Georges Karam, CEO of Sequans Communications, joins Ryan Chacon on the podcast this week to discuss the importance of cellular connectivity. Georges talks about the differences in cellular connectivity when building an IoT solution versus what’s used in mobile devices and how to know if cellular connectivity is the right fit for your solution. He shares the most popular use cases for cellular connectivity and some of the projects he’s worked on at Sequans. The podcast is wrapped up with challenges he’s observed in IoT adoption, advice for people choosing a connectivity option for their solution, and the industry’s outlook for the rest of the year.
Georges Karam has been the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Sequans since the company was founded in 2003. Before starting Sequans, Dr. Karam was Vice President of Cable Access at Juniper Networks, running the cable engineering and marketing departments in addition to managing the cable sales launch in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. He joined Juniper Networks when the company acquired Pacific Broadband Communications (PBC), where he was Vice President of Engineering and General Manager for Europe. Dr. Karam has served in various senior management positions at Alcatel, SAGEM, and Philips. Dr. Karam holds a PhD in signal processing and communication theory from Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications, Paris.
Interested in connecting with Georges? Reach out to him on Linkedin!
About Sequans Communications
Sequans Communications S.A. (NYSE: SQNS) is a leading developer and supplier of cellular IoT connectivity solutions, providing chips and modules for 5G/4G massive and broadband IoT. For 5G/4G massive IoT applications, Sequans provides a comprehensive product portfolio based on its flagship Monarch LTE-M/NB-IoT and Calliope Cat 1 chip platforms, featuring industry-leading low power consumption, a large set of integrated functionalities, and global deployment capability. For 5G/4G broadband IoT applications, Sequans offers a product portfolio based on its Cassiopeia Cat 4/Cat 6 4G and high-end Taurus 5G chip platforms, optimized for low-cost residential, enterprise, and industrial applications. Founded in 2003, Sequans is based in Paris, France, with additional offices in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Taiwan, South Korea, and China.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(01:18) Introduction to Georges
(02:02) Background to Sequans
(03:23) Building cellular connectivity for IoT versus for mobile
(05:02) Use cases Sequans focuses on
(07:42) When is cellular connectivity the right fit
(11:46) The role SIMs play
(14:28) Where are the most challenges to adoption?
(17:30) How should customers be thinking about connectivity?
(20:03) What does the future of connectivity look like?
(21:40) How has the pandemic affected IoT adoption
– [Voice Over] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone. And welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon. And on today’s episode, we have Georges Karam, the CEO and chairman of the board at Sequans Communications. They are a leading developer and supplier of cellular IoT connectivity solutions, providing chips and modules for 5G, 4G massive and broadband IoT. So we talk a lot about the cellular IoT landscape today. Different technologies, the comparison between them, different applications in the IoT space, which technology is kind of right fit for different applications and use cases. We also talk about the challenges companies are facing when it comes to supply chain issues, project delays, slowness in market development, and things like that. And we round out the conversation talking about the future of IoT and kind of what Sequans is foreseeing, coming up in the near future and what we kind of project going on later down the line. So this is a great episode. I think you can get a lot of value out of it, but before we get into it, if any of you out there are looking to enter the fast growing and profitable IoT market, but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor, Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform, provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangeseverything.com that’s iotchangeseverything.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome Georges to the IoT For All Show. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Georges] Hi Ryan. Thanks. Thanks for being with me as well.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. I’m looking forward to this. So let’s start off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself, background. Anything you think will be interesting for our audience to kind of hear more about.
– [Georges] Sure. I’m Georges Karam, CEO of Sequans Communication. I’m as, as well Co-Founder of the company, and my background is really working with many big company like Alcatel, SAGEM, Phillips and my previous, previous startup as well that I sold to Juniper Networks before incorporating Sequans. And I’ve beet at Sequans since that incorporation.
– [Ryan] And so tell me a little bit about the founding story of the company. I’m not very familiar with kind of how the company came to be, kinda the opportunity you saw when this was started. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.
– [Georges] Sure. I mean, you know, Sequans from day one, you know, we are really positioned the company to play in the wireless 4G wireless at that time. Obviously since then we talk about 5G now, but we started the company originally, really building 4G WiMax. It was the first protocol that came to market. We had a lot of success with the smartphone business in those days with WiMax , then, I’ll say life changed and WiMax for whatever reason disappear as a market and the company has positioned itself on the 4G cellular. So since I will say 2012, the company is really doing 4G, 5G cellular, but we positioned the company to do cellular for, IoT not really to focus on a smartphone market where you have some big players playing there and we see the IoT is a big market where you can optimize, you need to optimize the design of the chip set for this market whether in power cost interfaces. So this is really what we do and we try to do it to serve our customer in the IoT space.
– [Ryan] So tell me a little bit more about kind of the difference in approach you have to take for building cellular for the IoT space, as opposed to potentially more of the mobile and just the other spaces that cellular is applicable to. So just kind of what the difference is. And what’s important to note there.
– [Georges] Sure I mean, first of all, when you are building for the IoT, you have a various category to cover because when you talk about IoT, you have the low end IoT, where what matters is really low power cost. The connectivity matters a lot, but it doesn’t, we don’t need speed. We don’t need very high speed. So you could be talking about few kilobit, few hundred kilobit per second, maybe few megabit per second. And this is one category. And here, obviously it’s not smartphone. You need to optimize for power, optimize for cost, make the chip very, very small. So you can have hundred of millions of those chips sitting in sensors, driven by a battery most of the time. And you have other category of, IoT where really you are in the router space. You are in high end, industrial in camera, and those devices, you need speed, but in the same time as well, you have different interfaces, you have different configuration. And if you look to the smartphone challenge is complete different. cause really, you need to optimize power and active mode. You need really to put this with many interfaces, like SUC that’s on for the smartphone. So by definition, if you need to do your job properly, you need to design for IoT devices from day one. If you take something working on a phone to make it work at IoT it’ll work, but you’ll not get the best in terms of performance and features. And this is, really the key differentiation.
– [Ryan] And from a company perspective, do you all have a certain focus from an use case wise? Or is there any types of use cases you all special in or specialize in or focus on or maybe there’s an industry focus or how does that kind of work from your approach?
– [Georges] Yeah, indeed. I mean, you know, first of all, we love to say that we have a comprehensive offer in terms of category to cover all the use cases of, IoT. Really it’s, IoT use cases, as I said, high end use case we’re talking about a broadband IoT and in broadband IoT here, you’re really talking about high end industrial, private networks LTE, you’re talking about fixed wireless access, connection to home. And when you go to the massive IoT, this category really you’re talking about, as I said, low power technology. If you look to the use cases there, maybe the best way, you know, we see many application, but to characterize this at least with four or five key area or see a lot of development happening and we have a lot of success, smart city is a key one. I’m putting there the metering, mainly the metering is a key application. You see a lot of smart meter today going cellular, in the past, they were going mesh using proprietary technology. Thanks to the progress we have done in cellular in terms of power and cost. Many meters are moving really to cellular. So there’s a really key application there. You can find a city like fire alarm, any other application, you know, related to a city, smart home is a key place as well. Even if there you live with the mesh technology, with the private wireless technology, proprietary I should say technology. But we have always cellular technology behind it. And we have a lot of success. We have big project, for example, with Comcast Xfinity, this is using Sequans product. We have as well. The tracking devices, tracking really is a big segment where you can see fleet management, tracking assets or tracking people and pets. So this is really developing segment and, and you have a lot of things happening there. Also very interesting development in the medical devices, eMedical, we have, for example, customers, they use our chips for COVID tester for scale, you know, body scale for blood pressure, all those kind of devices. So this is really typically what we are seeing and you could expect maybe more development in the future, towards agriculture and other application, which is still in the early phase today. But the, the fourth segment I mentioned, we see them really quite successful these days.
– [Ryan] And what makes a use case more optimal for cellular or what kind of requirements are necessary for cellular to be the right fit? I mean, when we’re talking about cellular, we’re talking about potentially NB-IoT LTE-M, Cat 1 5G, you know, we’re, we’re talking about a lot of different ways cellular can be used in IoT, but is, are there certain kind of high level parameters that you’re able to look at for a specific use case based on the needs that it has say, okay, this is better for NB-IoT this is better for LTE-M and kind of how that decision is made.
– [Ryan] Makes sense. And also when you’re talking about NB-IoT and LTE-M, you kind, it sounded like they’re, they’re obviously very similar, but from my understanding, there are some different situations when it comes to the types of assets you’re potentially tracking or using this for, that you would choose NB-IoT over LTE-M, whether it’s fixed or mobile type assets. Does that play into consideration when you’re thinking about this as well?
– [Georges] This is true. You know, I mean, IoT is not mobile. It’s more for fixed. So LTE-M give you more the value of the mobility. Okay. A little bit more speed. And very honestly, from power advantage, the two they can, they match, you know, there is not, it’s really, you know, you could hear some people saying NB-IoT is more optimal and power is not true. It’s however, if you go NB-IoT only you could have lower cost. You can save couple of dollar on the solution because you know, the solution is a little bit, obviously less complex.
– [Ryan] Gotcha. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. So let me ask then also, how does iSIM kind of play into this, or just, just SIMs in general? Like how, how does this work, you know, when people are, are moving from region to region, you know, they’re changing different types of networks, things like that. How does kind of iSIM, eSIM kind of that whole area play in when it comes to cellular?
– [Georges] I mean, I mean, obviously, you know, you have a big movement around the SIM in cellular, by the way. And this is true for the smartphone, which is essentially, are you locked? Is SIM, is your SIM locked to a carrier? Today you know, in the regular use case, you have a phone, you have a SIM and this SIM works with one carrier. If you want to change to another carrier, you need to change the SIM. You take it out, you replace it by another one. Obviously when you have a plastic SIM and a consumer device, this is doable, right? I mean, you can, you can imagine shipping new SIM, the guy will change it and so on. The real problem in IoT becomes much more complex. First of all, often we don’t put a plastic SIM, you put an eSIM, which is soldered SIM, its a chip, which is soldered. And as you, as you are mentioning, your have as well, the iSIM, which is integrated into the chip, what Sequans has in our portfolio of Monarch and , which are LTE-M and the IoT and category one product of Sequans, they integrate the feature of iSIM. In other words, now your SIM is part of the chip and you don’t touch it. Now, if it’s there, it’s obviously cheaper, lower power, everything much better, but now you need to add the change of the profile over the air. In other words, you have a device shipping from, you know, from the EMS, the manufacturing, you get your device, you turn it on and then you will have their, a bootstrap on your SIM that will connect on the network, And based on the agreement you have with the carrier, you will know that you need the profile of AT&T or Verizon, and it load the profile and you operate on this. And you can imagine that 10 years down the road, you need, you negotiate better deal with another MNO, and you need to change your, profile. You can do this operation over there by really through all say, you know, really through a service that can be offered by the carriers. So this is really where the world is moving and it gives you flexibility. It gives you really for IoT is a must have to get this flexibility, as we said, because you don’t change some over there. And this is where we are moving. We are really in the beginning of this phase, I tend to say, and Sequans is the first company, by the way, to certify what we call the GSMA, common criteria certification of the iSIM and Monarch is the first Chip certified in the world for this.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome. Let me also ask you kind of, as we’re kind of on this topic and thinking about just cellular IoT in general, where have you seen probably the biggest challenges to cellular IoT adoption in general? Or where do you kind of run into roadblocks during use cases and solution development process of when it kind of ties to, to cellular IoT? Is there supply chain issues that you’ve seen? Is there, I don’t know, potentially just the market as a whole, not picking up as quickly as it should, like just generally, what do you all see as some of the biggest challenges to adoption on the cellular IoT side?
– [Georges] Yeah, I mean, you know, cellular I was from the beginning, you know, I mean, to be, to be honest, you know, we all, get a little bit disappointed on the speed of taking off. I mean, the technology came in and so on, but when you listen and you, and you, when you look to the, in the mirror, you know, and see what happens, reality at the beginning, you have new technology that came to market, you know, LTE-M and NB-IoT, even when the carrier were deploying this and they say they are already, we still have holes here and there in the network feature, not delivered the low power feature. So it took you a while until the technology mature from network point of view from device point of view, from end to end point of view, I will say, and now I could say, it’s all this behind us. It’s there, it’s working solid. And so on. Then you enter another equation, which is the hardle of, you know, as soon as you put a cellular in the IoT now you’re, you’re talking about many people in the ecosystem. It’s not anymore, you know, just only you, if you put Wi-Fi connection on your device, there is no agreement to do. There is nothing to do. You put the technology, you make it work. When you put cellular IoT, then you are dealing with the carriers, you to see the data plan, the agreement you have with the carrier, if they guarantee to you this service for 10 years, for 15 years, you know, for 20 years sometimes. So you have all those challenges to come in the ecosystem to make it work. And in IoT in general, you know, you need to go to the cloud as well, to the servers you are providing. It’s not a business of hardware. It’s a business of services and many people, by the way, playing in, IoT, in the first phase, everyone was trying to take it all or to take the biggest piece of the cake, you know, and everyone was trying to offer everything, you know, I’m not talking about ourself offering the technology, but I’m talking about all the players and this create and added more complex at the end, where everyone will see his play. You know, I’m going to offer the service, the cloud service, maybe over the top, the carrier they offer optimized, data plan connection for the IoT, the technology to get mature. All this has to take, you know, time to happen. But we see today in inflection point we are quite excited, we have huge growth in IoT year-to-year with that between 21 and 20. And we see 22 and, and down the world continue. Even if we have some supply chain challenges that you mentioned, which is not related to IoT, its global for the industry.
– [Ryan] So let me kind of follow up and ask about a lot of our listeners out there who are involved, either adopting IoT solutions, building IoT solutions, and the connectivity piece is always a topic of conversation. How should they be thinking about the connectivity in general for a solution and picking the bright connectivity, whether it’s one of the cellular kind of routes that we’ve talked about or something else, what are the key things that they should be thinking about early on in the process to understand what connectivity options they should be considering for their solution? Cause I know often it ties into cost, latency, the bandwidth, you know, the overall ROI, you name it. But just, just from your perspective, what does that conversation usually look like? And what advice do you have for people out there looking to better understand how to think about connectivity?
– [Georges] It’s, it’s really, you know, the first, I mean, you have two factors in reality, you have that cost and, and you have, I will say all the performance of the connectivity you’re looking for. Not to manage your local network. And this is really the main variable in general. If you can afford the cost, cellular is really the best solution always. And the cellular is optimizing this. Why? Because it’s global, even inside the home, I give you an example. If you go to, I have a use case, which is security at home, where you deploy camera. So you can say, if I’m deploying in a home few camera, why I need to connect each camera to the cellular, I connect them with Wi-Fi to a getaway. And the getaway is connected to cellular. This is really the current topology that you see it in any smart home network. You, you get only one base station, one access point delivering Wi-Fi, and you put stuff. Now, the question, if you’re deploying in a home many camera, five cameras, 10 cameras, in the garden, is your Wi-Fi network is going to sustain all this traffic? Believe me, it doesn’t work. So now you have above three, four camera, it’s not going to work. And then you start to get, you know, bad service somehow. Now obviously you can put cellular in every camera, but then you need to pay the cellular connectivity in every camera. So these are the kind of challenges that the market is seeing. You know, obviously if you have a local getaway easy network, you will get always cheaper to go over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But if this is not there, you have no other option than the cellular in my opinion, and cellular is optimizing the cost in any case, and getting better and better every day.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I was gonna say, it’s getting better and better for sure. So that, that’s awesome. So one of the last things I wanted to ask you before we wrap up here is just generally, from your perspective, what does the future of kind of the space look like? Whether it’s focusing solely on kinda cellular IoT where that’s going for IoT or just, or IoT in general, I’d love to get your thoughts on just kind of where you see it going over the next, you know, I don’t know, 12 plus months and what you’re most excited about.
– [Georges] Well, I mean, you know, obviously as I said, IoT was still at the beginning of the IoT around, what’s also good to keep in mind that all the IoT projects they tend to be, they are not consumer project. They’re not going just only for one year deployment, two years deployment. You have projects that they tend to be for 10 years, 20 years. So the wave is building up, and this is really exciting. I spoke about the application of smart city metering, smart home tracking and medical. This is really what’s happening. From cellular point of view, Obviously the trend there, moving with LTE-M, NB-IoT, and you know, all this technology evolving to 5G. So we’re going to see a lot of things happening to support core 5G, you know, and get technology that you deploy today, but will work over time on 5G network. So those are the kind of challenges that you are going to see them in the coming, I tend to say two years where you are going to see more and more people deploying cellular IoT, but they want to have this solution ready to go on the 5G as well, because you don’t want to replace this, this technology in 10 years when 5G will be there only. And there is no more 4G.
– [Ryan] Makes sense. Well, that that’s, I’m very interested to see kind of how things transform. And outta curiosity, this is just something I was just thinking about. How have you seen, if at all, the pandemic kind of influence the adoption of cellular IoT based applications and solutions? Has that, how how’s that kind of been influenced? Where are you seeing kind of things now?
– [Georges] No, I believe it’s influenced, I mean, it’s, we had, if you want the, let’s say it like this, you had negative influence where the people get busy by solving their short term problem and longer term project get a little bit delayed or impacted. This is what I call it on the negative if you want. On the positive, it’s completely the reverse because people realize like all this pandemic, you know, we saw, for example, of the COVID many product shipping in volume, because of the COVID, obviously working from home, remote, you know, learning distance learning. But also even as I said, COVID tester, connectivity, medical, eMedical. So people realize that at the end of the day, IoT is about observing any device in the network. You see everything, your asset, it’s good to have connectivity there. And then you can do a lot of things with this. It’s not because you need connectivity. It’s just only the connectivity enable many services in the device. And I can give you just 1 simple example, which is maybe, you know, not the first thing we think about it when you want to connect the device. Take appliances, right? I mean, you say why I need to connect the washing machine? No one, you know, I mean, at the end day, if when I buy a washing machine, the last thing I want to do is to connect the washing machine that has no value for me. I mean, in principle. But then if this washing machine is connected, then the guy selling this to you can collect all the information from a washing machine and can provide to you a maintenance, predictive maintenance to your machine. And you’ll never stick two weeks waiting to repair the wishing machine when you have this. So it has a value, and all the devices like this. No matter case you take it, it’s always, you know, you begin, you realize that if it’s connected, you can do much better in terms of efficiency, you can do, you can run better your business, you can provide more services. And this is, what’s all about IoT in general.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Yeah. I think a lot of those points you just hit on were, or are super important for kind of an audience, just get a sense of how things are, or have been developing in, in the space. I do like the flexibility that cellular also is giving you and the ability to kind of launch multiple applications that benefit from it. And as we mentioned earlier, cost is going down, connectivity is getting better. It’s getting stronger, faster. It’s just enabling so much more from a application side where, you know, maybe before we weren’t able to do well. And medical is a great example of kind of a field that’s happening in a lot of. So, so thank you so much for, for taking the time today. This has been a great conversation. For our audience members out there who are looking to learn more, better understand kind of what’s going on at the company and stay in touch, what’s the best way to do that?
– [Georges] Well, obviously go to our websites, Sequans.com and, you know, we offer all cellular technology, as we said, for IoT, from low speed to high speed.
– [Ryan] And is there anything kind of in the next few months that we should keep our eyes out for, that’s kind of coming out and that, you know, you’re excited about?
– [Georges] Yeah. I mean, you know, we announced recently by the way, many, many new features on our product, we announced as well, GNSS support to all our LTE-M platform by software.
– [Georges] We announced the iSIM. We announced the second generation of our Cat 1, which is much lower power, much lower cost, many things. I will say all those announcement happen almost in the last quarter just before CES. Obviously we, we will have more to come in the year and more announcement to come there. Our next generation products really on 5G. And this is where the energy is put in the company in terms of innovation and development as a second platform to come.
– [Ryan] That’s awesome. Well, we’ll look forward to seeing that. But again, thank you so much for taking the time today. This has been a great conversation. I really enjoy us being able to shed more light in detail on cellular IoT, kind of where it is now, where it’s potentially going and the stuff you all have going on is fantastic. And people definitely need to go check it out. So thanks again for your time and appreciate you being here.
– [Georges] Thanks. Thanks very much, Ryan. This is pleasure.
– [Ryan] Thank you. All right, everyone. Thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT For All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel and be sure to hit the bell notifications, so you get the latest episodes as soon as to become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching and we’ll see you next time.