Q&A with Xin Hu, founder & CEO of Berlin based long range wide area (LoRa WAN) network company, MatchX.
What was the problem you wanted to solve when you started MatchX?
In 2016 I was working on smart home projects, connecting to your Amazon Echo or switch on a light bulb remotely, with my previous company. I have been working on connecting smart phones with house appliances, to let people have remote control of devices, since 2010. But I realized that the technology based on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and that the problems it can solve, are very limited.
The smart home focused on remotely controlling curtains or your microwave is a really old idea, that generated in the 1990s. These are very fancy features but they can’t really address real problems. The technology is very limited and I started to wonder, whether there is better technology that can offer better support to larger variety of problems such as monitoring forest fires or monitor pipes that have been buried under ground.
I think there are a lot of pressing problems that need to be solved other than the smart homes. Really pressing issues such as smart cities, smart agriculture smart logistics. So I started searching for alternative technologies that are much better than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and I found LPWAN. LPWAN has longer battery life and a longer coverage.
LPWAN is the future – because it solves a lot of problems in Internet of Things (IoT).
I didn’t see the opportunity to realize LPWAN in my previous company – so I started thinking: why don’t I start something new? Suddenly, a chance presented itself and the American billionaire Robert Pera (founder of the American company Ubiquiti) contacted me about the technology I was developing.
I was doing LPWAN development in the top tier level of the development worldwide, so Robert Pera contacted me and MatchX CTO Piotr Świątek Brzeziński and offered us some opportunities. It was an important validation for us that even a billionaire is interested in this technology. This is how we started MatchX.
What sets LPWAN apart from existing technologies like Wi-Fi?
The difference between WIFI and Bluetooth and LPWAN is that LPWAN is more open because of its open source standards – like the LoRa protocol and the MX protocol that MatchX is going to incorporate.
It is a very open ecosystem and anyone can contribute to the development of the software protocol, which represents a very democratic approach.
A lot of big players like IBM and Alibaba are also contributing to LPWAN. In addition, LPWAN has a coverage of over 20km so there are many more possibilities and over 60.000 devices can connection to the MatchX network gateway. Wifi or Bluetooth only have coverage of between 100m to 1km.
What’s the difference between LPWAN and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT)?
NB IOT is also part of LPWAN but it is owned by large telecom companies. And unfortunately right now it is owned by only by very few Chinese companies like Huawei that own all the patents for the technology. In NBIOT networks, the power is more centralized in the hands of companies like Huawei. Big telecoms would deploy the gateways and also sell customers the chips. I think it is better to have open networks that are not centrally controlled, where everyone can participate and where everyone can provide technology- e.g. MatchX and Cisco and others.
What are the challenges for LPWAN?
There are two major big challenges. The first would be that a lot of people still believe in Wi-Fi Bluetooth and 4G and they don’t realize that there is a good alternative. This is a huge problem. If you want to change peoples mind sets it is very hard- you can’t even change your mum's mind set- so if you have to show a large group of people that LPWAN is better- it is hard.
I have been working on LPWAN since 2014 and it is unfortunately still a niche market. But I firmly believe that LPWAN will be the future. It has great potential to grow much more rapidly than Wi-Fi or 4G could grow. In contrast, the room for Wi-Fi or 4G to grow is small. So to grow LPWAN needs to whole industries effort, not just MatchX. A lot of people need to promote the technology.
The second challenge is that it is very open, as I described earlier.
This also means that it will be chaotic if there is no synchronization. What if, MatchX deploys a gateway here, and IBM decides to deploy one as well, and there is no coordination between the two. This technology can not be coordinated by government because the government is not responsible for free license band. So there needs to be a decentralized consensus in all LPWAN- then we can all use this open free network very well.
What is the MX protocol and how does it help me as a MatchX customer?
The MX protocol is an upgrade to the LPWAN standard protocol. It is compatible with the LPWAN protocol and on top of that it helps to reach consensus between devices, for example, which sensor is going to send data first and it makes devices aware of the other one’s existence. The protocol also avoids data collision, if multiple devices and sensors are sending data at the same time. For example, I pay more so my sensor gets to send more data as well. On top of the default setting we have a higher blockchain logic to coordinate the consensus. This is how the MX protocol works- it is essentially an upgrade of the LPWAN protocol.
Where do you believe Match X has the edge in the market?
MatchX is specifically better at providing an end to end solution: from hardware to software to the cloud and the blockchain solution. It is a complete solution attuned to capturing sensor data at the highest levels of accuracy and equipped with features like listen before talk. MatchX has the highest sensitivity. Sensitivity means that you can sense more range than the other gateways. MatchX has been leading the performance in the industry. There are new gateways being developed but unfortunately in the LORA industry everything is still slow. There are no new chips being developed. No new chip means that the newer versions of competitive gateways or sensors have just some minor improvements.
If you compared the LoRa WAN development to the iPhone- this means that between the different phone versions the chip- the CPU, is different and improved. These upgrades haven’t happened in LORA yet. This means at the very moment MatchX is still leading the industry. All competitors have the same chip performance- but the MatchX technology is superior. Once there is a new chip- we will definitely roll out an even better version of the gateway.
What are interesting projects that you would like to be involved in?
I am not a supporter of smart home because it is a fancy technology but does not solve real world problems. MatchX is interested in making cities much smarter and make agriculture much more efficient. By deploying trash bin sensors and measure air quality- we will help to improve city life and make cities much smarter. Cities need all the data about their pipes, water, air quality and trash – they need the data to manage the city better. For agriculture the smart cow trackers prevent disease from spreading out and smart agriculture helps to increase the yield rate by measuring soil moisture. WiFi, 3G, 4G or cables can’t solve these problem and LPWAN can do it much better.
These are very quantifiable problems and the data we capture has huge value. These sectors have yet to be revolutionized and improved.
What are the new development at MatchX?
We are also working on LPWAN localization, optimizing geolocation to determine the location of an object much more accurately. It is groundbreaking because you can track an object indoor, where you do not have GPS, and it is low power and our network can cover a very long range. Very low power objects can be tracked everywhere in the city in rural areas or in ski site and remote mountain areas without GPS.
We are also considering putting AI in our sensors- at the moment LPWAN can only process a small amount of data. Sensors typically send data like „I am OK, my location is…, my temperature is…“. Sensors can’t transmit a huge amount of data on LORA. But we have been asked by many customers if we can monitor a warehouse camera or listen to some audio and then analyze the data. Usually, these large amounts of data sets are transmitted to the cloud first and then analyzed.
However, it makes more sense to put AI in the sensors and let the sensor pre-process audio and video data at the site- maybe at an island that doesn’t even have internet. If you then have a MatchX chip there that is AI enabled, it can preprocess if there is a fire or people breaking in somewhere at the sensor site. So you don’t need to transmit huge amounts of data to the cloud first to then analyze it. This will add to our portfolio and it will solve a lot of problems for people. AI enabled chips and geolocation are very important developments of MatchX.