We recently had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Russi Netto, Co-founder and Commercial Director, and Airton Hess Jr., Co-founder and R&D Director of SmartGreen, a Brazilian IoT company focused on sustainable smart lighting and smart metering automation solutions. Headquartered near Sao Paulo, SmartGreen works closely with cities and utilities to build end-to-end IoT integrated solutions, such as the 200,000 smart street lights the company is planning to deploy in Brazil by 2022. While the majority of SmartGreen’s customers are currently located in Brazil, Daniel and Airton share their valuable insights on the growth drivers their company is seeing in municipal lighting and where they see the potential for smart cities in the future.
Tell us about SmartGreen, how did it get its start?
The company was founded in 2012 after merging with another company called Radio Telecom. Today we have 35 employees. From the beginning, our goal has been to offer an integrated IoT solution to customers that encompasses hardware, communications, gateways, the processing layer, and the software and apps needed to manage a device.
Who is your competition?
We have two kinds of competitors. We have local start-ups, but their technology is not as mature as our solutions, and they cannot scale to the level of devices that SmartGreen can handle. We also run into international competitors from time to time, but these companies tend to have challenges entering the Brazilian market due to local pricing and technological barriers.
What sets SmartGreen apart from other companies with similar offerings?
We can operate more devices in our mesh network using Zigbee 2.4GHz than the competition and remain competitive on price. We also have close relationships with our customers. Most of our lighting customers have limited technology expertise. Therefore, they depend on us heavily because of our technical expertise, and this dynamic helps us establish strong customer relationships.
What is driving the demand for lighting projects?
We see some of the demands driven by regulatory issues. However, we also see a lot of the demands coming from city managers who are interested in automating city infrastructure to improve overall operations of their city, and municipal lighting is a good place to start. City managers value the energy savings and the reduced workload for fuel operations teams.
Tell us about your commercial lighting product.
Our primary smart light product is the SGIP7, which replaces the photocell and gives the luminary the intelligence it needs to be automated. We sell the hardware, gateway, and endpoint for street light projects and offer SaaS packages, including software licenses, upgrades, cloud capabilities, and ongoing technical support. Our network communications standards are high, but even if the network goes down for some reason, our devices can continue to work and communicate with other sensors and devices. The Zigbee mesh network, combined with Silicon Labs’ wireless technology, enables the sensors and devices to communicate with each other without the gateway.
What about your smart metering solutions?
For smart metering, we sell two different kinds of endpoints to utilities – network interface cards and smart meter modules. We have two types of modules for residential usage, including external modules that connect to standard meters and modules for smart meters. Our smart meter modules remotely read energy consumption for utilities, which reduces the need for utility workers to be dispatched to residential homes for readings and turning on/off electricity connections.
How is business right now for lighting and metering applications?
We see significant growth in our smart lighting business, while smart metering projects move more slowly. Utilities have a more complex decision-making process, and they are still waiting for a wireless standard for smart metering to emerge, so between that dynamic and this space being fairly regulated, projects can be delayed and/or slow to start. Yet, smart lighting purchasers are not concerned with technology standards but are focused on performance and cost benefits instead. Of course, they want the technology to be certified, but smart lighting is not regulated like smart metering, so we see a lot more activity and growth.
Why did you decide to use Silicon Labs?
We use Silicon Labs’ first-generation Zigbee module after coming across this Bluetooth chip when we acquired Telegesis. We recently decided to upgrade our IC modules and tested several other competing devices, and Silicon Labs performed the best. Therefore we plan to upgrade to the MGM13P Mighty Gecko Zigbee Module in the near future. Silicon Labs solutions have always worked very well for us.
Zigbee modules continue to be our preferred protocol for our products. We have tested quite a few different protocols in the past but ran into performance and cost issues. The Zigbee protocol and architecture, along with Silicon Labs’ Bluetooth mesh module, works exceptionally well for street lighting applications because of its reliable high performance, low power, and built-in security capabilities.
Where do you see IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
We are excited about our energy management applications in the enterprise market and see a great deal of potential in the future. Because our technology platform is already built into many Brazilian city infrastructures and the contracts are long-term (lasting anywhere from 20-30 years), we see a major opportunity to evolve into a multi-service network for cities. Our municipal customers want to explore other automated services on our platform, such as using environmental, traffic, and utility sensors to help them operate their cities more sustainably and efficiently. Silicon Labs’ Mighty Module solution is helping SmartGreen make this extension of our customer offering possible because of its cost-effective performance abilities.