the IoT and into the IoE. When everything in a facility can run on a single network and do so reliably, manufacturers will become safer, more efficient, and more profitable. The 5G IoT will help the industry become what it needs to be to meet the modern world’s demands.

Widespread 5G networks are still several years off from becoming a reality. When they do become available, they could revolutionize the manufacturing industry.

Image Credit: panumas nikhomk; pexels

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