Internet of Things (IoT) | Internet of Things (IoT) Applications
Circle Gas scales their Legacy IoT Solution to support thousands to millions of customers
Circle Gas determined that scaling IoT solutions went far beyond building and deploying AWS infrastructure and required more finesse than originally thought.
KopaGas was formed in 2013 by a Tanzanian businessman and a mechanical engineer who teamed up to bring a clean cooking alternative to charcoal and kerosine to low-income earners across Africa. They developed an accurate, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) meter for liquid petroleum gas (LPG) by capitalizing on the emergence of mobile money in East Africa.
Circle Gas was founded in January 2020 to scale-out KopaGas’ PAYG service. They needed to take KopaGas’ Internet of Things (IoT) solution from the initial 1,000 customers to 250,000 customers by the end of the year with the capability to support the ultimate business goal of two to three million customers.
The duo designed and provisioned their IoT solution at a time when current IoT leaders were still building out their standardized IoT services. This meant that when Circle Gas acquired KopaGas, they were left with a functional prototype that used pre-standardized IoT services and technology. While it supported their initial 1,000 devices, KopaGas’ IoT solution was not scalable, and Circle Gas found themselves in need of a new solution from the ground up.
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After trying to build an Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT solution themselves, Circle Gas determined that scaling IoT solutions went far beyond building and deploying AWS infrastructure and required more finesse than originally thought. After this realization, they started searching for third parties to help build a truly scalable solution. As Circle Gas CTO John Gillespie said, “whilst the AWS technology is there and is documented and it’s not that hard to configure yourself, there is a world of difference between doing it and doing it right.”
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After making the determination to leverage a third-party experienced in building and scaling IoT solutions on AWS, Circle Gas found there was a surprisingly small pool of companies who had built and deployed AWS IoT solutions at scale. Circle Gas elected to have Trek10 – whom they’d briefly engaged with a few months prior – build their IoT solution. When asked why, Gillespie responded, “Trek10 stood out as people who had done it before to the point where they were able to give us a fixed cost deal. That experience and confidence was attractive.” The decision to go with AWS was in part due to their developer-friendly reputation but ultimately Circle Gas chose the cloud environment they had the most confidence in.
Paramount to Circle Gas was scalability and reliability in their new IoT solution. They leveraged Trek10’s IoT Foundations solution - a ready-to-go, proven IoT architecture template that is able to be customized to fit unique parameters and needs. Starting with three online discovery workshops, Trek10 worked in-depth with Circle Gas to understand their unique business requirements for a functional IoT solution. “What Trek10 did was not just configure the thing, they helped us think through how it should operate,” said Gillespie.
As they worked with Trek10 to determine the solution architecture, Circle Gas had two additional requirements:
1. Better, timely, and more accurate access to data to ingest and process for analytics
2. Secure, 100% reliable communication between solution and meters to better serve customers
Additionally, an architecture built on AWS provides services that enable the team to offload infrastructure management tasks and focus on achieving their end-goal of reaching millions of customers.
To accomplish Circle Gas’s goals, Trek10 leveraged several core AWS IoT services:
AWS IoT Core – A platform that enables Circle Gas to connect IoT devices to AWS without needing to provision or manage servers while making it easy for Trek10 to use AWS and Amazon services to build IoT applications that gather, process, analyze, and act on data generated by Circle Gas’ connected meters without infrastructure.
AWS Lambda – A serverless compute service that allows Circle Gas to run code without provisioning or managing servers, creating workload-aware cluster scaling logic to maintain event integrations or manage runtimes.
Amazon DynamoDB – A fully managed key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance for Circle Gas at any scale.
Amazon API Gateway – A fully managed service that makes it easy for Circle Gas to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale. It handles all the tasks involved in accepting and processing hundreds of thousands of simultaneous API calls.
Amazon CloudWatch – A monitoring and observability service built for DevOps engineers, developers, site reliability engineers (SREs), and IT managers. It provides Circle Gas with data and actionable insights to monitor their applications, respond to system-wide performance changes, optimize resource utilization, and get a unified view of operational health.
Amazon Kinesis – A scalable and durable real-time data streaming service that makes it easy for Circle Gas to collect, process, and analyze real-time streaming data so they can get timely insights and react quickly to new information.
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The engagement with Trek10 spanned three months for execution – far ahead of the actual meter production – due to a global shortage of microcontroller units (MCUs) caused by COVID-19 related supply chain issues. However, despite the roadblocks to rolling out their IoT solution, Gillespie was pleased with the results along the way, “I thought it was useful that we had the communication well defined and thought through and could essentially offer that as a requirement which influenced the design on the meter. Serendipitously, it helped to build a better product in the end.”
Circle Gas’ legacy IoT solution is currently supporting their 50,000 customers while their new Trek10 solution is in test with promising results. With the new solution anticipated to go live soon, Gillespie reflected on Circle Gas’ experience with Trek10, stating, “We found them easy to work with. Clearly, the team has the depth of experience we were looking for, they hit the deadlines, and delivered the work we were looking for.” By the end of 2021, Circle Gas aims to scale to 250,000 customers and will work at scaling their solution upwards of two to three million.
About Circle Gas
Circle Gas is revolutionizing energy access for clean cooking in Africa. It provides a reliable and low-cost supply of LPG fuel for clean cooking to low-income households by using innovative smart metering and advanced distribution logistics. This fuel displaces the use of harmful and dirty charcoal and kerosene in the home. Circle Gas investors span both corporations and individuals, including the leading Kenyan telecom – Safaricom. Circle Gas is committed to building a commercially sustainable business that also contributes to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in energy access, health, gender, climate, and innovation.