By 2030, the EU should cut its emissions by half – and be completely climate-neutral by 2050. A large and ambitious goal that requires massive investments in the expansion and research of renewable energies. The energy transition will therefore increasingly become one of the focus topics in the IoT Use Case Podcast and we will show which IoT use cases and technology partners can support here.
Episode 75 at a glance (and click):
- [10:07] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
- [19:23] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
- [28:22] Results, Business Models and Best Practices – How Success is Measured
Podcast episode summary
This episode is about a system that can increase the acceptance of wind energy. Wind turbines are a thorn in the side of many nowadays – they blink almost all night, which not only comes at the expense of the environment and energy, but also costs residents their sleep. Episode 75 revolves around the only system approved to date that uses a transponder system to automatically detect when an aircraft is approaching and only then switches on the lights to avoid collisions in the airspace.
The podcast guests for this episode are Telefónica Germany and Lanthan Safe Sky – represented by Marcus Neudecker (Senior Business Development Manager IoT, Telefónica) and Christian Hammer (Chief Operations Officer, Lanthan).
Hello Marcus; you are Senior Business Development IoT at Telefónica Germany. You are known as one of the largest publicly traded telecommunications companies in Germany, also known as “O2”. Your core business is international telecommunications services for consumers and business customers. You are also active in the field of innovative digital products and services, as well as in the Internet of Things and data analytics segment.
A few more KPIs from Telefónica Germany: You have over 45 million mobile lines and 2.4 million broadband lines. In the process, you act as a network operator, connecting not only networks but also the people behind them. Have I summarized this correctly?
I enjoy listening to the IoT podcast; there are very clear practical examples and the episoded show how diverse the topic of IoT has become in the meantime. At Telefónica, one of the things I’m working on is which focus areas will be relevant for us in the future. Examples from the past are that we operate digital fleet management and deal with topics such as Smart City or areas such as Industry 4.0. As a division, we are responsible for the entire go-to-market in the business customer segment with a clear focus on IoT for companies operating in Germany and beyond internationally. In doing so, we support sales units, from mid-sized sales to multinational companies on all topics related to IoT. In other words, the networking of things. And we help business customers to network their assets, their devices, sensors or plants.
It is not always just a matter of providing SIM cards; we provide companies with full support in the realization of – often cross-border – IoT projects. It starts with the selection of the right commercial model, advice on the appropriate radio technology, such as narrowband, LTE-M, 4G or 5G; new topics include campus networks. In other words, how to plan and operate them, right through to marketing the solution.
So you guys are very diversified and you’re not just dealing with telecom operators, you’re also dealing with the holistic solutions behind it, with the individual teams. You are on the road with a wide variety of customers. Who did you bring with you today and how did you meet?
I’m with Christian Hammer from Lanthan Safe Sky today. The first talks between the two of us must have taken place around 2017 or 2018. We have a weekly opportunity call at our company, where it’s about what requests are coming from sales and where IoT project support is needed. At that time, it was a test phase for networking the components. On the Opportunity Call, we do an internal mapping and prioritization of individual projects. We get a lot of requests there. We currently see that a lot is happening at this point right now and the need is very high. The question is always where can we give our tips; so where can we support? Of course, we cannot help everywhere.
For us, that was exciting and new at the time. We haven’t heard of the “BNK” (German abbreviation for: demand-driven night marking) issue either. We know what municipal utilities or the logistics sector need in terms of connectivity. BNK from Lanthan Safe Sky was new to us. We said, “Let’s take a look at this and support it.” Today we are sitting here, and it turns out that the decision to set up such a project was the right one.
Christian, you are Chief Operations Officer at Lanthan Safe Sky GmbH. You are the first approved manufacturer for so-called “on-demand or controlled night marking of aviation obstacles via transponder signals”. Your signals ensure that the lower airspace is safe at night, yet not brightly lit. This is important for nature and affected residents.
Many will know what you do. As an example, when you are somewhere in the evening on the road in the car and you see the lighting of the wind turbines. You have 40 experts in aviation, wind energy and project management. Have I forgotten anything?
This is all correct so far. I am a technical engineer, working in the wind industry for more than 15 years and originally from the automotive industry. For more than a year now, I have been responsible for the operational business of Lanthan Safe Sky as well as for product management and product development, which are also located there. In the technology we provide for our customers, we build a bridge. We call it a “bridge between safety-oriented aviation and the often very solution-oriented wind industry”, and are associated with wind energy in that we want to make our contribution to its acceptance.
To classify the role and the product that we put together and assemble for our customers, this tripartite is crucial, which is made up of the competence and what is needed to bring such a successful product to the market in the end. It is precisely this expertise that is found at Lanthan Safe Sky.
From the field of avionics, we have a company that brings deep expertise in the field of aviation. We have a company which supports us very much, which has a lot of experience in the wind industry from the onshore and offshore sector and our name giver, the Lanthan GmbH, which has several years of experience in the international sector for the marking of aviation obstacles. All this expertise, is what this successful history of Lanthan Safe Sky is built on.
Marcus, what use cases did you bring and which ones are we looking at in detail?
The last time I visited, we talked about networking electricity meters and smart metering. Overall, it is the case that we network companies from a wide range of industries. We see numerous fields of application here, especially in the context of the energy industry. Whether it is in the field of electromobility, charging stations or solar parks electricity meters or wind turbines. As mentioned earlier, wind turbines are nothing new in that sense. This BNK topic was completely new for us and that’s where Lanthan Safe Sky is today, presenting in detail what’s behind this solution and showing how exciting the topic of networking and digitzation is – because it shows very well that digitization is an essential part of this sustainability, and also of the new digital infrastructure. That things are just networked together and there are so many more possibilities.
All information about Lackmann or co.met I link again in the show notes.
Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice [10:07]
Christian, I’m interested in the vision regarding digitization. You’ve already addressed your systems and plants. Can you frame that for us, how that works and looks liek, so we can talk about the vision afterwards?
The wind turbines out in the field are visible to everyone and as such are an aviation obstacle – at least from our perspective. The problem is that these wind turbines as generating units for clean energy and electricity, and for operation need appropriate peripheral systems. The peripheral systems fall into several categories. Our peripheral system provides support in the area of acceptance or in the integration of wind turbines into the environment. It is important to us that wind energy and acceptance are always considered in conjunction. That is why we have developed this technology, because for us wind energy and acceptance are inseparable.
Why are you even going into networking these plants? There was probably a manual process for this before, where they didn’t use the data.
The components that we bring out into the field to run the system for demand-driven night marking need to be networked for this integration. For this networking, we consider two market segments from our point of view. One market segment is the networking of modern wind turbines, which can be easily upgraded and connected in wired structures. The other market segment is in the older plants that have older infrastructure that cannot connect enough for this necessary connectivity requirement.
The need for reliable networking lies in this system design. We like to use the image of modern motion detectors for the air space. Our systems monitor the airspace for air movement. Aircraft with transponders are detected. This “traffic data” must be sent very reliably and stably to a central evaluation unit, which is located at another server, where the decision is then made according to the air movement and the set parameters whether the light for the aircraft must be activated or not. This is the path back from the central server to the wind farm. Again, it’s very important to have that stable connectivity.
What does a wind turbine look like from the inside? Tell us something about your daily business.
These wind turbines, as we see them out there in a wide variety of generations and sizes, are essentially built in such a way that it has integrated or positioned in its nacelle, to which the rotor is attached, all of these systems that it takes to run these systems. We, as a company for such a peripheral system, also assemble our receiving device next to the equipment located there for the operation of this system. This device is then networked to the central server.
That is, when you say receiving device, that’s practically your transponder, right?
Correct, but there are, colloquially, variants of interpretation. It’s called transponder receiver. That is the system we are installing. And you talk about the transponder itself that sends out these signals that we receive. This transponder is aircraft-bound.
Can you tell us more about what your challenges are, or your customers’ challenges as well? There are probably also some legal obligations where you are also involved.
The legal framework is also a good place to look at the journey of demand-driven night marking. This means that the politically desired energy turnaround requires the corresponding expansion of wind energy as an essential component. With the expansion and growing numbers of wind turbines, the issue of acceptance is becoming more and more present. Thus, the system has been enshrined in the text of the law that the acceptance must be brought along with the wind turbines by making the demand-driven night marking mandatory. These obligations put us in the situation to realize our product in the shortest possible time, because these obligations were linked to an equipment obligation. This equipment obligation, in turn, meant that we had to find a simple, fast, reliable and cost-effective solution to network these systems.
We always talk about data. You’ve already talked about traffic data from airspace. Which ones are relevant for you beyond that?
The data from the transponder is what we need to determine the position of the aircraft precisely enough. This is various information that the transponder outputs, which we then use for the evaluation.
So above all, evaluation data and traffic data of an aircraft are important to then also process the data again in your transponder, so that you know, at the end, for example, the lamp has to light up, right?
Exactly, the transponder data is collected via the traffic data receiver that is installed on the wind turbines, and then we essentially use a cellular connection that then sends that data to the central server, which is not located at the wind farm, to then do the evaluation and switching decision. This is then sent back to the park at the end via mobile radio, to the beaconing systems.
There are probably both legal requirements and requirements that you have set for Telefónica as to what such a system should look like and what is important. Can you give some examples of that?
The word “critical infrastructure” is significant. Wind turbines as such are part of a critical infrastructure, and our signal acquisition, at the wind farm as critical infrastructure, must also meet corresponding requirements. So we have to be able to say – this is also relevant for testing – that the system has an approval, a type certificate. There parameters are attached to these connections … this secure connection of traffic data receiver and server. Therefore, criteria must be met that are primarily linked to speed and safety.
Then it’s probably also a question of driving forward mobile connectivity in generally everywhere in Germany in the sense of: It must be available. This then requires reasonable data communication again.
Absolutely right. Not only the security of the network, but also the stability. This is because the system is designed in such a way that in case of doubt, if data packets are lost along the way, the light is activated. And then we can only fulfill the value promise to a limited extent. That’s why it’s important to us that this mobile connection for these data packages is reliable everywhere.
Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used [19:23]
Marcus, that’s a lot of requirements for you, and probably a familiar one. Lanthanum has come to you with these requirements. How did you start the collaboration?
The mobility and mobile connectivity requirements were significant, of course. The thing is, this quality aspect has to come from somewhere. A lot has happened there in the meantime; people often only talk about the network or the SIM card. In the context of IoT, it’s far more than that. At PayCo, on the one hand, we run the network, we monitor the supply … But we also see that with companies like Lanthan Safe Sky, it’s extremely important that they can monitor things on their own. We therefore also provide digital tools to make precisely this quality available again as a service to their customers.
It’s sometimes thought of as too easy. You just have to keep in mind that if you network hundreds of plants or several thousand sensors, it is already a task to create transparency here, where the connectivity is correspondingly stable. How is the quality of the connection? And that you create transparency in real time. That’s why we actually always talk about Managed IoT Connectivity here. In the end, it’s still mobile; but Managed IoT Connectivity as a total package for companies like Lanthan Safe Sky meet the requirements in general and quality requirements.
You implemented different components of hardware, mobile radio and also the evaluation at the end together as a project and developed the demand-driven night marking together. To start again with the hardware: How does data acquisition work in the first step?
First, it is important to first differentiate between wind turbine operational data and this BNK solution from Lanthan Safe Sky. Today we are talking about the BNK solution. Data acquisition and communication is carried out by components acting on the plant side. Basically, it’s relatively simple: The switching commands are forwarded from the SIM card via the Telefónica network to the cloud infrastructure, where the data is processed and sent back. For details on how exactly this logic works, Christian is the expert.
Data is acquired via an antenna system that is suitable for capturing these transponder signals. These are then processed in a central evaluation unit and routed to the server via mobile communications. Specifically, these connections are encrypted for cybersecurity and system certification requirements. This is encrypted traffic data that must be packaged in this way for cybersecurity purposes. Communication on this path takes place via an IPv6 scheme, which must be possible in terms of unique and decoupled addressing of the components. This is a very important quality criterion for this application, which was made available to us by our partner.
Building on that, Marcus, you guys provide different tools on the part of Telefónica. You have to design the mobile network accordingly or supply various components. What tools exactly do you provide here?
There are generally four components. What are the elementary building blocks of an IoT connectivity solution? It starts with a special SIM card. The devices are installed high up, so you also have large temperature fluctuations or harsh environmental conditions. It is therefore important to use special SIM cards that are designed and specified precisely for such applications. The SIM card ensures the identification of the user and the device in the network, so that data can be transported over the network. What is important here is nationwide mobile coverage, quality of service – in other words, bandwidth and the certainty that a network is available.
Last but not least, the connectivity management platform. Our solution here is the Kite Platform. The Kite Platform is a Telefónica in-house solution. It is practically the heart for IoT applications and connects the physical and digital worlds. In general, the Kite Platform is about keeping an eye on connectivity as well as cost consumption and security. From there, complete control of connectivity and integration with existing cloud systems takes place.
And finally, the tariff. This forms the commercial bracket. An important factor: what does it cost in the end? But the tariff has to be designed in such a way that you have the flexibility. When solutions scale, become larger or are also used internationally; we have a very flexible tool here with the Kite Platform to implement tariff functions very precisely and very individually to the requirements of our customers and often from the IoT applications. For entrepreneurs from Germany, it is a huge advantage if we act as a central point of contact from here to network the solutions not only in Germany, but also throughout Europe in other countries, and to provide customer service accordingly at the same time.
To summarize, there is a receiving device in these wind turbines. That will be hundreds and thousands in the field. You provide the various SIM cards that are used there in large numbers. Then you have a server where the evaluation or the data storage works, and then this data ends up in your Kite Platform, where individual data is then managed and the evaluation takes place.
We are ultimately the link. We connect the components in the wind turbine with the cloud. We make sure that communication takes place. The complete evaluation of the data, the control of the transponders and the like … that happens at Lanthan Safe Sky. We provide Lanthan Safe Sky – that is, the Kite Platform – with this digital tool to keep an eye on connectivity at all times and say, “How is the quality? Is everything working? Are there any glitches?” I can control the life cycle of the SIM card. I also have various dashboards that help to run a solution and appropriate quality.
We don’t just say, “It’ll be fine!” Instead, you have to make sure that the quality is right at the end of the day. Here, the Kite Platform is simply the link between the physical and digital worlds. Through this tool, these two worlds are merging more and more. We are the information superhighway and ensure that the highway functions well and runs smoothly.
If we take another look at the platform, which is the link, the data analysis must also work, because the goal is to be able to make a mapping of whether the lights are on or off and what the current state is in each case …
That’s right; on the “server environment” – meaning that there are multiple servers that we need to route the provided data over this “data highway”. The data provided as a link is realized there with our own data evaluation software and then returned to the wind farms via the data highway.
Results, Business Models and Best Practices – How Success is Measured [28:22]
How to save costs or what is also the potential turnover? Christian, for you this is a long-term project, which you continue to expand and which started as a test phase and continues to grow. Behind this, however, lies a very specific strategy. What’s the business case behind it for you?
The journey begins at the end of 2018, in that we had discussed the first business opportunities. At that time, the first legal framework for this acceptance tool BNK was also created in Germany. This primarily relates to the aforementioned period in which we considered wind turbines, taking into account the relevant framework conditions. It is this business case and this market volume that we have focused on first and foremost.
If you look at the expansion targets of the federal government in Germany, it will also continue to play a role in the expansion of wind energy. This means that we have 16,000 wind turbines in our inventory for retrofitting in Germany, distributed among various BNK system providers. Our vision is also to roll out this valuable tool for acceptance in neighboring countries, but initially in the countries bordering Germany. Marcus and I have already talked about that as well.
Marcus, you’ve been working together on this project for a long time. Can you say something more about your experience so far to share best practices as well?
What is always evident – and this was also the case here – is the theme of “showing perseverance”. We see in IoT projects that sometimes it takes longer. At that time, we had the issue with the smart meter rollout. It is still a young market that is developing. There are numerous players. We also see from the podcast how many exciting solutions suddenly open up there. It is very important to simply give things time; to also gain experience by means of Prove of Concepts. Whether everything then always pays off, that is not guaranteed – but it simply shows that many things make sense and you should go along accordingly. For us as a company, it is also a transformation, as it usually is anyway, because we are used to selling tariffs. And see there that it is very important to choose a consultative selling approach to understand in general what is the need of the customer and how we can help with these tools, a kite platform or also with SIM cards, that a customer makes his solutions intelligent and networked.
The collaboration between the customer and the company at the end is important. There are many appointments, you coordinate and have queries. How can we find a suitable solution together so that it works in the end so that everyone is satisfied.
Such a partnership will probably also be based on trust and require good coordination.
Marcus, looking into the next steps, how is your platform evolving?
There’s a lot coming. The Kite Platform is our in-house solution. It is the central element for IoT applications. We get customer feedback on what resource is needed, and then that is inputted accordingly and updates are provided.
What is a relevant topic is cloud integration. We already have various connections to a system, such as an AWS or other softwares, where it’s a matter of how can we feed the connectivity parameters into existing IoT platform applications in order to provide a fully comprehensive solution? This is a topic that is becoming increasingly important; we are also talking to other systems such as SAP or Siemens to drive such topics forward.
Beyond the Kite Platform, the network is also an important element, which is heavily promoted in the residential sector. A lot will happen in the direction of 5G technology, because the technology itself brings a great many advantages.
Shorter latencies mean that the digital world is increasingly merging with the physical world. A good example here is the topic of “digital twin”, where complete real-time images are created, enabling new things to develop as well. You start with that, you want to network something, and new approaches or ideas emerge from that. We as a telecommunications company are then highly interested in supporting these thoughts and standing by the customers as “trailblazers” for digitization.
Thank you for your time, Marcus and Christian, for reporting from your project! Thanks also for all the comments and insights.
Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to meet and share here. I think the topic of digitization in everyday life is very exciting. See you then!
I am also very grateful to have participated in the episode. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to more projects. Take care!