In this episode of the IoT For All Podcast, Kenta Yasukawa of Soracom joins us to talk about IoT democratization and its role in the growth of the IoT space. Kenta shares his advice for companies looking to start their IoT journeys, including what components to start with and how to find the right partners for your Applications.
Kenta Yasukawa is CTO and Co-Founder of Soracom, where he has led deployment of the industry’s most advanced cloud-native telecom platform, designed specifically for the needs of connected devices. Before co-founding Soracom, Kenta served as a Solutions Architect with AWS and conducted research for connected homes and cars at Ericsson Research in Tokyo and Stockholm. Kenta holds a PhD in Engineering from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, with additional studies in Computer Science at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Interested in connecting with Kenta? Reach out to him on Linkedin!
About Soracom: Soracom provides the world’s most advanced IoT connectivity, designed specifically for the needs of connected devices and deployments. From the cloud to the edge, Soracom helps IoT projects launch fast and scale fast with affordable global coverage, advanced cloud integrations, and built-in network management tools. Soracom now supports millions of connections for thousands of customers worldwide, from early-stage startups to global enterprises.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(00:39) Intro to Kenta
(03:31) Intro to Soracom
(05:07) Beyond your offerings, how is Soracom helping companies ensure a successful IoT journey?
(08:10) Are there any Applications you can share?
(11:28) What is IoT democratization? What role do you see it playing in the IoT space?
(16:13) Could you speak to the importance of partnerships in the IoT space? And how turn-key or flexible companies should be looking for solutions to be, when first starting their IoT journey?
(20:19) Where would you recommend companies start their IoT journey?
(25:33) Any news to share at Soracom?
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– [Ryan] Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All podcast on the IoT For All media network. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon one of the co-creators of IoT For All. Now, before we jump into this episode please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or join our newsletter at iotforall.com/newsletter to catch all the newest episodes as soon as they come out. So without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All podcast. Welcome Kenta to the IoT For All podcast, how are things going on your end?
– [Kenta] Yeah, hi, thank you so much for having me, it’s been great, you know, we’ve been having exciting customer case studies and everything is going really well.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, well let’s start off by giving a quick introduction about yourself to our audience, tell them anything you think would be relevant. Talk a little bit about your background which I know is quite interesting and kind of how you got involved in co-founding Soracom and kind of just that whole journey.
– [Kenta] Yeah, sure. So I’m CTO and co-founder of the company Soracom. So I actually started my career as a researcher Ericsson I was involved in connected home, connected power type research projects and I really enjoyed it. You know, I had an opportunity to work with various sensors and actuators and also connecting home entertainment systems to a network so that we can actually demonstrate what we can do by connecting all these different devices. One thing that I realized is that when I built the system I was always drawing a fluffy cloud in the middle of the diagram saying, you know all the magic happen here. So the, you know, the by connecting devices we can actually achieve a better world and better connected to live. But, you know, I was not really sure what is going on in the cloud side. So I wanted to know more about what cloud technology can offer to this connected life. So I joined Amazon Web Services, AWS as a solutions architect back in 2012. And I worked as a solutions architect and I worked with various companies at the time I was based in Japan, Tokyo. So I worked through various startups and enterprise companies in Japan. And I realized that the cloud’s technology can build any kind of systems in a better way and I also had a chance to move to Seattle and joined the development team in Seattle. And that also made me believe in that the cloud can actually transform any system in a more scalable system. And I chatted that idea with one of the co-founders of mine Ken, our CEO at one night and we talked about building connectivity platform on top of cloud. And actually the Saracom is my dream project actually, I’m being kind of joining all these experiences and knowledge and connections to build a connectivity platform on top of cloud. So that’s me personally, I’m super excited about the connected gadgets and connected devices. My latest project is to connect my car to Silicon platform so that we can meet at my car and show that on dashboard.
– [Ryan] That’s very cool, very cool. So let’s, you kind of, you know, loosely touched on what Soracom is, but if you were to describe Soracom in like a couple of sentences to our audience who, you know, what is does Soracom do and kind of what is your offering to the market?
– [Kenta] Yeah, so we have offered the connectivity platform that is designed specifically for the needs of connected devices and deployments. So from the cloud to Edge, Soracom helps IoT projects launch fast and scale fast with affordable low-ball coverage advanced cloud integrations and built in network management. So we have now supported media on self connections for thousands of customers worldwide from all these stages startups to global enterprises.
– [Ryan] Very cool and do you have do you have like a target kind of audience? Like, are you focused more on it sounds like more enterprise focus, is that kind of the area, do you have any industries or verticals that you all kind of plan?
– [Kenta] Yeah, we have actually offered a platform that can be a generic for any kind of industry or any size of companies? So, we have been offering this platform as a kind of a self service platform, like cloud services anybody can sign up and purchase a SIM card and start building their system, but you know, once they have the proof of concept ready, they go to scale we can totally support the enterprise scale deployment which is the exact form. So we have, you know, small and medium-sized the businesses, start ups, and large enterprises and all these different kinds of customers in our portfolio.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, now one of our objectives at IoT For All from the beginning when we started it was to really help people on their IoT journey. And it seems as from what my understanding of kind of your overall goals and mission of the company it’s very closely tied to that same idea. So helping kind of basically IoT solutions, IoT development succeed in order to increase kind of the adoption and ease of use across IoT development projects. So I wanted to just get a more detailed understanding of how you all are really helping companies succeed in IoT not necessarily just about the offerings which we kind of already alluded to but more specifically, you know kind of the target focus for you all when it comes to playing a key role in helping organizations succeed on their IoT journey.
– [Kenta] Yeah, exactly the supporting the journey, you know, the organizations through the journey is exactly what we are doing. So often when you have an idea the first thing to do is to make a prototype so our users can just sign up on our website and they can just purchase a SIM and start to put that into, you know, often people start with Raspberry Pi or some Android device and put our SIM in that device and connect to the network. And the first thing they encounter is they need to have a way to enable cellular modem on Raspberry Pi, for example, so we just recently launched Soracom Onyx USB Dongle that can be a starting point for connected device and once the device is connected the next step is to, you know, send data from the device and make sure that they’re getting right set up data. And for that, we have a service called the Soracom Harvest we write a few lines of code that sends data to Soracom end point and we can actually store the data with specifying it’s setting the device ID and tags to each data point and visualize data on the dashboard. So by using that service the people can make sure they are getting right set up data from those connected devices and can move on to the next step, to write the logic on the cloud side. And once the users have realized that they can build this system and the prototype works they can now go into cloud logic and for that we have areas services to help build the secure private networking for devices from the cloud servers so that they can make sure secure deployment in a production grade systems as well. So we have all services and features to help all the journey of the customer.
– [Ryan] Let’s bring this all full circle here for a second for our audience. And talk about any particular Applications you feel comfortable sharing. Because one of the goals of this show is to really bring to light, not just solutions that are available for companies that are not in the IoT space to purchase by working with IoT companies but also kind of just connecting that entire journey for a potential IoT adopter. So, are there any specific solutions that you have out in the market that are connecting, you know that are being used by organizations that you can talk more about in detail about how it’s solving a real-world problem just to kind of put something, you know kind of concrete to everything we’ve been talking about?
– [Kenta] Yes, we have a customer who has built the pocket translator that is connected by using our Soracom SIM card in the worldwide coverage. So they can actually use that translator. So you can just talk to the translator and it speaks out in different language. It has been helping the people communicating with for example, doctors and the professionals when they need translation, that is one Applications. And we have a Seattle based customer called PebbleBee who has just rolled out a new generation of pet and family tracker that combines long range capability of cellular with 12 month battery life. They have been using LT captain one and EDR X to make sure the battery life and also long range connectivity with cellular. We also have the different customers in different verticals. One of them is, would be to mention with the most experienced architect providers called The HOTO they have migrated their entire IoT architecture to AWS from an operating system by leveraging Sarcoma’s private networking capabilities on top of AWS cloud.
– [Ryan] That’s great and when you work with customers and this may not be necessarily obviously from the CTO office perspective, but just generally as a company approach, are you all working and partnering with other organizations that handle other parts of the IoT solution, or are you all trying to keep most of that development and work in-house when you’re working with a customer directly?
– [Kenta] Yeah, we have worked with customers directly so when the customer has their tech team, CTLs and their engineers we have our solutions architect team who has provided the guidance and architecture guidelines for building secure, scalable connectivity platform, the IoT architecture. All our services are like building blocks. So depending on the Applications that customer has our solutions architect team can actually support and help find the right setup services to build the architecture for them.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, great. well, I appreciate kind of all this background understanding of, you know Soracom, what you all do, how you work with customers offerings in the market and all that good stuff. So I want to pivot just slightly and talk about some more broad range topics if that’s all right. So from a trend perspective like talking more about trends we’re seeing in the industry we’ve seen a rapid democratization of IoT capabilities which on one hand, I think we can argue is a good thing but on the other it’s really leading to it seems like a new wave of connected hardware that isn’t really designed or kind of shouldn’t be designed actually for IoT Applications. Can you talk a little bit about what IoT kind of democratization is and how you see it playing a role either positively or negatively in the growth of the IoT space?
– [Kenta] Yeah, personally, super excited about you know, that there have been so many connected devices and connected products in the world, but at the same time, you know, a little concern is some devices are not well designed for the IoT security and we have heard the news about some camera devices were hacked and some video was leaked and definitely the devices need to be properly architected and the securely implement secure security so that, that kind of issue won’t happen in the future. But at the same time, you know it’s harder to predict all these challenges in a device from the beginning and make sure the design can cover, you know like the tens over years from now on. So there is a play that we can do at the middle as a connectivity provider in the middle that can connect connected devices to the cloud. So we can actually provide smart connectivity that can make sure the connection between devices and the backend servers are secure and private. And we have identified the feature to authenticate each device by using our connected SIM and we use that for provisioning secure credentials to the devices and so on. So there are so many common challenges and undifferentiated heavy lifting in IoT development but we can actually take care of all these common parts so that the people can focus on secure IoT devices.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that’s great. I think it’s interesting to think about the large selection of hardware being out there the approach companies take when they’re trying to start this IoT journey, if you will and kind of going off the shelf pulling in different hardware but not necessarily having the knowledge or experience to choose the right hardware for the in particular solution that they’re developing and what kind of frustrations that can lead to to kind of skew their view of the value of IoT.
– [Kenta] Yeah, that’s true. So one example that I can give is, you know the people can actually choose some off the shelf hardware to get started on IoT development. And, you know, sometimes the devices have a code that is like easy username and password and if it explore the public internet, you know it can be hacked the in a short period of time and it can actually cause issues. So by using our SIM card, our connectivity platform, for example, they can actually connect to the network in a secure way. So we have a built in firewall that protects devices from the public internet. And, you know, let’s talk about surveillance camera for example, in that case the user may need to remotely access the device. So there is always trade off between security and the remote access. We have a solution to overcome this challenge. So the, we have a service called Soracom NAFTA that user can actually select a SIM or device and enable a familiar port to access the device for specific period of time, from a specific IP address. So the user can easily create a secure link from their client, by client, in laptop or client device to this remote device by using our smart connectivity. So by offering these, you know, the security features at the middle we believe any devices that users choose can be used in a secure IoT system development.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, yeah, as it kind of relates to the democratization of IoT, I think it leaves a lot of organizations with many choices not just in hardware, but also in connectivity in the platform they use the cloud service they use kind of across the board all components of an IoT solution can be. There can be a lot of choices and a lot of tough decisions that companies that are not experienced in IoT have to make. You know, I’ve talked to some guests who internally their focus is to provide every component of an IoT solution in house and not work with partners. And then the other side is that IoT is a partner driven ecosystem so we must work with partners not everybody can be an expert in everything which I think is the more common approach that I kind of lean towards as being the right path. But I wanted to ask you about kind of just your overall advice that you have for organizations getting started on this IoT journey and understanding how there really isn’t a single solution or company that can address all of the challenges the company is facing and how it’s important for companies in the IoT space and for companies that are looking to work with those companies to understand that finding a company that is flexible to build a solution and to tailor their offerings, kind of basically just how you do in building blocks that can then be pieced together to fit their direct and exact need versus the other approach which would be more the company, the non IoT company that’s looking for a solution having to tailor or adjust their business to fit this vertical specific solution. If you could talk to kind of just the general approach on why one is better than the other for our listeners out there to understand what they should be thinking when they’re getting started and looking for a company that really gets this partnership side of our centric ecosystem, plus why building blocks are more important than this turnkey solution that is, you know not flexible and why their individual business requires probably something specific because the Applications are all almost independent of each other.
– [Kenta] Yeah, so we are definitely on the side of the ecosystem type approach. So when it comes to IoT, there is no one single solution that company or organization can address all the challenges that people are having. So I get a lot of concern when I hear, you know this is the killer solution for everything or this technology is better than the others and things like that, you know, for each vertical each Applications, there needs to be tailored solutions. And we are not able to offer tailored solutions for each and every vertical. That’s why we need to work as partners and customers to solve all these challenges in IoT. And that’s another reason why we offer building blocks so that the customers can pick and choose for building the right IoT architecture for each app, each Applications. The, so we often say IoT is a team sport. So each company has a different role and in order to offer a solution to a particular problem we all need to work as a team. We provide connectivity and features to securely connect devices to cloud. And customers definitely should leverage the cloud services like AWS and Google and Microsoft offer to build the secure IoT infrastructure. And of course there needs to be a device partner who can actually provide the right set of hardware for the customer’s Applications. So, in the ecosystem we can actually offer them a solution for the particular challenge.
– [Ryan] Yeah, do you recommend companies kind of starting with one component of the IoT solution to kind of start their journey? Like for instance, my experience has been if let’s say I’m a IoT company or a company looking to get involved in IoT solution in some capacity for my organization or my customers if I go online and start searching around, you know for Applications and stuff, there’s a chance I could wind up on the hardware manufacturers page or connectivity companies page, or systems integrators page, a platform, you know, company’s page. And do you recommend starting at one component or the other or is it more about whichever one, whichever company you end up on making sure that they have a healthy partner ecosystem, they have kind of a building blocks approach similar to you you all have at Soracom and they understand the need for matching specific components to the individual Applications and not trying to do this kind of one size fits all approach.
– [Kenta] Yeah, so when it comes to IoT one important thing is to actually the connection point in the real world that is usually a the device. So it seems important to start with the device to make sure the right set of hardware is available for the particular Applications. And then they can think of how to process the data coming in from the device and how to react to it. And that’s when they should think about which kind of cloud services or machine learning logics to be applied for the Applications. So the, I usually recommend to start with the prototype and to have a concept that would actually use the actual hardware and the simple cloud side logic to make sure that everything works as expected. And then start to think about scale the deployment to the large scale.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I totally agree. I think this, you know, kind of crawl, walk, run approach when it comes to IoT solutions especially, because those pilots really do a great job at showing the value and ensuring that you have the right partners, you have the right components, you know everything is there from an ROI perspective for that company that oftentimes doesn’t have enough knowledge about what the IoT components and how they work. That they’re trusting organizations like Soracom and others to provide them a solution that hits on all of their key value points and returns them or it gives them a decent return on their investment. So I totally agree, I think that’s the absolute right approach and I appreciate those insights and kind of sharing that with us.
– [Kenta] Yeah, you’re welcome. In order to accelerate the hardware choice you know, hardware selection, we actually started to offer several hardware products as well. We are not hardware vendor and we are not trying to sell more hardware to make revenue out of it. We are rather doing it for accelerating this prototype phase and proof of concept stage so that the customers can actually get started early and get, you know, right solution as early as possible. One example is, I talked about Soracom Onyx Dongle that can be used for Raspberry Pis. We also started to offer an Edge device called the Soracom X Plus camera that includes Raspberry Pi, a camera, a cellular modem and a built in machine learning capability. This is rather for people who want to do a machine learning based computer vision analysis easily. You know, if you think about doing that implementing that kind of prototype, you need to think about a lot of things, like what kind of device to choose, what kind of camera or modem to choose. So we have actually built so that the and also it’s pre-configured to connect to your Soracom platform so the user can just plug into outlet, power outlet and they can just start to deploy a machine learning model to the device, just by clicking around on modem console and get started on simple machine learning logarithms and process. And then when they comfortable about the prototype they can actually move on to production phase, so we have a pass for that as well.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, yeah, I think anything companies can do these days regardless of which piece of the IoT solution they’re involved in to get companies up and running into the pilot phase to start to see the value and build that trust with the organization that they’re working with on that pilot project, the better. And I think companies should be focusing a lot of their efforts on getting that process started because once you get it started, there’s, you know there’s a decent relationship already developed at that point, there’s buy-in from the company there’s something they can actually show and that’s kind of the recipe for getting to scale more quickly so I totally agree with you. But as we kind of wrap up here I wanted to ask you two quick questions. Just one of them is related to anything new and exciting kind of going on over at Soracom that either is coming out soon or we should be on the lookout for in 2021?
– [Kenta] Yeah, we have a little bit of exciting items coming up but for the incoming, in the short period of time we are working on the new feature called the new feature for pocket inspection. So we launched a service called Soracom Peek in the last year that actually enables the customers to peek into what the device send and receive sending and receiving. We have been working on to make it even easier for the customers to do that. So once we launch this new feature the customers will be able to select the device or SIM on our web console and right click on that and enable the pockets capture session and then they can actually look into actual device pockets to troubleshoot or understand why the the devices are using more data than they expected and so on. This is one of the features that we developed based on the customer’s feedback. They were saying, you know, they see some unexpected amount of data, or, you know sometimes the device is not connected connecting to the server and they want to troubleshoot but they previously, they didn’t have an insight about the communication between servers and devices. Now we have made it easier for the customers to get started on this. Likewise, all these features that we built are based on customer’s feedback. So when it comes to launching a new service or feature we work back all the way from the customer. So all of these features that we have built on the Soracom platform are all tested with the customer deployment and customer feedback. So often you can talk with customers they get surprised, hey, you guys already have this feature, that’s something I started to realize we needed like yesterday. So we are happy to share more of these features and case studies that we have learned with our customers so that people can actually when they have an issue in IoT development they can actually get an answer quickly and keep working on to build, make the innovation happen.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that’s fantastic. I love the way you said that as the approach of kind of working from the customer backwards. I think that’s really important approach versus working for the technology forward, which is oftentimes the case. So I’m totally on board with that. And the last question I have is if our audience out there, anybody has questions, follow up or anything they’re looking to kind of just expand on from this conversation. What’s the best way to either connect with you directly or get in touch with a member of the Soracom team?
– [Kenta] Yeah, so I’m not available on all major social media, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I can share my links to it. And also my team is also available on through our website or our social channels, if you go to www.soracom.io we have all these, all our customers case studies and product details and so on. And also we have a live chat available. So they can, you know, if you have any questions on that they can definitely, they can ask any time.
– [Ryan] Fantastic, okay. Now this has been a great conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk. We’ve obviously been fans of Soracom for a long time and we’re glad to finally have you on the show and talk more in detail about what you all are doing. And I think our audience is going to truly appreciate it. So thanks again.
– [Kenta] Thank you so much for having me. I was so happy joining on this great show.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s been great already. All right, everyone thanks again for joining us this week on the IoT For All podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please leave us a rating or review and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you’re listening to us on. Also, if you have a guest you’d like to see on the show please drop us a note at [email protected] and we’ll do everything we can to get them as a featured guest. Other than that, thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next time.