This is a case study of a Finnish IoT startup. The number of connected devices is increasing every day. IoT (Internet of Things) devices are diverse. They are in the form of nanosensors measuring temperatures, humidity, chemical reactions, bio-sensors, etc. Then there are sensors in autonomous cars, robots, cameras, water, power meters, wearables, consumer durability, safety, security, and other equipment.
When connected, devices can work synergistically and improve systems’ operational efficiency. For instance, when connected, light, gas, water, and power meters spread across a city make it possible for utility companies to get a real-time integrated and unit-level view of consumption. These connections can be used to remotely detect unit and system faults and launch and monitor efficient maintenance operations.
The use cases of connected IOT devices are indeed myriad. The impact these are making on how we manage our person and life is and will be profound. Some of these changes could even be disruptive. Remote management of diseases like diabetes, cardiac ailments, and others will not be for a long lie in the realm of science fiction.
In the next five years, over 10 billion devices are estimated to be connected. Half of these will be connected by cellular networks and the other half by non-cellular wireless connectivity protocols. (Wirepas)
The cellular network-based connectivity solutions have achieved a degree of maturity. The technology and business models of non-cellular wireless connectivity (also called mesh networks) are still in rapid change and evolution. Generally, though, questions were raised on the quality and fidelity of mesh networks. Innovation is leading to improvements in network quality. It has now become possible to communicate efficiently over these new networks too.
Connectivity on mesh networks is achieved over short radio waves that each IOT device continuously emits. These waves lie in a non-commercial spectrum band. The cost of this spectrum in this band is quite low. Devices in a mesh network connect within a range.
Connectivity in a mesh network becomes possible within the device emission range. The device range can extend to several kilometers depending on the radio hardware. This makes it possible to build large networks. Each device in a network acts as its router with connection taking place autonomously.
These networks have a decentralized multi-hop architecture where sensors and devices connect. Distributed network management devices can adapt to the best frequency and time domain. A protocol stack enables connectivity.
Wirepas, a Finnish IoT startup based out of Tampere, Finland, has developed a proprietary protocol that makes it possible to provide very high reliability (99.9%SLA) quality connectivity between IOT devices. This protocol is device agnostic and can be used to connect disparate devices.
Mesh network-based technology developed by Wirepas is scalable. It has an ultra-low power requirement. Most IOT devices being built across the world have low power operational requirements. Devices are often deployed in remote locations with poor access to power.
A protocol that operates in ultra-low power mode is particularly useful here. Additionally, the total cost of ownership of low-power-consuming networks is lower than cellular networks. This will be a factor that will increase the popularity of mesh networks.
However, the Wirepas protocol and others mesh network protocols are proprietary. Standards for building and operating these networks have not yet been developed. Normally this should be an area of concern.
There is a counterargument to the building of standards for mesh networks. Sebastian Linko, Vice President of Wirepas, believes that codified standards at this stage of mesh network protocol and IOT development are likely to impede continuing innovation and development. I tend to agree with this line of reasoning.
The connected technology protocols like those developed by Wirepas are still evolving. The network quality of mesh networks is now quite good. In the future, connectivity solutions may require building a hybrid network composed of cellular and non-cellular protocols. This will make these networks robust, leveraging on strengths of both technologies.
Wirepas IoT startup team has worked hard to develop this technology. The company began its innings in the Tampere Research University corridors in 2000. In 2014 they evolved into a firmware developer. Ever since the company has seen steady growth. The company is now adopting a time-tested growth model that requires building a partner ecosystem of system integrators, device manufacturers, and others.
Many large tech companies adopt this model. These companies collaborate with product, hardware, and solution providers, offering end-to-end customer solutions. Clients prefer an end to end take services from such solution providers. Taken forward aggressively, this model will help Wirepas retain its focus on innovation, developing and building new solutions on the one hand, and also generate steady growth.
The demand for mesh network protocols is likely to grow as more devices get connected and move online. Wirepas, Sebastian told me, is expected to break even sometime next year.
The IoT startup looks to be in good shape. Its investors are likely to get a good return on their investments. Its success, leadership, and growth model will be tested when the startup matures and steps into the high-growth markets of India and China. The local Finnish market is too small for their solutions. They already have UK, France, Germany, US, and South Korea offices. For now, things appear to be on track.