The numbers of connected devices is increasing every day. IOT (Internet of Things) devices are diverse. They are in the form of nano sensors measuring temperatures, humidity, chemical reactions, bio-sensors etc. Then there are sensors in autonomous cars, robots, cameras, water, power meters, wearables, consumer durable, safety, security and other equipment.
Devices when connected can work synergistically and lead to improved systems operational efficiency. For instance, light, gas, water and power meters spread across a city when connected makes it possible for utility companies to get a real time integrated and unit level view on consumption. These connected together can be used to remotely detect unit and system faults, launch and monitor efficient maintenance operations.
The use cases of connected IOT devices indeed are myriad. The impact that these are making on the way we manage our person and life is and will be profound. Some of this change could even be disruptive. Remote management of diseases like diabetes, cardiac ailments and others will not be for 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 with the other half joined together by non cellular wireless connectivity protocols. (Wirepas)
The cellular network based connectivity solutions have achieved a degree of maturity. The non cellular wireless connectivity (also called mesh networks) technology and business models are still in the phase of 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 of the IOT devices continuously emit. These waves lie in non commercial spectrum band. The cost of this spectrum in this band is quite low. Devices in a mesh network connect with each other 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 used. This makes it possible to build large networks. Each device in a network acts as its own router with connection taking place autonomously.
These networks have a decentralized multi-hop architecture over which the connection with sensors and devices takes place. Distributed network management devices are able to adapt to the best frequency and time domain. A protocol stack enables connectivity.
Wirepas a Finnish 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 networks 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 works out to be 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 counter argument to building of standards for mesh networks. Sebastian Linko Vice President of Wirepas is of the view that codified standards at this stage of mesh network protocol and IOT development are likely to become a impediment to 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. Network quality of mesh networks is now quite good. Going forward connectivity solutions though may require building a hybrid network composing of both cellular and non-celluar protocols. This will make these networks robust leveraging on strengths of both technologies.
Wirepas team has worked hard developing 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.
This model is adopted by many large tech companies. These companies collaborate with product providers, hardware and solution providers offering to the customer end to end solutions. Clients prefer end to end take services from such solution providers. Taken forward aggressively this model will help Wirepas retain their 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 continue to grow as more and more devices get connected and move online. Wirepas, Sebastian told me, is likely to break even sometime next year.
The 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 however be tested when the startup starts maturing and steps into the high growth markets of India and China. The local Finnish market is too small for their solutions. They already have offices in the UK, France, Germany, US and South Korea. For now things appear to be on track.