Tools to help you prototype: Raspberry Pi Zero W

This new member of the Raspberry Pi family may surprise you.

With its tiny form factor (around 7 cm x 3 cm) and a relatively good variety of I/0 interfaces, this device promises to bring processing power and radio heterogeneity to Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) and IoT deployments.

It is not risky to affirm that using the Pi Zero W as a sensor node can open a lot of opportunities. From taking advantage of the USB OTG to plug additional wireless communication interfaces (like LTE, LoRa, or others), to install Open vSwitch (OVS) and manage the networking operation of the device via a Software Defined Network (SDN) OpenFlow Controller; the Pi Zero W can handle it.

As exploration on the applications of this tiny yet powerful device continues, it is considered a great tool for prototyping. Give it a try.


Random Thoughts on: Selling Technology

Today, I have attended a crash-course on “Selling Technology”, organized by the Catalan Agency of Competitiveness (ACCIO), in Barcelona. From my position at CTTC as head of the M2M Communications Department, this is always a nice skill to include in the personal continuous improvement cycle.

The course has been pretty interesting, and I just wanted to write down some of the key ideas that I have taken home; of course, I also share them with you.

The opening of the session has been brilliant: “We are all selling, all the time, in our daily lives; when we were born and cried to get breastfeed, and we got it, we closed our first sale.”

Above all the ideas that have been presented in the course, I would like to highlight these:

  • Sales have to be “Customer-oriented”; “product-oriented” selling goes nowhere nowadays. Technology is a means to solve the problems of costumers, not an end by itself.
  • Attitude is a multiplier. This applies to selling and, indeed, to everything we do in life.
  • Selling (as almost everything) needs to be organized, systematized, professionalized, and measured; nothing can be improved if it is not measured.
  • In selling, all is about trust.

STOP! This last one is the one that I like the most. Trust. My experience as a seller – we all sell something, no matter what is your job – tells me that trust is above all. And when it comes to trust, today I have learned about the Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect consists in a cognitive bias that we have towards a person, company, product, or whatever, influenced by a previous experience based on a single “feature” of that person, company, or product. For example: we tend to perceive a person as “intelligent” because once showed to be “intelligent”; and not only that; we automatically assume that this person will have “all the features” that we subconsciously link to all “intelligent people”. The human brain can be wonderful sometimes, for good and for bad.

So, when it comes to selling and trust, it is pretty convenient to build a positive Halo Effect around you, your company, or your product. But above all, about you.

Tools to help you prototype: GNU Screen

Continuing with our series to help you boost your prototyping abilities, this time we will take a short glance at GNU Screen.

Screen is an amazing tool that allows you to create a separate Terminal buffer, independent of the current Terminal session. That is, you may want to enter into Screen through the Terminal and execute some code. Later on, you can log into Screen again and review the execution of your script. Is like a background execution on steroids :).

The tool is packed with several special key-strokes combinations to manage Screens, navigate among them, rename them, detach or close unused Screens, and so forth. I have compiled a very useful example for when you need to execute a remote script using ssh + Screen on the remote host.

Also, I encourage you to take a look at Linode’s tutorial so you can get up-and-running very fast.

Do you know any special Screen tricks? Let us know in the comments section.




Random Thoughts About the Mobile World Congress 2017

This post was originally posted at on March 1st, 2017.

The 2017 edition of the Mobile World Congress is over. It seems that this year all the numbers around the event have increased since previous editions ever since 2005 (12 years ago already);

  • greatest economic impact into the city of Barcelona,
  • largest number of accredited press,
  • greatest number of attendees (more than 100,000),
  • largest exhibition area with close to 115.000 squared meters, and
  • greatest number of exhibiting companies (more than 2,000).

I have been there for 3 full days, walking around, playing with demos, and talking to people here and everywhere. Even though I have done my best, I have not managed to visit every inch of the exhibition area.

Therefore, if you are reading this, please do not treat my thoughts as absolute claims or indisputable statements. What I write hereafter are just some random thoughts that I take back home right now after an exhausting, even though extremely interesting, last day at MWC:

  • Everything tends to be called 5G. Everything. What is true, however, is that 5G will have an impact into everything.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) is everywhere. Everywhere. Not sure if it still makes sense to have a dedicated area for the IoT, being the great majority of booths talking about the IoT in one way or another. The IoT is here, and everywhere.
  • Connectivity of the future: 5G New Radio,  millimeter wavesNB-IoT, Sigfox, Lora, WiFi. These terms have been omnipresent. I am not saying there are no other interesting solutions, but I have found them everywhere in this edition of the MWC.
  • The IoT, comprising both sensors and actuators, will need to co-exist with human-based broadband and media content. Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Slicing seems to be the keys to solve the co-existence among data flows with extremely different needs in massively crowded networks.
  • Missioncritical applications together with strong human-machine interaction about to explode. Ultra-low latency and ultra-high reliability seem to drive the key requirements for communication networks of the future, enabling tons of innovative applications not feasible in the past.
  • Not sure if this is just because of the nice marketing power of Virtual Reality or because of the true potential behind it, but this year VR has been all around the place. Some demos have been really impressive. If the economic impact and business opportunity is close to the “wow” effect it generates, get ready for a great revolution.
  • Key vertical markets/applications that will drive the future of the mobile industry: Connected car, Industry 4.0, Smart Grids, Smart Cities, e-Health, and in a smaller scale, smart homes.
  • The value of data. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data…call it as you wish; technically, there are differences among these terms; roughly and inaccurately speaking, they refer to the same idea: getting value out of data. This is the future…well, indeed, this is the present already. Cloud platforms, IoT platforms, and mobile Apps to store, manage, and process data have been key players into this edition of the MWC.
  • Other stuff of interest: tons of new phones with bigger screens, smart watches, smart earphones, smart wearables, smart glasses, smart cameras, smart drones, … and many more interesting new technologies that will, most probably, play a highly relevant role in the very near future.

My last thought: in this edition of the Mobile World Congress, I have the feeling that it is becoming pretty evident, and generally accepted, that generating value is the key concept, not technology (by itself) anymore.

Tools to help you prototype: traffic generators

Let’s forget about what type of network technology you are using. Now, suppose you want to perform a benchmark for your new network topology, protocol, antenna, or other. Regardless of which of the aforementioned test you want to perform, it should be tested under realistic traffic sources. Also, it might be even better if these sources can be customized to your own needs in terms of: throughput, packet structure, header values, etc.

In these short series I will be reviewing some of my experiences while prototyping proposals and getting relevant (i.e.: publishable) results. So first, let’s talk about tools for creating your own traffic generators.

Realistic traffic?

When we talk about real-world traffic we are usually referring to its characteristics, like packet arrival distributions, intervals between burst, or throughput. For instance, if you plan to test a new MAC protocol that should improve voice quality over a network link, then you should better do performance evaluation of your proposal using source-traffic modelling real voice, and so on.

Some studies are based on real traces, but this can be inconvenient when working with resource-constrained devices (traces often taking large disk space), or use Constant Bit-Rate (CBR) sources employing tools such as iPerf. Nevertheless, these may not accurately represent the source traffic your solution will experience.

If you find yourself in this situation, maybe building your own traffic source is the way to go.


It has been extensively used for many years. iPerf provides a Server and Client options, where you may define the port number and L4 protocol (UDP or TCP) on the server side, and other characteristics, like: throughput, length of test, interval between reports, packet size, and others in the client side.

iPerf is the go-to tool for extracting throughput metrics using CBR sources. It is simple, accepted by the community, and also provides already averaged results.


Scapy is a Python-based library that you can use to create custom packets. Moreover, it provides a very easy syntax for encapsulating different OSI layers in the order you decide. For instance, you may encapsulate an Ethernet frame inside an UDP segment, and then encapsulate that into an IP packet and an additional TCP segment (for whatever reason, the point is that you can).

On top of that, Scapy is very friendly in terms of its documentation, which I invite you to overview before attempting anything. It also works within the Python interpreter, so you can test custom-made packets right away.

As Scapy is mainly a library, you can write Python scripts for controlling the packet generation rate, interval between bursts, source and destination MAC or IP addresses, UDP or TCP ports, and many other features. You may connect it with Wireshark and dissect received packets, or even build your own Client-Server applications.


As Scapy, Libtins is a set of libraries for packet creation, parsing, and sniffing, albeit written in C++. It also provides you with installation guides and a step-by-step tutorial to get you started very quickly.

With Libtins you may write scripts to represent virtually any traffic model, while taking advantage of C++’s speed and portability. I would like to point you to a short tutorial I made on how I used Libtins to a create custom-made applications and simulate high volumes of traffic, a server for it, and a parser for getting every interesting metric I needed.

Did you know any of these tools? What’s your favorite? Care to point us to any other one? Tell us in the comments section.



Europe Builds a Network for the Internet of Things. Will the Devices Follow?

The Internet of Things faces a chicken and egg problem:

Europe is building a network for the Internet of Things before it really has the “things.”

by Russ Juskalian July 19, 2016

With much industry fanfare last month, Dutch telco KPN announced that it had completed nationwide coverage of the Netherlands in a wireless Internet of things network. Like a traditional cellular network, but with far lower costs and energy requirements, KPN’s network can connect sensors monitoring everything from rail switches at Utrecht Central station to depth sounders at the Port of Rotterdam and baggage handling at Schiphol Airport.

A spate of similar Internet of things (IoT) networks are going up in France, Germany, South Korea, and elsewhere across the globe. Still, it remains a question whether enough fee-paying devices will connect to cover the cost of building this infrastructure.

So far, KPN has contracts inked to connect 1.5 million devices, according to Jacob Groote, the executive in charge of mobile services at KPN. Not all 1.5 million are yet connected, he says, and even when they are, it won’t be enough to have a substantial financial impact on the company, which had annual revenue in 2015 of $7.72 billion (€7 billion).

KPN, says Groote, sees opportunities with a variety of customers: governments, which use sensors to monitor infrastructure, such as whether dikes in remote areas are getting too wet and risk failing; corporations, like Ziut, a specialist in lighting, traffic control, and security, which uses IoT sensors to dynamically control lighting intensity along bike paths in Rotterdam; and consumers, who could attach fobs to a bicycle or pet to monitor its location.

KPN shoulders the cost of building the network, though it won’t say how much it has invested so far. Experts say it’s orders of magnitude cheaper to build an IoT network than the billions of dollars in licensing and hardware costs associated with laying large 4G networks. The IoT network operates on unlicensed frequencies. To recoup its investment, KPN will charge a subscription for each device on the network, currently between about $4.50 and $16.50 per year, depending on data requirements.

“The problem is the revenue will only start when the network is there,” says Pedro de Smit, the managing director of Clickey, a designer of hardware devices for KPN and other IoT networks. Already, says de Smit, Clickey has experienced a noticeable uptick in customer sales since KPN announced nationwide coverage in the Netherlands at the end of June.

For growth to accelerate, says de Smit, a few things are necessary. The first is for the KPN network to enable location-based features, which would, for instance, allow a shipping container to be tracked in transit across the country—something expected to go live before the end of 2016. The second is IoT coverage beyond national borders. Siemens, Shimano, and other large companies are very interested in gaining access to IoT networks, but only when there is enough geographic coverage, says de Smit. That may take a few years.

KPN is not the only company building out the IoT. SigFox, a French startup, claims its competing wireless grid already covers 340 million people in parts of 22 countries. The company raised well over $100 million in investment in 2015 alone, and is using the money to expand as rapidly as possible.

The goal, says Thomas Nicholls, executive vice president of communications at SigFox, is to quickly drive the subscription price for each connected device as low as possible—in order to move early adopters onto the network in high volume and attract new users.

Its largest customers pay subscription fees of $1 per device per year, and make up a substantial proportion of the 7 million registered subscriptions that SigFox has already collected, according to the company. Covering the cost of building a nationwide network in a country like France, Germany, or Spain requires only “a few million” subscriptions, estimates Nicholls.

One early adopter is home security company Securitas Direct, which has a million anti-burglary devices connected to SigFox systems in Spain, and another 200,000 devices on its French network. Other KPN and SigFox customers have connected monitoring devices in cows, shipping containers, and fire hydrants.

But it will take more time, and more networks, before we know whether these IoT devices and others will add up to the 30 to 100 billion connected things analysts predict will come online within a decade.



EIT Digital, Aalto and Ericsson anounce successful implementation of Narrowband Internet-of-Things prototype

Aalto University, in collaboration with Ericsson Research and EIT Digital, has successfully implemented a prototype for Narrowband Internet of Things (Narrowband-IoT) system, that can be deployed in GSM and LTE spectrum and is tailored for increased coverage, long battery life, low module cost, and large number of devices.

The prototype is a narrowband version of LTE system targeting machine-type communications applications with low data rate that requires low module cost, long battery life time and increased coverage.

Researchers from Aalto University and Ericsson have been developing the Narrowband-IoT system in the context of the EIT Digital ACTIVE High Impact Initiative that is being carried out in Stockholm, Helsinki and Milan and is focused on creating advanced connectivity platform to support application developers from different IoT segments.

Researches have been developing software defined radio implementation of the physical layer of the GSM carrier version of Narrowband-IoT. This is among the first Narrowband-IoT standalone mode implementations and has been done at the same phase as the standardization by 3GPP.

The Narrowband-IoT system was tested in Aalto campus area in Finland to transmit temperature, humidity and air pressure sensor information from a sensor node to the base station. Narrowband-IoT can be deployed on re-farmed GSM carriers, guard bands of LTE spectrum or using part of operator’s LTE spectrum. Aalto has tested the prototype on 630 MHz band, but the system can be easily configured to 900 MHz GSM.

“This opens up for a wealth of applications where IoT systems can utilise standardised Narrowband-IoT communication in extant spectrum readily available and we expect a number of cellular operators taking up this opportunity commercially already next year,” says Henrik Abramowicz, EIT Digital Action line leader for Digital Infrastructure “That is in line with objective of the EIT Digital initiative ACTIVE that develops advanced connectivity platform, which be applied and verified in the health sector and in the transport sector (aircraft and railways) to deliver mobile broadband services as well as support the management of transportation vehicles”.