Derek Wallace of LoRa Alliance On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives

…While there are scenarios like video surveillance, machine automation and autonomous vehicles (e.g. large mining tractors) where the huge bandwidth 5G provides is optimal, the vast majority of massive IoT use cases involve sensors that don’t need large bandwidth and often are situated in places where 5G services may not be available or are not able to reach the sensor (rural, inside basements, elevators, tunnels, etc.).

5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?

In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Wallace.

Derek Wallace leads the fantastic marketing team at the LoRa Alliance and brings over 25 years of experience marketing technology, industrial IT, and communication products and services globally. Most recently, he was Director of Product Management and Marketing for MultiTech, responsible for the increased revenue and profitability for the entire IoT/M2M portfolio, including one of the largest suites of LoRaWAN products in the industry. He has worked across multiple parts of the value chain and around the world, with stops at Ericsson in Copenhagen, Orange Business Services in London, StrategyMix in Sydney, and US West in Minneapolis. An active volunteer, Derek spent many years coaching ultimate frisbee teams around the world and is very involved with his Alma Mater, Carleton College, as part of the Alumni Council and leader of the Engagement Work Group. When not working, Derek enjoys traveling, reading, and ultimate frisbee.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Iam a seasoned data technology and IoT marketer and began my career at US West Enterprise, the data communications arm of US West, one of seven US Regional Bell Operating Companies. This position was my first introduction to data technology which led to my interest in IoT and M2M. It put me on a path that eventually led me to land roles in Copenhagen, London and Sydney which ultimately got me to my position as the VP of Marketing at the LoRa Alliance.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

While living in Copenhagen and working for Ericsson, I frequently had to work with clients from all over the world and was also a part of a multinational team. I quickly learned how to collaborate with different cultures and to see things from a non-American perspective. This experience laid the foundation for the rest of my career in global roles and ultimately dovetailed nicely with my role at the LoRa Alliance where I continue to work with people from all over the world to promote and drive the success of the LoRaWAN standard as the leading open global standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT LPWAN connectivity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” ” — Colin Powell

This quote is relevant to me because it truly reflects what I’ve learned from working all over the world. One of the main things I learned while living in Europe and Australia is that people don’t care where you went to university or what your name is. All they care about is whether you are capable of the job, willing to work hard, and are you respectful. This is clearly a gross simplification of what people outside my home country in the U.S. think, but understanding that results, and how you treat people, are what mattered (and if you fail, learn from it and try again) to people who didn’t have a history with me helped me be a good colleague and perform well.

When working with people from any country, I try to keep this in mind: treating people with respect, working hard, and not letting failures define you is what will ultimately lead to a successful career.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are two people I credit with my success. The first one is my Father, Lester Wallace. I grew up underprivileged and in a lower economic bracket and was the first person to go to college in my family. I had zero experience with networking, the business world, or even with what to expect at college. But none of that mattered because my dad instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do as long as I worked hard and was respectful. The values my dad imbued in me have served me my whole life and shaped who I am as an adult.

In the business world, I credit much of my IoT success to Daniel Quant, my manager at MultiTech in 2015, who helped build my skills that eventually led to me being offered the chance to join the LoRa Alliance. When I met him, I didn’t have a lot of IoT knowledge or experience, but Daniel taught me a lot about the field, LPWAN technology in general and LoRaWAN in particular. His guidance, knowledge and support provided exposure to the global IoT industry, and I know I wouldn’t be at the LoRa Alliance without his influence.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Having worked in the field of product management most of my career, I’d have to say emotional intelligence, being able to see other people’s perspectives and accountability have been the three traits that have served me the most. When you develop and market a product it is necessary to work with every unit within an organization (engineering, finance, sales, marketing, etc.) to successfully pull it off. The hard part of doing this is getting everyone on the same page and performing the work that needs to be done even though you don’t have direct management control over the people from each department. I’ve had to learn to be flexible and see things from their perspective and figure out how I can help them do their job so we can ultimately deliver the product to our customers.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?

At the LoRa Alliance, we are always working on scaling and increasing deployments of the LoRaWAN standard as this helps drive adoption and enable even more IoT use cases. A particularly exciting initiative is LoRaWAN for Good. We’ve been running this campaign — with the valuable assistance of Semtech — in support of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides a roadmap for a more sustainable planet now and for years to come. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the elements every country and organization must strive toward for a peaceful and prosperous planet. Though we do not have an official relationship with the UN, as the de facto platform for low power wide area network connectivity for the IoT, the LoRaWAN standard is abundantly utilized in use cases such as food production, environmental monitoring and health and safety that support these global goals.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?

At a high level, 5G is the fifth generation of broadband cellular networking technology. It delivers very high data rates to enable automation, ubiquity and streaming applications, as well as IoT applications using video to automate machinery or requiring high bandwidth. There has been a significant jump in performance from 4G to 5G, but when it comes to low power wide area networking, broadband cellular network technology may not be optimal to support IoT use cases such as metering, leak detection, asset tracking, etc., where long life sensors that consume very little energy, are often in very difficult to reach locations (e.g., underground, behind physical barriers), and/or use low volume data transmission are required. This is where LoRaWAN comes into play. It compliments 5G by addressing low power communications while freeing up 5G bandwidth to address more of the IoT use cases that require high data rate transmissions. In fact, LoRaWAN and 5G will complement each other in the quest to enable IoT use cases globally.

Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.

The ability to leverage 5G and LoRaWAN together offers significant opportunities to improve our lives. LoRaWAN can communicate with millions of devices that are hard to reach and procure information from them. That data can then be sent to the cloud using 5G where its use with AI, machine learning, or simple data visualization will improve services for people in a broad range of areas.

While there are scenarios like video surveillance, machine automation and autonomous vehicles (e.g. large mining tractors) where the huge bandwidth 5G provides is optimal, the vast majority of massive IoT use cases involve sensors that don’t need large bandwidth and often are situated in places where 5G services may not be available or are not able to reach the sensor (rural, inside basements, elevators, tunnels, etc.). This is where using LoRaWAN complements 5G as it can reach those devices in challenging locations — and enable them to operate for many years on a battery — for status checks, diagnostics, and even command and control scenarios. As stated above, 5G can then aggregate the data acquired from LoRaWAN and send it to the cloud or on-premises data platform. This combination of LoRaWAN for LPWAN connectivity to sensors and assets and 5G for data aggregation and backhaul communication, along with 5G’s ability to serve high data IoT use cases, provides a great strategy for enabling the IoT use cases of today, and those we can’t imagine yet of tomorrow, than either technology would achieve on its own.

Turning to examples:

  • LoRaWAN can reach deep into mining tunnels to monitor workers and equipment status, significantly reducing the danger to the miners themselves
  • LoRaWAN can be used in basements/underground to monitor pipes for leaks, preventing damage and wasted resources
  • LoRaWAN can cover an entire building, making it ideal for safety button applications such as housekeeping workers in hotels being able to silently request help if they encounter unruly guests

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?

The potential drawbacks ultimately are less about the technologies themselves and more about communication and earning/maintaining trust. Vendors across the IoT ecosystem — including 5G and the LPWAN space — must be very clear about what the technology is, what it does and how it is being used to improve people’s lives, provide more services, conserve our planet’s resources and any number of other applications address the needs of the population the technology serves. Being clear and open about this ahead of time can help prevent people from drawing their own conclusions — often negative or based on incorrect information that filled the information void. The issues that have come up often are the result of organizations’ failure to communicate effectively, and transparency is key to keeping people focused on the benefits of the technology and the advantages it provides. It’s not the be-all and end-all of addressing this issue, but it is a very important first step.

Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?

It is true that the rollout of 5G infrastructure is just getting started, which means many areas are simply not served yet or underserved. Even as 5G is rolled out to cover the same footprint of 4G, there will still be plenty of areas where those services are not available — rural areas in particular or LPWAN IoT use cases that 5G isn’t optimal to support. This is where complementary LPWAN technologies like LoRaWAN can step in to minimize the digital divide and provide numerous services that improve health and safety. Relative to cellular, LoRaWAN networks are simpler and lower cost and provide coverage over longer ranges. In addition, LoRaWAN offers network deployment flexibility with the choice of public (like 5G) or private LPWAN networks, which can be deployed anywhere at a much lower cost than cellular. For these, and other reasons, LoRaWAN makes an effective choice for supporting traditionally underserved areas and allowing them to benefit from the IoT. Some examples of projects using this technology include:

  • CareBand helps caregivers check in on their loved ones and enables seniors to stay out of the hospital and remain independent for longer.
  • Kerlink’s LoRaWAN gateway technology powers a UN water-monitoring program serving refugees by monitoring water levels in real time, providing unprecedented visibility into usage and resource management, and ultimately ensuring refugees have safe, potable water.
  • Lacuna Space promotes the conservation of endangered species by monitoring bird calls in remote areas, using LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) satellites to provide LoRaWAN coverage at any point around the globe.

Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Empathy is being able to understand other people’s perspectives to work with them effectively and enable successful global collaborations.
  • Curiosity makes you want to always be learning, both from your own research but also from those around you, as technology is constantly evolving.
  • Networking by connecting with those around you is helpful for advancement and awareness, and also contributes to learning new skills and information to strengthen your performance and give you the ability to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
  • Adaptability to deal with the constant change that accompanies all technology fields, including telecommunications. Success relies on being able to take what you’ve learned and apply it in a continuously evolving industry.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have to take this opportunity to call attention again to LoRaWAN for Good, which has the opportunity to impact many facets of daily life around the world. What’s so unique is that these are all solutions that clearly help people and the greater good. At the same time, a strong business model is backing these solutions and businesses are already achieving success and profit deploying these solutions. It’s amazing to see socially conscious businesses finding a viable path to serve others while achieving business success as a result.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn more about the LoRa Alliance by visiting our website or following us on Twitter.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.


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