Ken Pyle on 5G, IoT and how they are impacted by wireless power

27 February 2020

Ken Pyle is the Managing Editor of Viodi View and Viodi TV. Since 2007, he has produced, edited and/or filmed over 1,000 videos that appear on ViodiTV and/or the websites of vendors, telecom operators, trade publications and trade associations. Ken and I discuss the impact of wireless power on IoT, drones and 5G devices. This episode was recorded in Feb 2020.

Yuval Boger (Chief Marketing Officer, Wi-Charge, @TheChargeGuy): Hello Ken and thanks for joining me today.

Ken Pyle: Well, thank you, Yuval, I appreciate being on your show.

Yuval: So who are you and what do you do?

Ken: I’m Ken Pyle. I have a newsletter, Viodi View, also do video production. We met of course at CES 2020 when I saw a very clever demonstration. One of the things that always kind of pops out as I go through trade shows, I go through way too many trade shows every year probably and see a lot of demos. But when I see a demo that pops out at me, it’s memorable. And seeing that train go around and around and around without any wires, I thought, that’s pretty cool.

Yuval: It has been a crowd magnet and just for those that haven’t seen it, of course, you can see it on our website, but it’s a Lego train and we added a Wi-Charge receiver, just a small photovoltaic cell. And then that gets energy through infrared light that’s coming from the Wi-Charger, our energy transmitter, that at CES was at the top of our booth. So I’m glad you liked it.

Ken: Yeah, it was clever. It really demonstrated what you were doing, so drew my attention.

Yuval: So what does the newsletter cover?

Ken: It covers… When I started it, it was the industry that I came from, which was broadband. And broadband specifically targeted rural areas in the United States primarily, a little bit Canada and nationwide. This surprises a lot of people, there’s still 800 to 1000 small, many of them mom-and-pop type of operations, that are the broadband providers for their areas. Many times these operators, if they weren’t there, there would be no broadband. Many of them started 100 years ago or even longer and they were started by farmers and bankers and local community members who needed at that time may be telephone service.

And then through the years, other kinds of operators came into existence. Cable TV got its start in rural areas because again, there was a need and no one filled it, and that exists still today. A lot of the innovation you see going on, some of the new broadband networks in rural areas, electric co-ops, are actually building those and they’re bringing them out to their subscribers who otherwise wouldn’t be served. It’s amazing. I know of one operator in rural Minnesota who serves about the same area as the Bay Area, but it’s pure fiber to the home, 100% fiber to the home and in that ecosystem, once you get broadband then everything that is internet of things or connected home, smart homes, smart cities, all that stuff, it becomes an ecosystem.

So to some extent, I report on that. About six years ago I got very interested in what Google was doing with its autonomous vehicles and quickly realized there were a lot of parallels to broadband particularly because Google had a broadband effort as well, so it was easy to draw parallels between what they were doing there and what they potentially could do with autonomous vehicles. And again, I think there becomes lots of ties between having communications networks there and autonomous vehicles. So that became an area of coverage of just kind of personal interest, that I think it’s something that has to be monitored, whether you’re an operator, like my audience in the newsletter, or if you’re just interested in tech. And then recently, I’ve really gotten interested in the whole electric flying operation, because that’s another way to meld these rural areas with the urban as well as create new kinds of networks.

Yuval: Out of curiosity, did these mom-and-pop shops, do they get rolled up into larger operators or do they typically remain independent?

Ken: It’s all over the map. I mean there’s some that have literally consolidated over the years. In fact, I’m thinking of a company that’s of that name that’s picked up smaller operators and then they become larger. I mean, the biggest one being CenturyLink now. But that was a company that was literally truly founded as a mom-and-pop small operation and eventually ended up buying US West, one of the Regional Bell Operating Companies. Now that’s in the extreme side, right? I mean they’ve got tens of millions of subscribers and so forth. But a lot of these are literally just to 3000 subscribers. They serve their hometown, maybe they serve some of the area around them. And for the bigger op, a lot of the bigger operators in fact, have abandoned some of the rural areas, because it’s just too hard to operate.

Yuval: What’s the coverage? I mean, what percent of the US is, if you know, is still not broadband? In terms of broadband service to population?

Ken: Yeah, those numbers are all over the map. I mean I saw some recent reports and they’re kind of contradictory, where it’s suggesting that there are still 20 million or 40 million unserved by broadband and defined as 25 megabits down, 3 megabits up, and out of a population of 300 and something million. And it’s funny because it seems like progress has been made and at the same time it seems like it’s molasses or something. It seems like these reports don’t change that much, but there is progress being made.

I think part of it too is the goalposts keep moving to some extent, because of just the way we’re… What would have been satisfying 10 or 15 years ago is now not. But I think one consensus is, the further you can get fiber into the network, ultimately you want that. Particularly in rural areas where it’s challenging to… Like the so-called 5G, which I think we’re going to talk about, the more small cells you have, the more fiber you need. And it becomes less economic if you’re only serving 25 subscribers or something versus 250. It would be in an urban area.

Yuval: So making that transition there, or the analogy, one of the benefits of broadband is that once you have broadband, you could do things that you couldn’t do with dial app or DSL modem, right? You could stream video; you could upload or download files much quicker, you could have a connected home that’s always connected. And when we look at power, wireless power or wired power, we often see that when vendors create battery-operated products, they’re sometimes handcuffed by the battery capacity. There are all these features, all these things that they want to do and they just can’t because that would tax the battery too much or you’d have to replace it every hour, every two hours, instead of every couple of months. Would you agree with that kind of analogy, of how Broadbit changes things and how potentially having more power would allow more functionality in devices?

Ken: Yeah, I mean I think you’re exactly right. Engineering is always a trade-off in what you want to do with what you can do, both economically and practically. And I think that’s what you see, right? You see products that, at the time that they’re introduced or whatever, they’re meeting all those parameters, right? But in an ideal world, it would have been better product, right? But it just couldn’t meet those parameters at the time on a cost-effective basis. You always want more, right? And there’s always more out there, it seems.

Yuval: And so when you cover 5G, what new types of applications does 5G deliver that you’ve seen? And what does 5G, what is it going to need to deliver these applications, whether it’s power or anything else?

Ken: Well, I mean it seems like there’s a lot of hype around it right now. I mean, clearly there are benefits that it potentially offers, right? The latency is one that they’re talking about all the time, particularly talking millisecond type latency. And of course, that only happens if you literally are having multiple cells close to you, where you can do a hand-off and just have that quick handshake and get the data, and computing at the edge and that kind of thing. So that’s one thing.

The other thing that I think still needs to be explored is, of course, the security layer, right? That’s another aspect. I interviewed the CEO of SonicWall about six or seven months ago and that was one of his things that really concerned him about 5G, is that ability to really make sure we’re securing it. He was concerned that we might be going a little fast, but that isn’t answering your question. I mean the latency you hear about, the bandwidth you hear about. But a lot of that can also be done with other means.

You hear autonomous vehicles is the connected vehicle as a use case. I’m kind of skeptical on that personally, just because the idea of autonomous is they’re driving themselves, they don’t need that input from the network. But having said that, clearly, there’s good things about that and that low latency maybe for the person inside the car who’s trying to do gaming, assuming they can. Gaming with someone else is an entertainment type thing. And I think that whole thing of the VR becomes a big application, or any kind of virtual reality if it is low latency because you’re doing something with someone else. And so I think that probably become something that we don’t know what it is exactly, but it could be a big killer application.

Yuval: So 5G, by increasing bandwidth really allows you to cut the data cord. Maybe previously you had to have a video cable or an ethernet cable to get the data and the speeds and the latency that you needed. And now you don’t have to. And the only thing that’s remaining is the power cord, right?

Ken: I kind of overlooked that one, but you’re right. I think with what Verizon is doing, and I literally am seeing this down my street, it’s a huge build, because they’re putting fiber everywhere. But they’re putting these small cells and they’re effectively creating a cableless cable network, right? And to your point, it’ll be connected. I mean, that final 100 feet or 500 feet will be disconnected, it’ll be wireless. And then it does get to that power discussion, which about a month ago I had the opportunity to interview Brian Zahnstecher. He’s an engineer and his life is consulting in power and how do you not use a lot, right? I guess he said the most efficient watt is the one you don’t use. And so looking at the system holistically was a big message he had.

Yuval: One application that people come to us with wireless power, and you mentioned the flying vehicles or that flying objects, is in-air charging of drones.

Ken: Oh, yeah.

Yuval: And until now we’ve sort of waved it off and said, that’s not necessary. let’s focus on things that are more prevalent. But is there, in your opinion, significant value if we ever put our attention to it and really offer a solution to charge drones in-air so you could have something that never has to land?

Ken: Yeah, that’s an interesting idea. I could see an application, I don’t know whether this would be practical or not. Brother-in-law of mine was involved in pipelines and it was $1 million a mile to put these pipelines, natural gas pipelines, to lay them out. I said just, why don’t you put fiber, right? With them when you’re doing it. May not have a use case, but why not put it out there? $5,000 a mile at the most, right? It’d be nothing.

But what you just said inspired a thought of, what if you had, for instance, your IR chargers along this pipeline and you could have a lightweight batteryless almost, batteryless drone, inspector drone, just going up and down these things all day powered by your IR thing, doing the inspection, right? Inspection is a huge deal because obviously we don’t want methane leaks and that kind of stuff. You could have this virtual camera moving up and down the pipeline and if it got too far away, it would just kind of gently crash, right? It could be 10 feet above the pipeline for instance and then if for some reason, it lost power or something, it wouldn’t be catastrophic.

Yuval: So something to think about, the never landing drones.

Ken: Yeah, exactly. It would be like the bridge painters on the Golden Gate Bridge that all their life, they go back and forth just painting the bridge. You could inspect the things.

Yuval: Yeah. Inspector gadget now has a meaning, right?

Ken: Yeah, I think others have talked about powering drones wirelessly for various applications. So it’s an interesting thought.

Yuval: Great. So how can people get in touch with you or learn more about the work that you’re doing?

Ken: So it’s V-I-O-D-I dot com or dot tv or even dot net, but Viodi. So it’s VOD, like video on demand, but with I’s in, V-I-O-D-I dot com. Or you can follow on Twitter at @viodi, just @viodi.

Yuval: Great. And we’ll put, if it’s okay with you, we’ll put a link to the interview that you mentioned with the engineer about the best watt that you use is the one that you don’t, right?

Ken: Yeah, that’d be great. I know he’d appreciate that and I’m sure he’d be a great guest for you, because he could go into detail on a lot of this stuff.

Yuval: That’s fantastic. Well, Ken, thank you very much for joining me today.

Ken: Well, thank you very much and good luck as you continue to roll out your product.

Yuval: All the best. Bye, bye.

Ken: Thanks. Take care.

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