How to read the offer of IoT devices or GPS trackers for e-bikes

To turn an e-bike into a smartbike, you’ll need to integrate an IoT device. This market is developing very fast, with different players using the same vocabulary to describe very different hardware propositions. There are many criteria to consider when choosing the IoT product to be integrated into the e- bikes. It is important to understand the main differences of IoT devices in order to make the right choice of technology, price, features…

In this article, we won’t talk about the GPS trackers you can find for the aftermarket. We are aiming to bring information about real innovations and high-quality IoT devices for e-bikes. The IoT device is integrated into the e-bike by connecting to the electric kit. This connection allows the supply of energy to the IoT and the data gathering from the e-bike. The connection is standard if the IoT provider has made integration developments to capture data and communicate with the electrical kit.

IoT e-bike
Velco IoT device – Nuotrax, the connected handlebar

Communication and transmission protocols for IoT device for e-bikes

UART or CAN protocol for e-bikes?

There are 2 main communication protocols used on the e-bike market, UART or CAN. UART is the historical one, a “point to point” link that can be quickly limiting to build complex ecosystems with several actors. CAN protocol is the one used in automotive industry and is becoming the benchmark for the electric bike market.) Is provides a good immunity to noise and electrical parasites and is a real data bus (vs Point to Point) so many devices can be simultaneously connected and thus report several profiles and typologies of e-bike data.

Bluetooth, LTE-M or LoRa?

Bluetooth/BLE, 2G/LTE-M and LoRa are 3 common data transmission protocols with different characteristics, prices, benefits.

Bluetooth/BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is a fairly old technology (1994) that has evolved with the use of smartphones, and that is now extremely widespread and compatible with almost all mobile terminals. One of the strengths of the technology is its cost, allowing a more affordable price than others for IoT products. The so-called short-distance range of this technology is limited (up to 100 m) and usage data and functionalities are only available when the user is connected within this perimeter.

2G/LTE-M or cellular technology is embedded on the vehicle, intelligence is therefore not carried by the smartphone. For 2G, these are frequency bands used for connected objects, which will gradually be supported by LTE-M (Long Term Evolution for Machines). Vehicle and usage data are automatically reported in real time and can easily be shared simply between several actors (cyclist and brand for example). Not limited by range, cellular technology allows for better reliability of vehicle and user safety features, statistics, maintenance information, etc. At Velco, we’ve chosen LTE-M, future-proof technology natively included in 5G.

LoRa, which stands for “Long Range Wide-area”, is a low-speed network dedicated to connected objects. This protocol makes it possible to transmit data over a distance of up to 15 km in cities and can reach 45 km in rural areas. The proposed service will be substantially close to that obtained with an LTE-M solution, with a better autonomy linked to lower power consumption, but with less responsiveness on the move and a lower data rate, which will make updates complex or even impossible.

It is important to choose an IoT device that can evolve over time to ensure durability through regular over-the-air (OTA) updates, enabling the operation, improvement and safety of device.

Integration of IoT on e-bikes and data mining 

assembler vélo électrique

Some connectivity providers have an aftermarket positioning, which is deeply different than players managing integration. Velco conceives and manufactures its own IoT devices, made in Portugal and France, with high quality standards. Velco IoT products are designed with a view to facilitating integration, with a digital platform dedicated to bike makers for them to pair, test and have traceability on products. For integration, it is very important to choose a player that built its offer as a digital ecosystem, in order to facilitate and manage this process. As for maintenance players, to offer a turn-key solution to easily identify failures.  

Velco offers a software suite with web apps dedicated to each player of the industry: bike makers, e-drive system manufacturers, brands, fleet managers, maintenance providers. This SaaS suite offers many advantages to implement solutions rapidly and to allow customers to benefit from future evolutions of the suite.  

One crucial question in the creation of a smartbike will be ‘who owns the data’? It is a very different mindset if the data is closed to the connectivity provider. At Velco, customers are fully owners of their data.