In this episode we get the opportunity to speak to Nick Wilcox from Giosprite. He has 30 years’ experience building and managing IT and telecom systems. He’s doing some really interesting things with the Internet of Things and the LoRaONE network. We get to learn a little bit about that.
He also has been working with municipalities and communities to help them understand how they can realize smart city capabilities without big city budgets. Hope you enjoy our discussion. Pete Pizzutillo: Nick and I had a chance to meet in London when I had the opportunity to go watch the Spurs try to beat Liverpool. It didn’t really work out in our favor, but that’s okay.
We lived to fight another day, but Nick, you and I got into the conversation around your passion, right? And your history, professional history and currently what your organization, Giosprite, is trying to champion within the UK and globally. And I thought that if you can just help us get some context to listen and understand, what is the mission that you see before you and your organization today?
Nick Wilcox: Yeah, sure. It really started when we visited Barcelona to have a look at what they were doing in the smart cities space. And one thing that was very apparent is that they were spending an awful lot of money and not showing an awful lot to the citizens at the end of it. So for example, they spent tens of millions of euros on putting fiber in, which was a great infrastructure project. But I think from the point of view of the ordinary people in the cities, they really didn’t see any change as a result of that happening. And then we looked at other cities too where they were sort of vast expenses going out to create a so-called smart city. But really, by the end of it, only just getting to the starting point instead of having a completed project. And then we started talking to places like Lichfield where we’re based, which is a small city of the UK.
Nick Wilcox: And we asked them, “Guys, what are you doing about being smart and smart cities?” And their view was typical, what we started to hear from all over the country, which was, “It’s just too expensive for us to even consider getting started.” You know, they’d seen the headline cases, they’d seen these big projects going on around the world and felt that they had no relevance locally because they were just too big. About the same time, I became interested in a new technology called LoRaONE, which we can talk about it a bit later. But I saw that this was a way in which even the smallest town or city could do some smart things at low cost and make a difference. So essentially, I built the company around the idea of how can a small city or a small town do smart things without it costing a fortune.
Pete Pizzutillo: Yeah. Great. I, I totally agree about the hype around smart cities. We’ve been talking about that as an industry for many years. And I think a lot of people have been just really, really intrigued with the possibilities. Some people a little scared by the possibilities as well, but waiting passively for the large technology companies or the large metropolitan areas to make the investments. And then the capabilities come much, much later. And you know, five G is one of those most recent bumps in that hype cycle about what potential it can bring.
Pete Pizzutillo: But I think what was most intriguing about what you’re all looking for is, the citizens shouldn’t suffer, right? There’s an elderly communities, there’s education for young children, there’s people that are looking for jobs. There’s some really meaningful things that can be enabled by having more infrastructure or better infrastructure within a community the size of Lichfield or smaller, and people shouldn’t wait.
Pete Pizzutillo: But not having visibility into what those alternatives are, they just were confused or just didn’t know or focused on something else. So I think what’s most encouraging is that you’ve been able to match an existing infrastructure and capability with a need and help people realize that need sooner than waiting for somebody else that to solve it or may actually never actually have the capability delivered to them. So that was the most intriguing thing.
Pete Pizzutillo: So you mentioned Lichfield, and in talking to them, you mentioned a couple of obstacles or biases out there, right? So too expensive or too much effort. Why do you think they hold that type of belief? What is it that is that they’ve seen or experienced or just misunderstood that make it seem like those are the major obstacles and are there any other obstacles that they’re considering?
Nick Wilcox: Sure. So in the UK, I think one of the things that creates the environment that these places work is the way they’re funded. And you know, sort of the day to day expenses come out of the local taxes, but if they want to do anything different or special or large, then they have to compete with all the other local authorities in a kind of competitive bidding situation into central government to get funds. And so I think a lot of approach and attitude to smart city projects is that they see that the winners of these competitions are always the large cities who want to spend huge amounts of money. And that actually, there’s very little that is granted to a relatively small place for relatively small amounts of money. So there’s kind of a whole perception created, I think, by the system that makes the smaller cities think, “Well, there’s no point spending three months putting through a bid, because we’re not fighting to win against the bigger city down the road.”
Nick Wilcox: I think the second problem that we face is one of just simply knowledge. So, local authorities are very good at the job too, and broadly, that’s split across transport, social care, housing and so on. And they do those things very well, but they’re not technology organizations and they’re not ahead of what is going on in the world from a technology perspective. So that they don’t really have the mindset that says, “What’s available now? What can we do now? You know, it’s interesting that you mentioned 5G as an example. 5G is a wonderful technology. We’re just starting to see some small roll outs of it in the UK. And I’m sure when it finally appears, it will be a wonderful thing.
Nick Wilcox: But you know, there’s places around our district that can’t even get 3G today. So, there are places where 5G will go and will work. Hey, guess what? That’s going to be the largest cities first for economic reason. And so places like Lichfield and the rural areas surrounding it, they’re not going to see if 5G for perhaps another 10, 15 or even 20 years. So I think there’s a combination of things. We’ve got the kind of the funding environment with the technical capability and knowledge. And we’ve got, I guess just a culture of, “Well, it doesn’t happen here.” Lichfield is particularly historic city as you’ve seen when you visited. And there’s also I think kind of a resistance to modern stuff, which also comes into play. You know, we struggled to get electricity there. I think when that first came out, and mains water, we look forward to in the future. No, I’m only joking. Sorry.
Pete Pizzutillo: No, that’s interesting. I mean certainly the cultural aspects of communities, in terms of prioritization, what’s most important to them. And as connected communities and smart cities are still kind of ethereal until they become more tangible. I think people don’t know that they would need them. But when you start breaking them down into some of the examples that we’ll talk about around tele-health or distance learning or participating in the digital economy. I mean if you think about online banking, it’s ubiquitous now. And if you don’t have a mobile phone, potentially you can participate in a digital account economy. And that’s why it’s interesting you see large companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google investing in that infrastructure, because there’s a big portion of their market that doesn’t have access to their products. So that’s their motivation. But as that becomes more visible, I think you’ll start getting more of the support and the points that you made about the UK, I would echo in the US as well.
Pete Pizzutillo: That there is a funding challenge. The government has been investing, the US government has been investing in rural funding, but again it is a competitive environment and you need to be the right size and have the right knowledge to be able to access that funding. And the similar thing beyond the knowledge point, not knowing just how to deploy these types of systems, but how to support them. I mean you’re not talking about trash trucks and water mains and that kind of stuff. You’re talking about internet access and servicing when people have issues with their connectivity or poor performance. I mean that’s a whole other skill set that a small community, how many hats can one person wear? So that’s a challenge there too. So having a systems that are affordable and sustainable I think are important. And so that kind of brings me back to the technology that you have identified around LoRaONE. So before we dig into that, can you just help me understand what it is and, and why you saw it as an opportunity for this problem?
Nick Wilcox: Yes. So I guess the starting points for this is saying that technology should not be the driver for a city to be smart. And you know, I think we’ve all seen many examples of where technology seems to exist purely for the sake of the technology. We have one city here that has interactive garbage bins who will talk to you, which I’m sure is very exciting and interesting. But you know, what is it for?
Nick Wilcox: So, we need to sort of start with the need. What is the problem that they’re trying to solve? And I think one of the things that I saw with the LoRaONE stuff was, it was a way to enable things to happen without huge infrastructure investment. So if you imagine for example, you have loads of sensors taking readings of things or you have devices that are measuring or interacting in some way, how do you connect those up in a way that doesn’t involve digging up streets or rolling out a very expensive 5G network or indeed putting SIM cards into every device. And this is where I saw the LoRaONE could be an enabler of things that could be done. So the conversations from that point then went along with the municipalities to really discuss the challenges that they had and what they were trying to address. And it’s from the problems that they talked to us about that we’ve come up with the technology we’ll be using today.