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Overhaul Your Understanding: IoT & Tracking Technology

Welcome back to our expert interview series, Overhaul Your Understanding. You can listen to our interview with Nick Heikkinen, Vice President of IoT Technology & Operations, or read the interview below.


Welcome back to Overhaul Your Understanding, an expert interview series. I’m Ania Adamczyk, Content Marketing Manager at Overhaul, and today I’m joined by Nick Heikkinen, Vice President of IoT Technology and Operations at Overhaul.

As a way for our audience to get to know you a little bit more, we’re going to have three fun questions to get started. If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

That’s always a fun one. I think that I would like to travel to the future. I don’t have a set year, but just somewhere in the future. I’d really like to see where we are as a society and advancements in technology, specifically around space exploration has always been an interest of mine.

What’s one thing that’s currently on your bucket list?

I’ve had the privilege to travel to Europe a few times and traveled quite a bit domestically in the States and North America, but I’d really like to visit Asia, specifically Japan and Thailand. I’d like to go take an extended vacation and sleep on one of the villas over the water in Thailand. And then I’d like to go to Japan and just see all of the different cities and just a different culture and how different life can be on the same planet. It’s always been intriguing.

Well, I hope when things get back to normal a little bit, you might have the chance to do that. So Nick, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was from my grandfather. He is 100%, full blood Finnish, and there’s a Finnish concept called “sisu.” It’s about following processes, being strong, having perseverance. And one of the key items he always told me was, “Always wash your hands.” Although that’s a healthy thing, it was more about a process, establishing processes, create habits, and good habits to allow you to succeed. I think that’s the best advice I’ve received was learning from him. Coming into the country and becoming American, a lot of those concepts were things he followed.

Excellent. So let’s get into your background a little bit. Could you tell us more about your background and how that’s influencing your role at Overhaul today?

My professional career started at a company called Supply Chain Integrity, doing very much so the same thing that we do for security tracking, although it was only focused on security and tracking. That company was acquired by LoJack, and then LoJack was acquired by CalAmp.

During my time at those three different businesses, I was involved in developing and designing the tracking technologies, as well as developing and designing the software that the tracking technology was displayed in. So I’ve had experience in designing the actual devices, and also designing the software programs and applications that users get to interact with to see.

You’ve obviously seen a lot of changes over the years. Can you tell us a little bit more about kind of the most significant upgrades and changes you’ve seen in the development of IoT Technology?

There are quite a few items that have changed, but the most significant ones would have to be the network technology and coverage changing from a 2G network to 3G, and now LTE. The ability for us to have more coverage in areas where previously it wasn’t. An old 2G device may never connect in the deserts in the Southwest. So from California to Texas, you might only get a couple locations.

Now pretty much anywhere you go, especially on major highways, is covered by multiple forms of cellular technology. And in addition to that, most tracking device manufacturers used to make their own software, and it was a requirement if you wanted to use their device to use their software.

But now more and more tracking device vendors or IoT device vendors have application interfaces that we can access, and it really allows companies like ourselves to be more creative with the data that the device gives us.

And then I think two other items that are worth mentioning are the device battery performance and battery technology has changed so much. Lithium-ion batteries have allowed us to have an extremely long battery life in a small form factor. And also a huge factor has been the decrease in price. You could easily spend $500 to $2,000 on the tracking device 10 years ago, and now something with many more features is available for substantially less money.

Interesting. This is something you touched on a little bit, but there’s a network change that’s right around the corner. What should people know about that?

I think for in the IoT space, the biggest thing that you need to be aware of is the 3G sunset date. And domestically each carrier has published the sunset date, when they’re going to start shutting down the 3G network. Those networks will be repurposed for LTE.

And so I think the key things to understand are, what cellular network your devices use? Regionally where are you located? And if you are not in North America and you’re in Europe, or APAC, or Australia, understanding when those LTE networks for IoT devices will be turned on.

What are some of the most valuable considerations when selecting tracking hardware?

I think the most valuable consideration is battery and or power management. If the IoT device that you want to use is not capable of lasting the journey, or doesn’t give you the amount of information you need as frequently as you need, kind of no reason to move forward with that device. You have to be able to report and be able to stay charged for the use case that you need to achieve.

And then outside of that, understanding the different types of sensors that are available for your IoT devices. We often see people not interested in certain sensors, but once the device has deployed in the field, some shock sensors, some temperature sensor, light-sensing capabilities become extremely beneficial, especially in events of high risk, or when you’re just trying to determine the environment that your products or assets are interacting with.

And then lastly, a huge item that’s often overlooked is certifications. So regulatory certifications, airline certifications, and carrier certifications are a must-have. If you’re not aware of what certifications your device currently has, those are generally available in the device spec sheets. If the device is not certified for use in certain countries or certified for use in certain modes of transportation, then you’re not following the rules, and if you don’t follow the rules, you have the potential to be fined or have your devices removed from tracking, and then you’re blind to understanding, once again where your cargo or assets are at and the conditions that they’re under.

You’ve seen this in actually helping develop devices and in helping develop the software for them, but what are some of the common myths or misconceptions about GPS and IoT tracking devices?

I would say that there is a lot of 5G conspiracy theories going on right now. We don’t need to get into them, but it’s always fun to see how people connect the dots and try and describe something that the technology’s not capable of doing. So, radio frequencies and how they can impact things, there’s tons of studies, tons of testing done to ensure that the technology we use is safe and the networks that we use are safe. So I think that that’s a pretty big myth that’s kind of current and seeing a lot of social media.

But the one for me is the GPS is a location service. This was something that was launched by the United States Government in the 70s. And so although a GPS device can use the GPS satellite system to find out where it’s at, it still requires some sort of communication via Wi-Fi cellular or satellite communication. And satellite communication would be independently owned satellites, not GPS. So although you can get GPS anywhere in the world, you still have to be able to communicate that location back through some other network. And I think that that’s one of the biggest myths. You have to have cell coverage. Primarily cell coverage is what’s used because it’s the least expensive. But if you’re out of coverage and you don’t have the option to report DSL Wi-Fi or privately on satellites, GPS is not going to work.

What else could you share that’s important for our audience to know about IoT technology?

I think the most important thing to understand is that selecting the best IoT device for your use case is just a small part of a bigger picture and a bigger solution. So understanding how that device is going to interact with the software that you choose to display it and understand how that software displays information to the users is key. Putting a dot on the map has always been easy, but qualifying the data and presenting it to users in a way that reduces any effort on their end and reduction of noise.

So, if you have a security-based user, you want to make sure that all the information that they have is displayed so that they can understand the level of risks at a given time and make a determination on what to do.

Whereas if you had a compliance user that was only interested in temperature or humidity sensing of controlled products, you may want to display that information in a different way. So, it’s one thing to have the right device, it’s another thing to have complementary services and complementary software that enable it to be an actual solution that’s beneficial to multiple users within the enterprise.

Brilliant. Thank you, Nick, for being a part of our Overhaul Your Understanding series.

Did you miss our previous podcast episode? Listen to the interview with Bob Pocica today.

 

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