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Zigbee inside the Mars Perseverance Mission and your smart home




Have you been following the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars in February? It was fun to watch as the robot landed on the surface of Mars, ready to explore. And it’s been even more mesmerizing to watch as videos — with sound — and pictures have made their way back to Earth. Part of the technology that makes the communication between the rover and NASA possible is Zigbee. 

My ZDNet Jason Squared co-host, Jason Cipriani, and I recently had the opportunity to interview Tobin Richardson, the CEO, and president of the Zigbee Alliance, about this project, as well as the future of the Zigbee wireless standard. 

Jason Cipriani: Tobin, thanks for joining us today. If you don’t mind, tell our readers and listeners a little bit about yourself. 

Tobin Richardson: Tobin Richardson, CEO of the Zigbee Alliance. I’ve been with the organization for the better part of a decade and first joined Zigbee Alliance to help it get into smart meters around the planet. And then, as it became a more mature technology, I stayed on as a CEO to help the organization grow into a lot of different market segments, which is why you’re seeing us in smart homes, smart buildings, industrial automation, and its use on the Perseverance Mars mission.

Jason Perlow: We have occasionally discussed Zigbee and other wireless data communications technologies used in the home automation industry and other verticals such as wireless sensors and industrial control systems. For our listeners who may not be familiar with it, can you tell us a bit about the Zigbee standard and the typical use cases? 

Tobin Richardson: It started almost two decades ago, and I had some experience with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth early on when they were more on the proprietary side. Those two have excellent use cases, but the use cases that drove Zigbee early on were around Personal Area Networking (PANs) or industrial wireless sensor controls and networking. This was based on an IEEE 802.15.4 standard, specifying how to implement that standard with what we call the Zigbee Stack. And early on, that was really about lighting systems, industrial controls, and wireless sensor control networks. And that was the first area where it entered the marketplace.

Jason Perlow: Today, the Zigbee protocol has a maximum transmission rate of 250kbps. That’s significantly slower than other low-power data communications protocols like Bluetooth Low Energy which caps out at about 2Mbps. I understand that there are important differences between the two in how they perform and what situations you might choose one over the other, and what distances they are effective at. Do you see them as complementary technologies? 

Feature Set



Frequency Operation


2.4Ghz and 900MHz

RF Channels






Cell Nodes



Bandwidth/Transmission Rate




10 Meters

> 100M using 2.4Ghz, 1km with Sub-Gigahertz

IEEE Standard



Tobin Richardson: So, as an organization, we have a lot of different technologies and applications. The number of technologies we have and how we relate to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi use cases is growing. Zigbee can have up to thousands of nodes and is a much longer range. There are other use cases where there are one or two devices, and it’s OK to use the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth standard for those. For Zigbee, we’ve seen it grow for lighting applications, especially if you are at the San Diego Convention Center. At one point, I think virtually all the lighting there was done with ZigBee; you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of devices off a single network controller. So it’s perfect for really large, diverse networks, and the range is still pretty impressive. 

On Zigbee, you’re going to get 50 meters using a Smart Home application. On Bluetooth, you’ll experience drop-off on your headphones or speaker after five or ten meters, depending on your specific use case. Bluetooth is doing some good work. And a lot of these standards will evolve. And we’d love to see what Bluetooth and what Wi-Fi is doing in a lot of complementary areas and where Zigbee continues to evolve. The original Zigbee stack is on revision 23. So we keep growing, exploring how that looks, how the technology functions, and it’s got a really good sweet spot around diverse networks that take advantage of mesh.

Jason Perlow: What is the history of the protocol, and where are we at today with its feature set, with 3.0?

Tobin Richardson: It’s been a fascinating kind of evolution. And honestly, one of the things that have kept me personally involved is how the standard is evolving. So if you think back to where it started, Wi-Fi, at that point, was really about the network — so a typical use case is a laptop or a desktop and an access point, where you’ve got a limited number of devices. You’re just really throwing packets over a network and gaining access to a web server, and for things like that, it’s fantastic. Zigbee came in with kind of the same approach; we’re just going to connect all these devices, we’re going to figure out how the networking works. And then we’ll just let people figure out what they’re going to do with that, with one node connected to a controller or another node connected to 25 different nodes, let them route appropriately. So that’s kind of the origin story, as you have these really lightweight communications. 

You mentioned the new 250Kbps transmission. When you’re looking at the packet sizes and things like that, you’re not going to be serving web pages over that. But also, you might build a light bulb; I might make a light bulb, and someone else a light switch. And if we’re all doing that, in proprietary ways, all our on-off commands are different. And as you and your audience probably know, you can argue about on and off and what that looks like; you would think it’s binary. However, it’s not quite so much in terms of how you turn that into something that’s implemented. Again, this is part of that evolution, where we started, it was about how to apply the IEEE 802.15.4 standard and choosing how best to do the networking, and getting into the application. 

So for Zigbee Alliance members, there were many lighting companies and a lot of building automation companies who effectively were doing things a little bit differently. However, they said, let’s build a standard, let’s agree on what that looks like, let’s agree on what on and off looks like, let’s agree on what kinds of currents we’re going to use, as well. So this turned into a new area of work for the Alliance, but it was still tied together in one stack. And so you’ve got the Zigbee professional networking component, we started building this application layer on top. And that’s really what’s led us to where we are today, in the Zigbee stack. 

We still have a flexible mindset. But we could have a lot of applications in medicine — cool. Let’s go off and do that. We might have some really good energy applications, so let’s define that application layer in energy. Super. How about home automation? Great, let’s go to that. 

But in home automation and energy, both have thermostats. So are we going to define thermostats differently? And these separate application profiles, okay, we’re defeating the purpose. So we brought that back together — and that’s what Zigbee 3.0 is today, which is a really good natural evolution, right? So today, 18 years later, starting with the lightweight personal era and industrial, you now have a full-stack Zigbee 3.0 standard that defines all this. And that’s in our revision 22. We’re working on our revision 23 right now, where we’ll start getting into usability across various hubs. And it’s all part of that kind of Zigbee evolution, to standardize as much as possible with that alignment of the nodes. So the controllers all work together seamlessly, with a consistent language for those devices that are attached as well. 

Jason Cipriani: What role is Zigbee playing with the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity drone on Mars?

Tobin Richardson: I had the good fortune of being part of a retreat put on by Amazon five years ago, where I met the project lead for the Mars Rover and finding out about amazing work that they’re doing, which we didn’t even know about early back then. And I don’t know if Zigbee was part of it. But this is about communication between the rover and the helicopter. The helicopter flies autonomously when it’s up in flight, but it can transmit data back about the location or other information about battery and things like that when it lands. So it’s the mission telemetry that can get back to it. You’ve got a Zigbee 900 megahertz radio on the rover and another one on the helicopter itself that can communicate that way.

Jason Cipriani: Why is Zigbee suitable for data communication between the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity drone? What sort of data is being transmitted? 

Tobin Richardson: Zigbee is the way to go. And, and I will defer kindly to them and let them explain that, but from my perspective, I think we’re making a lot of sense for them as the low power component to this with the low data rate. Looking at really extreme environments, like Mars, it’s good to have a very lightweight purpose-built standard. So it was built up from that perspective, where it’s essential to get the basic information across and makes it possible for extended battery usage for those kinds of applications on Mars. I haven’t seen a power system up there yet — I don’t think Matt Damon’s put in one yet, as far as I know. I believe that that low-power component makes it a really attractive solution for that application as well as the sub-gigahertz frequency range for longer distance communications.


Anatomy of the Ingenuity Mars Semi-Autonomous Drone


Jason Perlow: From my understanding of how the Ingenuity drone works, it’s semi-autonomous; it’s not a fully intelligent thing. It’s more like a ride that you would see in an amusement park running down the track — an invisible telerobotically scripted, pre-programmed route that uses telemetry that will be sent between the rover to the helicopter. As I understand, that track can be adjusted on the fly as needed, but on Mars, there is no Global Positioning System, so any positioning and navigation are being done with cameras and sensors. A lot of telemetry signaling occurs between the drone and the rover and then back to JPL through the four Mars satellites. Zigbee at 900Mhz has a maximum effective distance of about 3000 feet, so that’s within the mission profile of what the helicopter is doing. You’re not going to want to do a 3000 foot Wi-Fi transmission or even a Bluetooth connection. I can barely get Bluetooth to work 15 feet away from my desk, let alone 3000 feet.

Tobin Richardson: These technologies have great use cases, right? And no, not at all, not good Bluetooth or Wi-Fi use cases. This is not the right application for that. There are a lot of challenges in the operating environment too. We were talking about this on the team as this became public what other real-world cases there are where this might be useful. I’m not going to say there are Mars-like environments on Earth, but there are places where it’s difficult, and you need high reliability — remote areas that don’t have access to a lot of the power capabilities in just a typical building. In places like pipelines and other remote areas, where you want to get good telemetry and want something that you can rely on, there are many good use cases there. And yes, Mars, this is one of those use cases.

We’re fascinated by what’s happening over this implementation. I think there are a lot of areas really in power usages, such as the transmit power and the transmission rates, and getting a better understanding of how that operates, in negative 40-50 degrees Celsius environments, we’re really very curious about how that works and in terms of what we might learn from that, as well as packet delivery failure. Zigbee is really good for that in terms of retries and things like that. But those are a few of the areas that we think would be really interesting to learn from. Of course, this is a demonstration project, the way that NASA JPL has described it, they’ve set the expectation that this is the first time they’re trying, so they’ve already learned a lot in terms of the data. We certainly hope that they can get good separation, get the missions and the flights to do they’re expecting to, and get some good learning from them. 

Jason Perlow: Is Zigbee involved with any of these emergency field worker apps, like text device capabilities — like potentially putting a Zigbee chipset inside a smartphone? So, for example, If a 4G or 5G network infrastructure were to go down in an emergency situation, would it be possible to do mesh network texting and maybe some rudimentary burst voice capabilities between handhelds?

Tobin Richardson: You know, you should be able to do that, but I’m not familiar with these directly. I know there are organizations like FirstNet that are looking to serve first responders as well. It’s happening with fire departments; those are the things you’re talking about, right? There are areas in which the technology is being used in new ways, such as in those field environments, such as where you’re dropping sensors to track where the fire line is in a wildfire. Certainly, from a human perspective, tracking people in distress is instrumental in positioning emergency signals. So certainly, those are areas that Zigbee can be used. And, and as we evolve as an organization, there are other technologies we have in our house, with this common language for devices that we think can be used across technology. So not just a Zigbee network, not just a narrowband IoT, or 5G, but you can do a mix of those together and effectively have one common language kind of going across those different mediums.

Jason Perlow: A lot has been discussed about Amazon’s new mesh network, Sidewalk, for use in its Echo smart speaker devices, which is implemented over its built-in Zigbee transceiver modules. Zigbee has been designed to be secure so that it may operate over private networks and not interfere with or cross-traffic with other nearby Zigbee networks. Amazon has altered the use case by having all of their Echos, regardless of who owns them, communicate over Sidewalk to share firmware patches and such. What is Zigbee’s position on this? Do you feel there is a good use case scenario for public mesh networking with Zigbee outside of Amazon’s Sidewalk?

Tobin Richardson: That’s an interesting question; I think we’re still kind of in a wait-and-see on Sidewalk and see where Amazon goes. Amazon is very active in the Zigbee Alliance. In fact, they’re on our board of directors; we have some terrific engineers and principal architects that participate both in the Zigbee side and Project CHIP (Connected Home over IP) and in the MACfi stuff that we do within the Zigbee Alliance. Having a little bit of latency, I think in terms of the public networks, the way Amazon is doing it, that’s a fascinating approach. There are some areas that we want to look at a little more in dealing with privacy and security. And as you said, in terms of how secure this is, how the mixed networks operate together. And that’s an area that we want to investigate a little bit more, let’s say for now, but right now, a little bit of wait and see on Sidewalk.

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Jason Cipriani: Narrowing down more on Zigbee, how does the relatively new IoT Thread protocol compare? I say new, only in that consumers can finally start using it with Apple’s HomePod mini and some accessories. 

Tobin Richardson: In terms of low power mesh networking, we really kind of are sitting in the same area. The Zigbee network is not native IP, necessarily.  Of course, you can easily map to it, and you can address a single device on a MAC address and things like that. So it’s not without addressing, but the notion of IP has been one that we’ve been tracking closely over the 20-year history of the organization. And Thread came around right about the time as an organization we were looking at developing a similar low power IP stack with a lot of the same functionality. When we learned about that, with our sister organization, we said, do we create a competing one, or do we partner with them, because we knew that that language is going to operate not just on Zigbee networks, but also on other IP networks. So we decided at that point that we would partner with Thread Group. And we’ve contributed quite a bit to their development as well, even on the McAfee side of Thread. And so we’re effectively a good sister organization with Thread Group. As they get to commercial rollout, we will have an application layer on that and Project CHIP. The differences today between Zigbee and Thread today are mainly around the IP addressability, probably the most known difference between the two. But we see a lot of synergies there with the organizations. Today, if you want to build a quickly usable product and in virtually every ecosystem on the planet, Zigbee is a great choice for you. As you look at this evolutionary piece, we kind of see this competence in terms of IP with Thread as a fantastic solution. And, and we think the right language and the right standard on top of that will be Project CHIP on top of Thread. And that will have a lot in common with what we do on the ZigBee side and the development side will be a lot easier there as well. 

Jason Perlow: Is there a Zigbee 4.0 in the planning stages yet? What improvements can we expect to see from Zigbee in the future? Have we improved data rates?

Tobin Richardson: Zigbee 3.0 is kind of how we’re describing the complete stack. We did that when we brought the different profiles together. And so we’re continuing on that path. Right now, we’re working on our revision 23. One of the biggest functionalities in R23 is focused on what we call “All Hubs.” And that’s effectively trying to get all the hub operators to effectively treat devices with the same route joining processes and other pieces. So there’s a lot of good improved functionality for consumers. Hopefully, consumers will just enjoy it in a cleaner, crisp experience getting devices into the network, regardless of which hub or devices they use. Also, we’re going to be adding some support for sub-gigahertz in R23. So we’ll start taking advantage of other channels and frequencies. And we’ve had some demand for that in different markets and market segments, whether it’s home automation and smart energy, as utility companies want to try and reach larger places. Sub-gigahertz and 2.4 gigahertz have different behaviors regarding how they act with interference and barriers, and sub-gigahertz in big thick concrete buildings is a nice solution. In the UK, we’ve actually already done that. So we’ll bring that over into our R23. So I don’t think we’re going to be calling it anything different, but there will be more functionality in the next release, which should be a really good improvement for consumer experiences on smart homes. 

Jason Perlow: Thanks, Tobin. Looking forward to everything that Zigbee is doing on Earth and other planets.


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Best telepresence robot 2021




How can remote workers make their presence known in their organization? How can enterprises overcome the limitations of video conferencing and enable a level of communication and collaboration that approaches on-site interaction?

Telepresence robots have been on the scene for the better part of a decade, though as global upheavals reshape work and reorient attitudes toward remote participation, the technology may finally be primed to break out of its niche user base and go mainstream. The timing is fortuitous: The market is now mature enough that consumers have choices when it comes to feature set and price point. As companies downsize physical locations and revamp their policies toward distributed workforces, telepresence offers both technological benefits and collaboration advantages that will appeal to some employers and workers alike.

The current telepresence lineup reflects the range of use cases and intended end-users out there, including a handful of models designed for specific fields and workflows, as well as others that fit organizations of any size. They were chosen based on a wide survey of this growing product category and by speaking with company representatives and end-users about their experience.

These are our picks for the best telepresence robots out there right now. 

Best budget telepresence


In the battle for low-cost, truly robotic telepresence, OhmniLabs has been giving rival Double a major run for its money. 

At under $2699, the Ohmni Robot weighs just 20 pounds and folds up, meaning you can take it anywhere, but still manages all the functionality you need in a telepresence robot. It features wide-angle, low-latency streaming at HD+ resolution and real-time full-resolution zoom to read whiteboards or see fine details at full UHD 4K detail.

A secondary dedicated wide-angle navigation camera lets you see around the base of Ohmni while you’re driving, which you can do remotely from just about any standard device. The unit features a bright 10.1-inch screen and integrated Jabra speakerphone for great audio. It doesn’t have automatic rising and lowering like Double, but the robot can move its head side to side for natural interactions.

OhmniLabs is also thoughtful about who might use the device, which has dual-band Wi-Fi radio with full 2.4GHz + 5GHz support and optimized background scanning and roaming for large spaces. Full 802.1x support means it should be simple to run on business or school networks.

$2,699 at Ohmni labs

Best bang for your buck


Where the Double 2 used a tablet display, Double 3 replaces the iPad with a fully integrated solution using an Nvidia Jetson TX2 GPU, two Intel RealSense depth sensors, two high-resolution cameras, and a beamforming microphone array. In place of the iPad is an integrated screen and new feature sets, including AR overlays, that really step up the functionality and feature set game of the Double.

Some of those features include a new click-to-drive interface, obstacle avoidance, and pan/tilt/zoom video, all of which contribute to a fully immersive remote experience that’s still intuitive to use. Perhaps the biggest functionality upgrade is the addition of mixed reality overlays. 

In Double’s version of mixed reality, virtual 3D objects are added into the video stream to appear as if they’re in the real world. Virtual objects include helpful waypoints to make the video feed more informative during navigation. 

The Double 3 with charging dock runs $3,999. If you already have a Double 2, you can upgrade your current device with a Double 3 head for $1,999.

$3,999 at B&H

Best telepresence for high-end corporate settings and hospitality


With the Ava Telepresence robot, remote users easily and safely navigate through large workspaces, event spaces, and retail spaces with an enterprise-grade video conferencing system designed to make interacting with people on-site feel natural.

Unlike lower-priced models, the robot features intelligent, autonomous navigation. Remote users simply specify a destination, and Ava automatically moves to the desired location while avoiding obstacles. The technology is slick: The robot utilizes advanced mapping to learn the local environment and create a realistic map of the area, which enables it to navigate at the push of a button. Obstacle avoidance we’re used to seeing on autonomous mobile robots in fields like logistics and fulfillment enables Ava to navigate around people and avoid tumbles down the stairs.

Perhaps Ava’s biggest selling point is its form factor. This is one sleek unit, making it ideal for applications in client-facing offices and sectors like hospitality. 

It’s also secure. Embedded enterprise-grade security (including encryption, secure HTTPS management, password protection) means Ava is well suited to a corporate IT infrastructure.

View Now at Ava Robotics

Best desktop video conferencing


Meeting Owl is a 360-degree video and audio conferencing system that automatically focuses on the people speaking in the room. It doesn’t move, so it’s not a robot by most definitions, but its autonomous functionality makes it an excellent and highly affordable tabletop system for individuals and teams that routinely conference and collaborate remotely.

Eleven-inches tall, Meeting Owl uses an eight microphone array to pick up sound and lock in on the person speaking. Remote viewers on the other end get a panoramic view of all the meeting attendants and a close-up view of the current speaker.

The system comes in original and Pro versions. The Pro version improves on the Meeting Owl’s 720p picture and increases audio pickup range from 12 feet to 18 feet, which is especially useful for larger teams or any collaboration utilizing a whiteboard. 

The system integrates with all the major video conferencing services so usability is a snap. The Pro version goes for $999.

$999 at B&H

Best telepresence for education


Kubi is an inexpensive ($600) robotic docking cradle for tablets that augments the teleconferencing experience you’re used to with the addition of movement. 

During video conferencing, the remote participant can steer the cradle to look around a room. “Kubi” means “neck” in Japanese.

That makes it a particularly useful device for team environments where one participant is remote. The remote worker sits at a laptop or desktop but is able to look around the room to engage with speakers, which the device’s developers say enhances the interactive experience. 

An enhanced audio kit and a secure docking retrofit to keep tablets secured to the base make them good options for educational environments where learners have to beam into larger classroom settings and engage in conversations but won’t necessarily have to move around the classroom. 

$600 at Kubi

Best telepresence for conferences and large events


Anyone in tech or a tech-adjacent industry will be familiar with the sight of telepresence robots roving around conference room floors as virtual attendants beam in remotely.

Beam is comfortable in offices and is used by some of the biggest companies in the world, but this robot from Suitable Technologies really shines in conference settings, where it’s nimble enough to bounce from keynotes to breakouts to hallway banter.

Beam has four wheels (the pro version has five for increased stability and maneuverability) and wide-angle navigation cameras. The entire ecosystem was built in-house, which means participants must use Beam’s app. 

The advantage is security, which is best in class. Using industry-standard technology such as TLS/SSL, AES-256, and HMAC-SHA1, Beam encrypts all communication that travels through our system to ensure your calls remain private and secure.

View Now at Beam

Best telemedicine device for healthcare


VGo’s parent, Vecna, knows the healthcare sector, so it makes sense that the company has developed a telepresence robot that enables healthcare providers to deliver lower-cost services and improved quality of care virtually. 

Telemedicine is certainly having a moment as providers figure out ways of reducing in-person visits, but the robot has also been used to enable homebound students to go to school virtually. 

Using the VGo application on a PC or Mac, an internet-connected person located anywhere connects to a VGo in a distant facility. VGo can be shared by a set of people or dedicated to a single person using standard web accounts and permission settings maintained by the admin.

VGo is lightweight, contributing to its excellent battery life, which is best in class at 12 hours. That makes it ideal for clinical environments and hospitals.

View Now at VGo

Advocating for telepresence 

Offices are coming around to telepresence solutions for remote workers, and the recent health crisis has put the transition to distributed workforces into hyperdrive. Teachers and school administrators are now also embracing remote learning, which, in the short term, can quell infection rates — but, in the longterm, may be a way to maximize limited resources while bringing needed services to students.

Markets and Markets estimated the overall telepresence market will be over $300 million by 2023. However, that market research doesn’t take into account the rapid adoption of remote work due to COVID-19 or the expected long-term effects of the global stay-at-home experiment on attitudes toward remote working. Pivoting out of the pandemic, many companies may embrace a partially distributed workforce, which is a huge opportunity for developers of telepresence and video conferencing systems.

For workers, employers, and IT pros who wish to advocate for telepresence systems, the most important strategy is to tout the collaborative benefits of the technology and to have a plan for implementation. Robots in the workforce carry a longstanding stigma. Coupled with lingering resistance to remote work situations, existing biases on the part of employers or employees could stop the proposed adoption of telepresence dead in its tracks. 

But advocating for telepresence as a way of maximizing collaboration and approximating the productive magic that happens in unstructured interactions in hallways and face-to-face chats can help mitigate concerns. As can explaining that most telepresence systems are ready-to-go out of the box with intuitive user interfaces. The technology is carefully designed not to need extensive training to use. After all, most humans don’t need training to have natural interactions in person.

What to look for in evaluating telepresence robots

The biggest questions to ask are who might use a telepresence solution and in what settings. If you’re just looking to enhance video conferencing without spending big bucks or implementing new processes and protocols, solutions like Meeting Owl or Kubi would be the best places to start.

However, for those willing to embrace the dynamic features offered by a mobile robot, consider whether your environment is client-facing. A slick robot like Ava makes a great impression, although it comes at a price. 

For most SMBs, models from Double or Ohmni are likely to be smart bets. They’re relatively inexpensive and provide a seamless user interface. A company can get by with one shared robot to start and easily scale up to meet needs.

After all, once one remote employee gets a robot doppelgänger, it’s likely others will want them as well.

Other options to consider

The goal of telepresence is to seamlessly integrate remote workers into physical locations. But, in 2021, with work totally transformed and record numbers of workers staying remote for the foreseeable future, that use case may have less urgency for office workers. (The use case for telepresence designed for medical professionals, however, has never been clearer.)

If all of your colleagues are remote, as well, there’s not much call for a robot that can roam the halls. If you’re stuck at home and suffering from epic levels of Zoom fatigue, I’ve had excellent luck with Facebook Portal, which integrates video conferencing with all the functionality of an Alexa-powered home assistant. It’s not technically a robot, but it does bridge the gap between the standard webcam and the fancier telepresence robots on this list. For the time being, and at least until more workers migrate back to offices, this is a very solution for seamless video conferences from home.

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Best cyber insurance 2021




Cyber insurance is quickly becoming a must-have amid cybercrime, ransomware, and daily threats. The problem is that wading through insurers is a bit daunting. With that in mind, I went shopping. 

For large enterprises, cyber policies are increasing the cost of doing business. Large firms such as Equifax, Marriott, and SolarWinds all had coverage to cushion the hit from high-profile data breaches. Smaller enterprises may not have the coverage.

Also: What is cyber insurance? Everything you need to know | Cyber insurance roundtable: Why cyber insurance has a supply issue

I have a few working theories about the cyber insurance market.

  • This year — 2021 — will be the year that cyber insurance evolves significantly. It’s possible that cyber insurance will be required for businesses much like home and auto.
  • The market is dominated by massive insurers targeting large enterprises, but there will be segments of the marketing targeting mid-sized and smaller businesses.
  • Cyber insurance could be part of a cloud services stack. For instance, Google Cloud’s partnership with Munich Re and Allianz is a start, but cyber insurance could be resold by cloud providers, web hosting, and other parts of the business technology stack.
  • While cyber insurance may become part of a tech bundle or at least easier to acquire, there will be multiple players gunning for policies in a fragmented market. Reportlinker projects that cyber insurance will be a $70.6 billion global market in 2030, up $5.6 billion in 2019.

In any case, cyber insurance scouting needs to commence for businesses. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the top 20 cyber insurance providers accounted for 92% of the market in the US.

Features risk mitigation tools


According to NAIC, AXA is the cyber insurance market share leader based on standalone policies. AXA’s cyber insurance covers North America and writes policies for data breach response and crisis management, privacy and security liability, business interruption, data recovery, cyber extortion and ransomware, and PCI among others.

AXA also provides risk mitigation resources via partners and an online service called CyberRiskConnect. Here’s a sample policy

View Now at Axa cyber insurance

Three flavors of cyber insurance


AIG’s cyber insurance can be standalone or added to an existing policy as an endorsement. AIG also offers three cyber insurance products.

  • CyberEdge, which covers the financial costs due to a breach as well as first-party costs.
  • CyberEdge Plus to cover physical world losses caused by a cyber event including business interruption and property damages.
  • CyberEdge PC, which can be added to traditional property and casualty policies.

AIG also offers threat scoring and analytics as well as tools to prevent attacks. AIG has a network of vendors to restore and recover, too.

View Now at AIG cyber insurance

Next-gen cyber insurance provider


Cowbell Cyber aims to automate data collection with its cloud platform, provide observability and monitoring, and then combine it with risk scoring, actuarial science, and underwriting. The company recently raised $20 million in venture funding

The company’s portfolio includes cybersecurity awareness training, continuous risk assessment, and pre- and post-breach risk improvement services. Cowbell Cyber also has a free risk assessment service called Cowbell Factors, which adds a freemium element to selling cyber policies. 

View Now at Cowbell Cyber

AI and data science can simplify cyber insurance


Corvus has a host of business insurance products but has a bevy of first-party cyber insurance offerings for business interruption, system failure, cyber extortion and ransomware, and breach response and remediation to name a few.

The company, which recently raised $100 million in venture funding, uses a broker-focused approach to use AI to analyze data to predict and prevent loss. The data Corvus brings together helps policyholders, underwriters, brokers, and reinsurers address market requirements. Phil Edmundson, CEO of Corvus, said that artificial intelligence and data science can simplify the cyber insurance workflow. “If you try to read a cyber policy even knowledgeable people would find it challenging,” he said.

View Now at Corvus

Options for SMBs too


Travelers takes a broader approach to cyber insurance, with plans designed to mitigate risks for companies of all sizes. The insurer has cyber insurance plans for technology companies, public entities, and SMBs.

The company bundles pre- and post-breach services provided by Symantec and a hub to evaluate risks. 

Travelers policies fall into these categories:

View Now at Travelers cyber insurance

Big in cyber insurance


Compared to the big insurers, Beazley isn’t a household name, but NAIC rates the firm No. 4 with 11.2% market share just behind Travelers.

Beazley’s headliner is Beazley Breach Response, which is a customized policy based on a company’s situation. Beazley claims to be the “world’s best designed cyber insurance solution.” Beazley also covers breach response services for up to five million people. 

For companies in specific industries, Beazley looks like an option. Beazley counts healthcare, higher education, hospitality, financial services, and retail as target industries. 

View Now at Beazley cyber insurance

Partnership with Google Cloud


Allianz provides cyber insurance on a standalone basis but is now partnered with Google Cloud along with Munich Re under a program called Cloud Protection +. The pairing is likely to move Allianz as well as partner Munich Re up the cyber insurance rankings. 

View Now at Allianz cyber insurance

Targeting the mid-market companies


While the big-name insurers are going after the large enterprises, midmarket companies may gravitate toward a specialist. Midmarket companies often have their own tech providers since they are often ignored by large enterprise vendors.

Cyber insurance companies may also shortchange the midmarket. Resilience offers cyber insurance with a few interesting perks. First, it combines insurance and expertise like the large players. And, second, Resilience includes a program where customers can earn credit to put toward security services and products.

View Now at Resilience cyber insurance

Specializes in small businesses


Hiscox specializes in cyber insurance for small businesses. The firm is also spending heavily on marketing but is worth a look. The company offers a training academy to shore up small business defenses, or what it calls the “human firewall.”

According to Hiscox, its cyber insurance covers lost business revenue and data recovery costs, money lost to phishing, defense against fines and privacy lawsuits, and breach response. The Hiscox policies also include digital media upgrades. It doesn’t cover criminal action, fund transfer, infrastructure interruption, and prior acts of knowledge.

View Now at Hiscox cyber insurance

More notable providers

There is a bevy of other providers — and many insurers offer cyber insurance as part of a broader package of business offerings. Among those that looked interesting:

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Google Cloud hires SAP alum Kazmaier, unifies database, data analytics, Looker units




Google Cloud named former SAP executive Gerrit Kazmaier general manager for Databases, Data Analytics and Looker in a move that consolidates data units.

Kazmaier, who starts on Monday, will report to Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of technical infrastructure and Google Fellow at Google. Andi Gutmans, vice president of engineering for databases at Google, Debanjan Saha, general manager of data analytics, and Ronaldo Ama, general manager of Looker, will all report to Kazmaier.

Google Cloud has been building out its industry expertise with hires from enterprise software giants such as SAP and Oracle. 

Most recently, Kazmaier was President of SAP HANA & Analytics and led SAP’s global product, solution and engineering teams for database, data warehousing and analytics.

Kazmaier also was vice president of SAP Analytics Cloud. At SAP, Kazmaier focused on enabling customers to share and utilize data across enterprises.

On February 1, Kazmaier said he was leaving SAP via a post on LinkedIn. “The questions: “how will this help our customers?” and “how will this help the people working in this organization?” are guiding stars for me,” said Kazmaier, who thanked SAP and said he was going to pursue a new career opportunity. 

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Best iPad accessories in 2021: The best dock, hub, and more for your USB-C iPad




For some, Apple’s iPad is more than just a tablet. It’s a computer. With the addition of trackpad support in early 2020, and the rollout of the Magic Keyboard with Trackpad for the iPad Pro lineup and the fourth-generation iPad Air, the iPad lineup has never looked or worked more like a laptop. 

However, with only a single port on the Pro and Air, connecting multiple accessories to the tablet can be a chore. For example, if you’re using the iPad with a USB keyboard, you have to disconnect the keyboard if you want to transfer some files to an external SSD. 

Both iPad Pro models, as well as the fourth-generation iPad Air, have a USB-C port that makes the tablets compatible with most, if not all, USB-C docks and hubs.

There are several docks and hubs that make connecting multiple devices and accessories, including external monitors, to the iPad a breeze. Below you’ll find a mix of devices from various companies at a wide range of price points that I’ve personally tested with the 2018 iPad Pro. 

I specifically picked devices that would appeal to all types of iPad users, ranging from someone who just wants a couple of extra ports to someone who wants a dedicated workstation.

Low-cost solution with a number of ports

Anker 7-in-1 hub.jpg


Anker’s USB-C 7-in-1 hub is the most affordable option of the group, but don’t discount its capabilities. As is often the case with hubs, the name includes the number of ports that it has. 

More specifically, this Anker hub has 2 x USB-A ports, 1 x USB-C port with Power Delivery at up to 85W for charging your iPad or laptop, 1 x USB-C data port, 1 x HDMI port, 1 x microSD card slot, and 1 x standard SD card slot.

The HDMI port supports a single 4K display with a refresh rate of 30Hz, and the USB ports (both A and C) support up to 5Gbps transfer speeds for transferring files. 

The Anker 7-in-1 is a low-cost solution that lacks support for faster display refresh rates, or other notable connections like audio or Ethernet. However, it does a fantastic job at giving your iPad extra ports.

$28 at Amazon

Paying a premium for an Apple product

Apple Mutliport Adapter.jpg


Apple’s own USB-C adapter was originally released for MacBooks, but it also works with the company’s iPad Pro and Air tablet lineup. You’re paying a premium for an Apple product, however. There are only three ports on the AV Multiport Adapter: HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C.

The USB-A port works with external hard drives or accessories, while the USB-C port only acts as a power pass-through for charging your iPad (or MacBook). The HDMI port supports up to 4K at 60Hz for all iPad models and a limited selection of MacBook models.

I included Apple’s hub in the list simply because, if you’ve owned a MacBook after Apple switched to USB-C, odds are you also have one of these adapters. I wanted to highlight that it does indeed work with the iPad Pro or Air and does a good job at providing minimal connections.

It’s expensive for what it offers, but that’s usually the case with Apple accessories (and some products.)

$69 at Apple

Connect random accessories and devices to your iPad

CalDigit SOHO dock.jpg


For $10 more than Apple’s adapter, you can get the CalDigit USB-C Soho Dock. With a total of eight ports, you can connect random accessories and devices to your iPad without having to figure out what to unplug.

The total list of ports includes 1 x USB-C (10Gb/s) that connects the dock to your iPad. There’s another USB-C port next to a standard USB port, both of which offer 10Gb/s speeds, a full-size SD card port, and a microSD card port. When it comes to external displays, you have an HDMI port and a DisplayPort with 4K@60Hz with HDR support. Next to the display connections is another USB-C port that only serves as a 100W PD receptacle to power all of your USB devices and charge the tablet or computer attached to the dock.

Instead of lengthy housing, the Soho has a rectangular design with ports on three of four sides. It’s a unique design since most hubs (like the aforementioned Anker) have a similar design.

At $80, the Soho isn’t overpriced and offers a wide range of connections and speeds. 

$79 at Amazon

Near the high-end of the docks



The HyperDrive Power 9-in-1 hub is near the high-end of the docks I cover here, but for good reason. With nine total ports and a lengthy USB-C cable that connects to the iPad, there’s not a lot you can’t connect to or do with the HyperDrive.

The ports include 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x 4K@30Hz, 1 x microSD, 1 x SD card reader, 3 x USB-A (5Gbps), 1 x USB-C PD at 60W, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The headphone jack may be confusing at first glance, and I’ll admit even I was perplexed by it. Then I remember that, whenever you’re using a dock or hub with the iPad, it automatically routes all audio through the HDMI connection. By connecting a speaker or a pair of headphones to the audio jack on the Power hub, you’re able to listen to system sounds or music.

For someone who needs more than one or two USB ports, and prefers a hardwired Ethernet connection, the HyperDrive Power is where it’s at. 

$99 at Amazon

Pro-level accessory that combines several products


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

By far the most expensive dock of the bunch, the Kensington Studio Dock is also the most capable. Pricing starts at $379 for the 11-inch iPad Pro/4th Gen. iPad Air version. It costs $399 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro version. 

I wrote a more thorough review of the Studio Dock you can read here, but I’ll run down the features. At the base of the stand are two Qi charging pads, one for your iPhone the other for your AirPods (or any other Qi-compatible device). There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, an SD card reader, a gigabit Ethernet port, 3 x USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 4K@60Hz port, and a USB-C port with 18W throughput. 

Above the ports is where you dock the iPad into the stand, with magnets and a USB-C adapter holding it in place and powering your iPad at the same time. The stand rotates your iPad’s screen, making it easy to trigger Face ID or adjust it whenever you need to use an Apple Pencil to write or draw on the screen. 

The StudioDock is a pro-level accessory that combines several different products into one device.

$379 at Kensington

Mimic a desktop feel

TwelveSouth HoverBar Duo.jpg


While the HoverBar Duo isn’t a hub, it lends itself to being included in this list because it provides a way to use the iPad in a way that mimics a desktop feel. 

I’ve used the HoverBar Duo with my 12.9-inch iPad Pro and all of the hubs discussed here — outside of the StudioDock because it’s not possible. Effectively, you could combine the HoverBar Duo with the HyperDrive Power and you’d have a similar amount of ports and setup as the StudioDock for about half the price.

$79 at Amazon

Our process

I spent the last three months using all of these hubs and docks with a 2018 iPad Pro. Using each dock or hub for several days, I would test the ports, connections, and reliability of the accessory during my time using it. 

At times, my iPad would be connected to an external display. Other times, the hub would only serve as a means to connect external storage and accessories to the tablet, without a display attached. 

How to choose

The type of hub you want or need for your iPad will depend on your budget and how you use the tablet. Something like the Studio Dock is clearly for someone who uses the iPad as a computer replacement and doesn’t mind paying a lot for it. It’s easily the most versatile gadget out of the group. 

Whereas the Anker hub is for someone who doesn’t want to spend a lot on a hub and doesn’t mind if it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles as the rest of the hubs covered. 

My favorite picks go between the HyperDrive Power 9 and the StudioDock, but I do most of my work on an iPad. The Soho Dock is something I’ve found myself using with a MacBook Pro and my iPad Pro, because of the DisplayPort and HDMI connections on the back.

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