In podcast episode 32, Madeleine Mickeleit talks to Sven Böse, Technical Sales Specialist from Deutsche Telekom’s M2M/IoT specialist sales department, and Gregor Giataganas, CEO of advertising technology company Bertelmann and lighting control start-up LichtWART. The use case is about the advent of the Cloud of Things and the smart revolution in the lighting (advertising) industry.
Podcast episode summary
With the joint development of an IoT solution, LichtWART GmbH and Deutsche Telekom are putting lighting system operators permanently into perspective. The use case is about the so-called LichtWART module, a gateway that makes it possible to monitor, control and maintain lighting systems – all through a smart complete solution.
An illuminated advertising system that does not light up or does not light up properly can result in a loss of image and sales. If a light fails, it is often noticed far too late. And sometimes it also happens that a power supply unit is replaced during a service case and the next one breaks shortly afterwards. All this is associated with high costs. Such scenarios are avoided by using the LichtWART module: The system generates added value by automatically generating error messages and alarms, streamlining service processes and shortening response times. It keeps track of the lifecycle of all components and ensures predictive maintenance – to name just a few of the added values discussed in this podcast episode.
Mobile communications are considered the silver bullet of connectivity: they create the basis for secure and stable connectivity and smooth data transport to the cloud. The LichtWART module allows data to be converted from the DALI bus system, which has been tried and tested over many years, and then transferred to the plug & play cloud via the existing interface using mobile communications. One advantage of the module is that it can operate autonomously thanks to the integrated control electronics and does not require permanent connectivity.
The trending topics of lighting systems as a service and pay per use are also discussed in this podcast episode. LichtWART and Telekom are also working on the development of their own DALI interface for even more flexibility. The LichtWART module 2.0 is also in the planning stage.
Hello Sven, hello Gregor – welcome to the Industrial IoT Podcast. I welcome you both! Sven, can you briefly say something about yourself, your person and your role at Deutsche Telekom?
My name is Sven Böse. I am a Technical Sales Specialist at Telekom Germany in the M2M and IoT specialist sales department. As a project manager, my remit covers virtually all projects related to digitization, digital transformation, networking, IoT and connectivity. Solutions businesses, asset tracking, cloud platform, 5G networking – these are my core competencies.
Deutsche Telekom has a very broad footprint in the IoT sector. I’d be interested to hear what changes or new customer requirements you might see in the market. Or has something new been added in that area in recent years?
Many customers still perceive us as an infrastructure, mobile communications, fixed-network or data line provider. Many customers don’t even know that we can do much more – especially in the partner approach. That’s why it’s nice to be able to present our solution here today. I mainly work for small to large customers in the midmarket. And what I see in the SME sector is that a rethink is taking place here and must also take place. In other words, they are evolving from traditional manufacturers, as is often the case in medium-sized companies in various trades, to platform providers. This means they are building a new business segment. They are looking to enter new areas, to explore new business models and to initiate these together with us. They want to offer their customers a new business, a new service. And as a result, they go from being a classic manufacturer, which we quite often have in the tooling area or in plant engineering, to a platform in the IoT area.
I would go into this rethinking in more detail in a moment, Sven. Gregor, I’m looking in your direction first. Would you also like to introduce yourself briefly so that we can complete the round of introductions and then get into the main topic?
With pleasure. My name is Gregor Giataganas. I am here today in a double capacity: once as managing director of the company Bertelmann GmbH from Bünde, which plans, implements, installs and maintains nationwide illuminated advertising systems, lighting systems and advertising technology in the fourth generation. This is also the seed of the whole IoT solution that we then developed. The second role is my activity as founder and CEO of LichtWART GmbH. This is a spin-off of Bertelmann and 100% independent. Together with Telekom, we have developed an IoT solution to monitor, control, and maintain lighting systems and illuminated advertising installations and offer a new solution to the market accordingly.
Can you tell us more about the role of lighting for a minute? How do you classically imagine the core business? Where are these lighting systems located and what exactly are they?
There are about 2.6 million non-residential buildings in Germany – that’s what they call themselves. These are all buildings that offer special infrastructure, such as commercial centers or businesses. These non-residential buildings usually have lighting systems. These are either illuminated advertising systems, which have a certain function to convey an advertisement. Often, however, they are also safety-related lighting systems to give people orientation. Especially in the dark season, it is very important to recognize where the main entrance is in such large buildings. This information is nowadays or actually has been conveyed with light for a very long time. Of course, the operators of these buildings have the desire that with lighting systems information is conveyed and they are well found. Of course, they also have an interest in ensuring that the lights are well maintained and always in working order. Every operator of such lighting systems also has the obligation to ensure that they work well. And that’s where we’re at as LichtWART, to help with those structures and how best to solve that. A good example is the Berliner Bogen in Hamburg. There we have equipped a main entrance that is really, really prominent, with light.
You had now talked about operators of the buildings. Are those also classically the ones you talk to in core operations, or are there other responsible parties you deal with as well?
We have to deal with several – that are on the one hand the operators themselves, who have their own interest to install such lighting systems, but on the other hand also the manufacturers of these systems. In other words, companies that ultimately manufacture and install the lighting systems or illuminated advertising systems on behalf of these operators and subsequently also take over service and maintenance. That is actually the area of tension in which we are moving. The third partner is usually the authorities, which impose some form of requirements regarding light emissions. That also plays a role, and that’s where we help operators meet those requirements.
Now, in the field of IoT, we always talk about concrete added value: I would like to know what is usually the core motivation of an operator to tackle such a topic, i.e., to make lighting systems more intelligent. What are the classic challenges or perhaps problems that customers come to you with?
One of the essential factors is certainly the topic of cost optimization. So that means looking at whether you can get total cost under control through intelligent systems. You can imagine what it’s like when a lighting system like this fails: First, it often goes unnoticed for a very long time, because the lighting systems usually light up at night when it’s dark. This means that it takes a relatively long time – weeks or months – for this to be determined at some point. And then behind that, of course, is the whole process that has to be triggered to get something like that repaired or made into a service. As a rule, this is cumbersome for operators and correspondingly costly. Those are the things you see first, so to speak. A lighting system that doesn’t light up or work properly may well mean lost sales. For example, an advertising tower on the highway that announces the service area from afar. If this system doesn’t light up properly, everyone drives past it because they don’t really notice it. And that, of course, is also partly a drop in sales that you can then see. Another point is, of course, the so-called brand awareness. This means that someone who spends a lot of money on a lighting system naturally also wants it to serve its purpose: to convey their own brand or name. And, of course, that’s important, too. If the whole thing flickers or only partially lights up, then this usually does not cast a good light on the operator of this equipment. These are the reasons that are mentioned first and foremost, and this is where we are happy to help with LichtWART.
Iwould like to know more about the lighting systems. How do you have to imagine such a lighting system? You talked about service, repairs and cost optimization – what data are you interested in?
There is, of course, a very wide range of different techniques and technologies. The classic is the LED illumination. This means that we have LEDs in the lighting systems themselves that provide the light, and the LEDs are driven by so-called drivers, power supplies or converters. These power supplies ensure that the current always flows correctly and that the LEDs also light up accordingly. Before that we have something like a timer or a twilight circuit again. In other words, there are already technologies that have been on the market for a long time, which ultimately ensure that such lighting systems light up at the right time. But that is predominantly all analog technology. Which means that in the end everything there always has to be set manually on site and also monitored accordingly. Or, if something fails, it still needs to be looked up to see exactly what failed.
These timers or power supplies are probably directly connected to the building infrastructure of your customers?
This is partly so. Meanwhile, building automation is not just a buzzword, but a must for all new buildings, because it naturally provides a lot of infrastructure internally. Many lighting installations are connected in the DALI bus system. But the lighting system is still partly a small exotic, so this is not always the case actually. Of course, this building automation always has a very local and limited effect. Especially for large chain stores with several thousand branches, this is interesting locally, but they have no overview of the entire facilities.
What stakeholders are involved in this conglomeration around this lighting system? For example, are these internal or external service technicians? How does that work exactly?
This is solved very differently. We have the classic janitorial service or facility management, where we first check ourselves whether the systems are running well or why they might not be running. Then we have electricians who are called in, freelance electricians who are hired accordingly. Very few have their own service force for this purpose and therefore resort to external service companies. These service companies travel all over the country and repair the systems. That’s also one of the problems at the end of the day: if a system fails, you might even have to go twice. Once a service technician who looks at the whole thing and determines what the damage is – for example, a power supply that fails and costs between 60 and 100 euros. And then he has to go a second time with the spare part. Of course, this is not exactly exemplary in terms of environmental impact either. In addition, the costs are correspondingly high for the operator.
Sven, I’m looking in your direction again now: if I have these power supplies or LEDs in the field, how do I get that data into the cloud when I approach you as a wireless provider looking for an IoT solution? How do I have to imagine this?
So there are several possibilities. We are not limited to mobile communications, which is of course a great advantage. We can connect the devices that the customer already brings with his connectivity via our Cloud of Things, which we offer directly from Telekom, via LAN or WLAN. In this case, it is really a mobile radio interface that we are using here to transfer the data, so to speak, from the gateway – to which the DALI bus is connected and the LichtWART is also connected – directly to the cloud.
To further elaborate for the listeners who do not know DALI bus: This is a specific system known in the lighting environment?
DALI bus is a very proven system, which has been used in building automation and control for many decades. It is, in effect, an indoor wired system. This means that cables have to be laid. Information and control commands are exchanged via these cables. Whether that’s the blinds being controlled, the garage door, or in this case, an illuminated advertising system being switched on and off or dimmed.
Sven, now you had just said that the customer brings the connectivity. What exactly does that mean?
In principle, as I mentioned, the customer can, for example, retrieve and transmit the data at his end customer’s site via a LAN connection that is provided to him. If this is disrupted, for example because an excavator breaks a cable, then of course it cannot guarantee that the data will arrive in the cloud. That’s why we always say that the best way to transmit the data is through your own connectivity. That means he gets connectivity from us in the form of a mobile card. This can be a card, but also a SIM chip – depending on what the industry standard is or whether it perhaps has to be particularly robust or able to withstand special temperatures. This always depends on the use case. Mobile is really the most secure way to transfer the data to the cloud as well.
That is, the mobile card or chip are gateways that I sort of put on this power supply that sends dedicated selected data to the cloud for the individual use case?
Yes, so the first step in this project and in this exciting topic was really to look: Which partner do we use for the hardware? Because we don’t do everything ourselves from our own house, but we have a large ecosystem and a large partner pool that we draw on. The advantage of this is simply that the customer has us as Telekom as a general contractor and a contact person, and we take care of everything for the customer in the background. We first select the right hardware partner and look at which gateway or module we have the possibilities to convert the data from the DALI bus and then transfer it to the cloud via mobile radio using the existing interface.
When the data is in the cloud – what happens then? After all, intelligence must certainly be created beforehand to react when a specific LED fails. Who creates this intelligence? Is that something you’re doing with LichtWART, Gregor?
So we have intelligence built in there in the cloud that Telekom has delivered to us. We have said we need monitoring through this LichtWART module that will give us notification of certain incidents that are detected on site. Telekom has implemented this as the corresponding Cloud of Things, that we have predefined alarms. An example: A power supply unit fails. However, such a system may have, for example, 18 power supplies that energize the entire system. If one of these power supplies fails, then this is detected by the LichtWART module and transmitted to the cloud via mobile connectivity, and from there this alarm is then transported as a message. In this concrete example, the service technician gets an info with “Number 17 is failed”. The operator gets the info that this happened and eventually, if you have organized it well, even the supplier of the power supply can get this info as well. They can send the spare part to the site within two days and the service technician then also knows that the spare part is there and can replace it immediately.
Sven, if I imagine the solution in the cloud: I probably have various building blocks there besides connectivity, an infrastructure on which the whole thing is built. Can you explain how that works exactly?
The cloud is really plug and play for us. We have the ability to click together a dashboard relatively quickly. We have predefined widgets, our Magenta widgets, that we use. In Gregor’s case, however, we really developed our own widgets on our platform because Gregor’s requirement was such that we needed visualization options that our widgets had not yet brought to light. There we had a special requirement. So it goes both ways: You can of course use the widgets of the Cloud of Things, but you can also still develop them yourself. We also did the latter. We have included various topics, such as a calendar function, how to control the plant automatically. We also have operational data readers here, for example. That means we know exactly how long which converters have been running. So that in a service case, when something has failed, you can look to see if, for example, another converter is close to end of life. Then you can replace it at the same time and don’t have to go back to the same customer two or three months later and replace the converter afterwards. This saves another step, and costs and processes are optimized. These are all the issues we can deal with.
Gregor, finally, one more question about the complete solution: What exactly does the solution look like for your customers in the end?
For us, it was important that we really obtain such a solution as a complete solution from a single source. I originally come from a bit of an IT background, and I was aware that if I now ask someone to develop hardware for me, tell someone else to please create connectivity, and perhaps have a third party program an app in some form, that I might then be caught between these three suppliers. And that is quite different here at Telekom. That was the basic requirement for us, that everything starts from a single source. The centerpiece, which was developed together with Telekom, is the so-called LichtWART module. This is an industry-robust hardware part that is installed directly near the illuminated advertising system and receives the information from the lighting systems via the DALI bus, but can also control them. By robust, I mean first and foremost that it runs self-sufficiently and also really has a long lifetime on site. The things are always installed protected from the weather, that’s obvious. But it was important to us, for example, that the module works self-sufficiently. If there is no connectivity to the cloud, all processes that need to take place there are already programmed directly on the module. This means that everything runs autonomously there and the communication to the cloud does not have to be continuous either. We have corresponding time windows in which we can send the data or implement the control commands directly. That was very important for one thing. We have a light sensor there that picks up the ambient brightness accordingly, so you know how bright it is on site at the moment. We also have different time zones, of course, depending on where it’s being used. And what we do: We first measure what is on site. Then we can control by specifying certain values in the cloud. I’ll say now, for example, regulate the brightness of the equipment so that it doesn’t run at 100%, but perhaps only at 80%. And that we are then always in the picture through the monitoring functionalities if something should happen that we do not expect. Those are alarms that are then triggered and then in turn trigger something in the cloud in some way, and we, the operators and the service technicians can respond.
Are you perhaps also talking to individual manufacturers such as LED manufacturers or power supply manufacturers who can give you additional info? That’s probably an insane amount of data that could be provided by the manufacturer, right? Does that interface already exist or is that intelligence that you bring to the table?
If the power supplies are DALI compliant, they already have something like this built in. Of course, we have to talk to the various manufacturers about what their power supplies already support these days. For example, we have a cooperation with Hansen GmbH from Haselund (Danish border), who develop power supplies. For example, they have made the power supplies to be intelligent enough to detect corresponding error patterns, which can be different. There is a difference if I have a short circuit, if the whole power fails or if the LED chain might have problems. We talk to the manufacturers, of course, and we also talk to the manufacturers of the illuminated advertising systems, of course, because it’s also important for them to know when they install something: What works how? What power supplies can we use for this? How can I use the LichtWART module in a meaningful way?
The fact that all these manufacturers already bring interfaces, intelligence in the hardware and a certain openness is insanely relevant, so you can build on that, right?
That is relevant, yes. And there are also developments that are progressing, especially in the field of DALI. For example, the topic of smart cities, where such solutions are important. Of course, we follow these developments and always try to keep up with all the steps. But we are also in the process of developing our own DALI interface. We would like to be able to work with a wide variety of power supply manufacturers ourselves, without being forced to commit anywhere. And Telekom is also on board with us here and is making corresponding developments and the next steps together with us.
Before I get to the actual business model, I would like to ask you, Sven: What is the added value of this project, the result, so to speak, for the customer?
So once the topic of process cost optimization, the automated message that can be generated by e-mail, by SMS or even by phone call from the system. We have here the processing of error messages, reduced process chains, the entire service processes and the response times are an important issue. If the customer really has a failure on the plant, that he does not have to simply accept the failure at one point, but he can shut down the whole plant and the loss of image is thus limited. Those are the roughest issues. But of course also all the SLAs, the service level agreements, that you can make with the end customer again and what options can be granted there. The topic of reducing light emissions is very important, so Green Economy is a relevant point. There are legal requirements that you can only have a certain light level at a certain twilight level in order to protect nature, the insects. All this can be set with LichtWART and wonderfully visualized and monitored. Of course, this is a great added value for Gregor when it comes to official approvals, and it definitely makes things easier.
I’m going to ask a provocative question: Are the authorities actually so digital that this interface is already there? Or are there perhaps approaches for the authorities to become more digital?
Of course, it always takes longer with the authorities. That is absolutely correct. But public authorities and municipalities are also becoming increasingly digital and are adapting to this. Of course, if they didn’t go along with this step, they would also fall by the wayside somewhere and have to join the ranks at the back. They also move with the times and certainly want to save face as well. It’s slower, but it’s progressing there, too. Gregor probably sees it similarly.
Gregor: All right, we deal with the authorities on the other end as well in that we like to make sure that the lighting systems or illuminated advertising systems are approved. There is always this balancing act between the operator, who would like to install a system, and the authority, which of course wants to monitor the requirements to ensure that everything fits in the place where it is to be installed. Until then, this technology did not exist. That’s why the authorities don’t even know that yet. So that’s also part of our mission. To familiarize them with the fact that it is possible to approve lighting systems, because we can monitor everything with the help of this control. By logging the values of the operators, we can prove to the authorities that the plants are running accordingly. And if a neighbor should actually feel disturbed, then you can really go with the neighbor and simply say with the tablet or smartphone: “Okay, dear neighbor, this is too bright for you. We can turn it down a little bit. Does that suit you?”. And if he approves, then the matter is fixed. And this is practically something that the authorities do not know yet. The next step for us, however, will be to make the data available on this. So that we say, “Okay, we can actually demonstrate that with this data that we have available, we are succeeding in complying with what the authorities are telling us to do.”
Sven had talked about Service Level Agreement. This brings us to the topic of business models and pay per use, which is currently on everyone’s lips. How do you see it in the area of lighting systems, Gregor?
In principle, the topic of As a Service has become very broad in the meantime. I think this is also a future topic for the lighting systems or illuminated advertising systems. The only thing is that the illuminated advertising industry is still at an early stage as far as digital business models are concerned. Of course, we try to provide a platform for this. It is our job to be a kind of sponsor for platforms and to develop digital business models. One of them is certainly lighting systems or illuminated advertising as a service. But we are still at the very beginning. But what we can do – by now offering the technology with the digitized data and the monitoring of the plants – is to back up such contracts with appropriate agreements. If someone really needs an uptime of 98 percent, we can now offer such a service as a platform with the LichtWART module, the data that is collected in the cloud and the reports that are generated automatically. This has not happened before and will certainly increase in the coming years. I am firmly convinced of that.
Do you already see an acceptance by the end customer? Or is that something that still needs to be pushed in the market? At the end of the day, this is also a topic that has to be sold first.
There are end customers, some of whom actually get large parts of their own production lines or processes as a service. Let’s take the market for compressed air technology. That’s how it used to be: Everyone had their own compressor, their own line and had to take care of it. Nowadays, he can just buy that as a service. He takes off the compressed air, but the operator of this compressed air system is not himself, but a company that provides him with that. And such an illuminated advertising system or lighting system is also an investment that should pay off over a certain period of time. We’re talking maybe 10 years there, and that’s a model that you can map very well. This means that the operator does not have to worry about anything. If damage occurs, then it will be repaired within an appropriately agreed time. The system is cleaned maybe every year or every two years, which is also an important aspect. And that way, you can make sure that the functionality you want over a period of time X is simply bought in with a monthly amount, rather than having to take care of it yourself. This is certainly something that is becoming more prevalent in the market in many areas.
Sven, once again in your direction: You are not only active in the light area. Can such solutions be transferred to other industries? You probably have a lot of use cases in different areas.
Absolutely. The fact is that we really do have points of contact with every customer in the SME sector in this regard – this can be from the classic mechanical engineering company, it can be from the professional chef technology, it can be from the drain on the flat roof. There are an incredible number of facets. But this is always to be considered completely self-sufficient, because of course everyone has different requirements. Pay per use is also quite often an issue, which Gregor already said, but often the business case has to be behind it. Often these are topics that are for the future. But at the beginning, of course, you start smaller, for example in the smart building area. Just like a Smart City area, there is also a Smart Building area, and that’s where LichtWART belongs, for example. There are many different approaches to solving this problem.
If I want to make my lighting systems smarter – how do I contact you guys?
In principle iot.telekom.com is a page that we provide, through which the customer can test the cloud for 60 days. He can look at the application and see if his business or use case fits in there. Then he can contact us via a central mailbox. In Gregor’s case, he was supported by Deutsche Telekom in the standardized business customer area and the inquiry finally came in via the account manager. It’s the same with many other customers.
And Gregor, if I’m a building operator or maybe a service provider – what’s the best way to reach you?
Our website is called Lichtwart.io and there you can book an appointment directly with me. Since we are indeed a start-up, as the founder I am of course also up front in order to be able to inform everyone appropriately well. There you can also get the first information about the solutions and the services we are working with. Of course, we are also interested in getting the inquiries from the market and taking away learnings for the LichtWART module 2.0, which we are currently developing. To also see if there is a need for more than what the module can already do today.
Thank you for your time, insights and presentations. This is a really exciting project with a lot of interesting topics that are sure to come in the future.