In episode 09 of the Let’s Connect! Podcast, Ben Forgan, CEO and cofounder of Hologram, joins us to talk about how connectivity and control should follow from need in IoT deployment strategy, and what the evolution of IoT into Digital Transformation might look like.
Ben Forgan is the cofounder and CEO of Hologram, a global connectivity platform for IoT headquartered in Chicago. Forgan leads the team’s strategy and business development with nearly 10 years in the evolving industry. Prior to Hologram, Forgan was cofounder and managing director of Foodpanda in Singapore, which was then acquired by Delivery Hero. At Foodpanda, Forgan noticed there were no options or resources to easily manage SIM cards to power point-of-sale cellular connectivity and control. That’s in part how he was inspired to launch Hologram. Forgan got his start in tech at Groupon, where he helped launch their Groupon Goods business unit as part of their intrapreneurship efforts.
Interested in connecting with Ben? Reach out on Linkedin!
Hologram’s mission is to connect any device to any network, instantaneously, anywhere. With Hologram, SIM cards automatically switch networks access to the best coverage for connectivity and control across more than 550 carriers in more than 200 countries. In the years since Hologram was founded, it’s been a partner to leading technology pioneers around the world and made it possible for the rapid growth of micromobility vehicles like e-scooters. The company has kept self-driving cars connected and on the road, and helped drones deliver medicine to remote communities and kept vital health devices online across six continents. The future will have billions of more devices connected and controlled via the internet. At Hologram, they’re focused on being the operating system for global connectivity and control. Join Hologram on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
3:00 Connectivity Convergence
7:00 Differentiating Connectivity Options
11:00 Will Digital Transformation replace IoT?
15:00 Scaling IoT as an Industry
17:00 What is IoT?
20:00 Smart Living
22:00 Final Thoughts
- [Ken] This is the IoT For All Media Network. Hello friends in IoT. Welcome to Let's Connect, the newest podcast in the IoT For All Media Network. I am Ken Briodagh, Editorial Director for IoT For All and your host. If you enjoy this episode, please remember to like, subscribe, rate, review and comment at all your favorite podcasting platforms. And to keep up with all the IoT insights you need visit IoTforall.com Before we get into our episode the IoT market will surpass $1 trillion in the next few years. Is your business ready to capitalize on this new and growing trend? Use leverage's powerful IoT solutions development platform to efficiently create turn-key IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. Help your customers increase operational efficiency, improve customer experience or even unlock new revenue streams with IoT. To learn more, go to IoTchangeseverything.com. That's IoTchangeseverything.com. Now let's connect. My guest today is Ben Forgan of Hologram or hologram.io. I'm not sure what you guys are going by right now. Welcome to the show, Ben. - [Ben] Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me. Yeah, you could, Hologram is good. - [Ken] Awesome! For folks out there who are listening who aren't familiar with you or with Hologram, can you give us a little bit of your background and sort of what you guys work on and we're home basis. - [Ben] Yeah, absolutely. So Hologram, we are connectivity provider primarily focused around IoT, but we offer connectivity on a single SIM with over 550 network partners globally. We currently connect, oh, around a million devices but more than that, worldwide and a big portion teams based in Chicago but we are increasingly remote first and spread out across the country. We just actually hired about 20 new people. And we're really focused on sort of building a remote first culture in this day and age and helping people connect their IoT devices to the internet. That's really the main thing. - [Ken] Sure. I think that a lot of folks are sort of remote first if not by choice, by necessity these days which is all another conversation about the commercial real estate industry that I keep having over and over again 'cause I can't be the only one who's terrified on that front right now. Today, we're gonna talk about connectivity and we're gonna talk about this, you used the word, we're talking before convergence point that we're at with 5G and the LPWAN and cellular in general and the wired internet and all this sort of pieces coming together. I think it's sort of becoming a background issue. It's becoming the utilities of the market where you have to have it obviously or nothing works, but what you use is less important than what you're getting from it, if that makes sense. I'm sort of interested at, you guys do connectivity so like, where do you land on this? - [Ben] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I think. So there's a bunch there actually, I'll kind of go back a little bit to like I think when we were chatting maybe four years ago or something like that when Hologram was a much younger company. And so I think that it's, to your point right like, connectivity is is becoming a thing that you just sort of need and you go and you get it however you get it, but it's not, at least I don't think it should be kind of like a battle of like which connectivity is the right connectivity. - [Ken] Yeah. - [Ben] When we started, we did a, we were really focused on kind of building sort of like an integrated hardware and software connectivity solution with this idea that you could maybe have like generalize, like an AWS for IoT or Heroku for IoT like you'd kind of like generalize a solution. - [Ken] Right. - [Ben] And as we grew, I think what we realized is that actually most deployments at scale are going to require, they're gonna need to do their own custom kind of builds. You're gonna need to optimize your bomb costs and choose sort of the right parts to sort of meet your unique application. However, the one thing that is sort of generalizable is connectivity. Every IoT application needs some form of connectivity to the internet. For us, we've always kind of been focused on cellular increasingly. I think rather than IoT company we see ourselves just as a connectivity provider. So this idea of trying to turn connectivity into software and then making it really really easy for someone to query that connectivity. So we talk about this idea of being able, we want a customer to be able to connect any device to any network instantaneously anywhere. - [Ken] Right. - [Ben] And so to your point, what we're seeing is, I think this really interesting moment in time where you have almost like a convergence of wired connectivity and wireless connectivity where 5G is cellular but it functions basically like wifi. It's like having wifi routers just up on towers. And so we're pretty bullish about this idea that cellular is, overall, we're just talking about kind of providing connectivity to the internet one way or the other. There are all sorts of different ways in which you can connect an IoT device to the internet. However, we see, at least in our business that cellular is becoming more popular one. I think 5G is going to just sort of accelerate that trend because it is just gonna function more like regular wifi or something like that. But- - [Ken] Yeah. - [Ben] I don't know, that's kind of a lot so, hopefully I was helpful. - [Ken] I think so. And I think just looking backward to that last time we talked. At that time, a lot of the discussion and certainly my thinking was in this sort of almost sports mentality like who was gonna win, there was a whole debate about the standards war, and where was it gonna land? And that sort of is all, seems to have gone away mostly. I mean, there's a few people still trying to win that battle. But like, I think that we're just gonna have a lot of overlapping options. Some folks are gonna use CBRS. Some folks are gonna use regular consumer 5G. Some folks are gonna use 4G and I think we've mostly sunset 2G now but 3G is still out there for sure. And I'm not entirely confident it'll ever sunset because the folks that are on 3G don't have a lot of case to go to 4G ever as far as I understand it, I'm no expert here, but like, I don't know that that'll ever sunset because it's a whole different technology. There's just, there's so many things out there and different Applications for each one that I see a lot of benefit to the infrastructure being built out to overlap and cover everything sort of everywhere despite how inefficient that sounds. - [Ben] No, no. I mean, I think that's kind of accurate. I think what's really interesting about, the way I think about it, I know before, we were talking a little bit about, steering towards the practical, right? And so what we see, day in and day out is that cellular frequently is a very good solution whether that's 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE, not, 5G is just kind of becoming a thing. And or within 4G LTE category M which is a specific for IoT or Cat-M1 or Cat-1 or whatever. All of these things have positives and negatives. I mean, 2G is in the process of being sunset in a lot of places. LTE is gonna have a longer lifespan if you're gonna use, if you have a application that's super remote or super low power, you might want to use Cat-1, or sorry, LTE Cat-M1, but there's also a lot of issues with that. Sometimes you don't get great throughput. You can, the tower, the tower density, or there's basically a channel issues with that sometimes. And so, sometimes you might wanna go with like a Cat-4 or Cat-1, but then you kind of get into power consumption and module cost. And that, I think is sort of the crux by which everyone has to choose, how they connect their thing to the internet. Right? - [Ken] Sure. - [Ben] I mean, I think I'm obviously very biased toward cellular cause I run company that provides it. But it can, it's just, it's whatever meets your needs. Right? - [Ken] Well, right. Cause I mean, obviously you provide cellular but you can see a case for an LPWAN or a LoRa solution for sure. - [Ben] Absolutely. - [Ken] Where cellular probably doesn't usually hit the scale needs for somebody who's looking at that kind of solution and for cost versus scale and things like that. There's definitely benefits and advantage. I don't even want to say benefits but sort of strengths and weaknesses of every choice here. And as with, as we've been discovering with every aspect of IoT, almost every scaled solution is custom. Like it's become very very hard to say, we provide IoT solution full stop. Like, I don't know of any company that can honestly say that. Maybe there are some that do say it but I'm not entirely sure they can say it honestly. - [Ben] Yeah. I mean, I think that, from a connectivity perspective it can be, it's sort of whatever you need, I think almost any solution can work at scale whether it's cellular or LPWAN or whatever. I really just think a lot of it comes down to like your throughput and like if you just need to send like a couple of bits and bites every now and again, you can use LPWAN or something. If you need to send something a bit more robust, you can use a cellular. If you're in the middle of the ocean, you use satellite. - [Ken] Of course, Yeah! - [Ben] There's, but at the end of the day, I think this actually, what you said is kind of interesting like everything ends up being custom. And I think that's because to some extent IoT is almost like a misnomer. It speaks to this thing that people, that we all kind of like decided what's really important around 2012, 2013 when like this kind of, the IoT kind of wave started. Before that, it existed, I think basis since the internet started people connecting things to the internet and it was called machine to machine for a long time prior to IoT in the cellular world at least. And over time we're just kinda connecting more and more stuff to the internet and that sort of what IoT is, and people are finding all sorts of different creative ways to do it and as a result, it always is going to kinda be custom in my view. - [Ken] Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more. I've come to the point where I'm looking for the next, the replacement term. The thing that we're gonna use after IoT because I don't think IoT really was ever a good representation although it was a better marketing term than M2M. I don't think it was ever a really good - [Ben] Definitely. - [Ken] representation of what the potential of and the eventual executions of IoT are. I kind of wish it was something more like connected systems or something. Yeah, I'm bad at names, but it looks like, it looks like and I think I like the idea of using digital transformation more and that sort of it seems like a lot of this technology is going in that direction. As a term, maybe it's a little, a little bad, but as a concept, I really like it. I like the idea of everything becoming part of the internet and can becoming part of an interconnected system because that's sort of what's happening and that's sort of what the actual practical application is. And so, I kind of want our terminology to represent that to sort of purely physical objects becoming also digital objects, and their being very little that doesn't also have some sort of a digital twin or a digital execution as a result of that being able to leverage those assets to get more efficiency, create new profit centers, do all the things that we've been promised from IoT for so long that very few executions are actually giving people yet. - [Ben] Yeah! I mean, I think that this idea of IoT as a extension of, as an extension of digital transformation is a really good idea. What we've seen over the past couple of years and then especially accelerating, honestly with the COVID pandemic that's been going on is that organizations that have been focused on, more sort of enterprise or you kind of your classic big, you think about like the adoption curve. You have your crossing the chasm. You have your early adopters and you kinda like the meet of the curve. I think the meet of the curve is really starting to adopt IoT not necessarily because it's IoT or because it's just for the sake of it but because it can just be an extension of digital transformation. It allows you to bring a lot of what's in the physical world online which is kinda more important than ever as we kind of grapple with the reality of being, of working from home, not being able to visit physical locations all the time. It also just allows you to gather a lot more data on what customers are doing, on how devices are functioning, on what's happening with, an asset fleet in the real world. And so, I think that as a result, yeah, IoT is, it means a certain thing but I think at the end of the day if you just sort of think of it, like, hey, there's a business case to be made that you can drive efficiencies and save and reduce costs through connecting more things to the internet and bringing the physical world online and gathering more data. And that's all kind of feeding into what digital transformation, really, the promise of digital transformation, the promise of moving everything to the cloud, it sort of like the physical component of the cloud. Then I think that IoT makes a lot more sense and it doesn't become so amorphous, at least that's how I've thought about it. - [Ken] Yeah, I think we've all sort of been surprised by and seen that the growth of IoT as an industry hasn't sort of hockey stick the way everybody said it would in 2010. And there's, I think there's a lot of reasons for that. One of which is that the people who predicted that were crazy people like there's like, the idea of it doing that was I think a broad misunderstanding of how the industry will ended up working. It's easy to say that in hindsight, isn't it? I think one of the other reasons is that efficiency perhaps is not enough to sell the advantage of IoT. And it's been a sort of core sales point for the industry in terms of getting people to implement. I think we've seen over and over again that folks will happily be inefficient if they think that it squeezes more and revenue out than the efficiency would have saved. So I think that it behooves us as sort of implementers and IoT ecosystem evangelists or whatever it is that all of us are to also talk about new business models and larger advantages that IoT provides. Especially, in this concept of the digital sort of mirror world that IoT is creating and being able to learn so much about the physical world in a space where you're not adding the costs of assets to collect the data. You're able to do experimentation with a digital twin. You're able to create statistical models on data that you're collecting from the field rather than going out and doing physical experiments that can potentially put human resources or physical assets or other things in danger or at the very least, cost you money to do. So there's, I think there's a lot of business cases for discovering intelligence and new profit centers or business models that just could not have existed without IoT technology. - [Ben] Yeah. I think that's accurate. I mean, so I think that there's a bunch there like I think that a lot of the projections that you saw back in 2012 where we were promised on this idea of connecting billions and billions of devices and truthfully that is happening. - [Ken] Sure. - [Ben] It's just that it's happening across a wide range of industries that you might not necessarily call IoT quote-unquote like it's watches or wearables like these technically are IoT devices, anything in connected car that's technically an IoT device. I think a good example of a new business model that's been spurred on which is technically an IoT device but we don't think of it like that is sort of the micro-mobility scooter that we've seen. These things all are requiring connectivity. These things are all effectively physical devices that interface with the internet on their own. They're not like computers or smartphones. And so, they are, I think, IoT success stories even if we don't think of them like that. And so, I think it can be kind of hard to be cut. It can be hard because actually the applications are just so tremendously broad to conceptualize just how much stuff is actually being connected to the internet consistently. But to your point, it's very custom and so as a result, it's kind of fragmented. You don't have like one company that ends up being, it's hard to generalize. That's something that we've, with connectivity really tried to account for. Over the past year or two, I think we've seen that even though it takes a long time or can take some time for people to deploy hardware. Once that starts happening and you start getting a good amount of customers who are connecting things to the internet, you do start to see exponential growth. So we had 150% year over year increase on device usage in July alone. And that keeps on happening where we're kind of moving into a hyper-growth phase as these applications and these companies sort of start to build on top of each other. So I actually think that there's more success in the IoT space than, yeah, it's certainly, the hype was so tremendously enormous that it would be really hard to live up to that. - [Ken] Sure. - [Ben] But I think that it's like a big slow rolling tsunami of a tech wave that's just getting bigger and bigger and you're really starting to accelerate exponentially now. - [Ken] I agree. I think the predictions were just too aggressive. It's really what it is. It's inevitability that because billions of devices exist, billions of devices will be connected to the internet. It's just, it's taking longer because so much of it is reliant upon outside factors and legacy infrastructure and all of the things that it just takes a while to do. And I think that the consumer space is been a lot more conservative about it than anybody really thought it would. Despite the fact that my house is just maggoty with various connected devices that answer my voice commands when they feel like it. - [Ben] You know, but I think it's actually a good point though because there are connected devices have kind of invaded the way that we live our lives and we just don't think about it so much. Now, like I said, it is kind of fragmented. You have a NetStar and Amazon or thing, or you have a, like I have like a smart light bulb in this lamp behind me which I use my smartphone to turn on and off. And it's just like, I don't even think twice about it. Right? - [Ken] Right. - [Ben] It's just a thing now. I will tell it's in the city next to me which is technically a connected device. That's not a computer. - [Ken] Sure. - [Ben] And the entire, literally everything around you is continually being connected from digital signage that's adaptive to smart agriculture things that are improving avocado ripe. Basically we have one of our customers, they basically are, they're measuring the temperature of avocados to basically determine when they're at peak ripeness like pick them. It's really, really kind of all over the place. - [Ken] It would be great if you get somebody to do that with pears because pears are ripe for about 40 seconds and I'd like them to be. - [Ben] I agree. That would be great. Like, remember, I don't remember. There was like that taco copter thing a while back. - [Ken] Yeah. - [Ben] It was like the drone company that delivers you tacos. You just get a drone company that delivers pears at peak ripeness. - [Ken] That's perfect. Just one pear because that's all you'll have time for. Now we are unfortunately over time, Ben, and we could keep talking about this forever but before we go, I sort of wanna give you a final thought moment. We've been all over the map here and talked about a lot of really interesting stuff. What do you really want the listeners to go home with? They're already at home. They're sitting at home. They've been doing that for a year hopefully. - [Ben] Yeah. I mean, I think that I would, the most important thing is for people to understand that the name IoT can be limiting. So think about things that you want to build in the world and then backward engineer what kind of activity needs to be in them. Don't start with this idea that, oh, I want to build a connected device. As we continue to grow, cellular in my view, a really really good way to go. And so, I think that if you think about what can I do if I could have access to any data or have any application or whatever online anywhere across the world all of time and have insight into that then I think that's a good starting place to think about what building a connection device looks like. And hopefully Hologram can be a part of that one day. My shameless plug. - [Ken] Nice. Well plugged, we appreciate a good plug here. We are just about out of time here and let's connect to those. So thank you all for listening. Ben, thank you for being my guest. - [Ben] Thanks so much for having me. - [Ken] Thanks again to all of you listening out there. I hope you've enjoyed our discussion and if you have, please make sure you like and subscribe so you don't miss out on any of our episodes. We post every week and I hope you'll leave us a rating, review and comment on your favorite podcasting platform. If you'd like to suggest a guest, please click on the link in the description. And we also have a great sister podcast on our network called the IoT For All Podcast. So make sure you check that out. - [Ryan] Hey, Ken! Let me jump in real quick and introduce your audience to another awesome show on the IoT For All Media Network. The show that started all, the IoT For All Podcast where I bring on experts from around the world to showcase successful digital transformation across industries. We talk about Applications in IoT solutions available in the market and provide an opportunity for those companies to share a device to help the world better understand and adopt IoT. So if you're out there listening and haven't checked it out, be sure to go check out the IoT For All Podcast available everywhere. - [Ken] Thank you, Ryan. Now get back to your show. And thank you all for joining us on this episode of Let's Connect. I've been Ken Briodagh, Editorial Director of IoT For All and your host. Our music is Sneaking On September by Otis McDonald. And this has been a production of the IoT For All Media Network and take care of yourselves. You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.