IoT Startup Banking on WiFi Connectivity
Internet of Things (IoT) startup Electric Imp is betting that the established and already well-connected world of WiFi will be the ticket to fast and economical expansion of the IoT ecosystem, both in the home and in industrial environments.
Electric Imp Inc. has built what it calls an end-to-end IoT connectivity platform, consisting of a component featuring a WiFi radio that embeds its Imp operating system into devices and provides a secure connection to the Imp Cloud. The Imp Cloud, the company says, acts as a central hub that provides connected devices with more security and control.
"You can run an application between the device and the cloud, and since there's a real-time connection to the cloud, you have all the computing power of the cloud in your device," says Bryan Kennedy, VP Strategic Development for Electric Imp. "Everything in the device is operating on a virtual machine in cloud, so you have complete and constant visibility to what's going on in the device."
The embedded WiFi radio in the Electric Imp component is a distinctive part of the strategy, Kennedy says. Relying on WiFi for connectivity moves devices out of the traditional M2M model of needing cellular connectivity, he says, and Electric Imp's WiFi-based approach is one-tenth the cost of a 3G/4G solution -- and addresses security implications that other networking standards can't.
Besides which, Kennedy adds, "working with the carriers reminds me of the old Soviet Union."
"WiFi has become so ubiquitous, and cost is dropping like a rock," he says. "More importantly, WiFi has been around long enough that security is rock solid, where Bluetooth is Swiss cheese. It's easy for us to change our radios out, but that market is so huge, so cost-effective and so secure, we're going to stay running in it for quite a while."
As for the whirr of activity in new IoT standards group formation, Kennedy said he believes it will take years for that to coalesce, and that protocols like Z-Wave and ZigBee are "doomed" and will quickly become the stuff of legacy. (See Raco Aims to Eliminate Need for IoT Standards, AllSeen Attracts More IoT Hopefuls and Thread Group Spins New IoT Networking Protocol.)
Electric Imp recently landed $15 million in Series B funding from new investors Foxconn Technology Group, PTI Ventures and Rampart Capital, and returning investor Redpoint Ventures . Company co-founder and CEO Hugo Fiennes, who was involved early on in the development of the Nest thermostat ultimately acquired by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), was also a returning investor. The new funding adds to the $8 million Series A investment the company closed in 2012.
The company started out in the home automation space, but is now looking toward products that have longer lives and into industrial manufacturing.
"Home automation has fast time to market, but limited shelf life and margin-sensitive products," he says. "White goods and appliances -- fridges, washing machines, pool pumps -- are much more expensive, and they tend to have five to 10 year asset lives. Once you connect you are guaranteed a service contract."
Getting embedded into those kinds of products also provides the company with a natural outgrowth into products for commercial and industrial settings, he says.
"When we knock off the business unit that does AC in the home, we have a reference in the same company and we're already a vendor," he says. "Then it becomes a much easier for them to implement our technology into their commercial and industrial product lines."
— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading