Among the bigger challenges associated with the internet of things are those pesky things themselves. It’s tough to build out a network that provides the right sort of connectivity, reliability, power consumption, and scale that sensors and other devices might need so they can share information. And while both the media and the telecom industry are trying to say that 5G will save us, the truth is that for networking gurus, the IoT makes the world much more complicated.
There are now more options than ever before, everything from industrial protocols such as Wireless HART to common Bluetooth. The fact that there are three variations on Bluetooth is a perfect example of the changing times. But there’s always room for more wireless protocols, and Wirepas has built one that has real legs for wide-scale deployment.
Wirepas got my attention when CEO Teppo Hemiä told me it had deployed, in a cubic meter, 1,500 radios capable of bidirectional communication, and that its largest deployment to date was of 700,000 radios. Those metrics offer proof that Wirepas can be used to create very dense — and very large — networks. And for many IoT use cases, that is exactly what we’re going to need.
Wirepas makes and licenses a wireless network protocol. Much like Nest created the Thread protocol for the smart home, Wirepas developed a protocol for the wider internet of things. The protocol allows each radio to act as a node and a router in the network, which means they can scale out and provide resiliency. It can also move communications from one channel to another, which helps reduce congestion. It can run on a variety of radio frequencies, but is commonly used over the same frequencies as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
The protocol is also highly configurable, so it can be adapted for low-latency applications such as enterprise lighting where millisecond response times are needed. In those use cases, lower latency will increase power consumption. And it’s IPv6-compliant, which means it can talk directly to the internet, although using a gateway device is still more common.
Wirepas got its start in 2010 building a complete solution using its proprietary wireless protocol. But in 2014, it shifted gears to license the wireless protocol and let others put it in their own products. Wirepas customers include chip firms and big corporations use it to build their own custom wireless mesh networks. It also licenses the technology to companies that provide components to other manufacturers. Ruuvi, a company I profiled a few weeks back, puts the Wirepas technology on its gateways and sensors if customers ask.
This week, Wirepas said it had raised €14.4 million ($16.1 million) to continue building out its technology as the number of sensors and devices trying to communicate on networks increases. Currently, it expects revenue of €4 million to €5 million for 2019 based on a licensing model that charges a one-time fee for each device that has a copy of the protocol.
Hemiä expects that revenue to grow at a significant clip in the coming year as more of its customers that are testing the network using smaller pilot projects start scaling out their networks as part of their everyday operations. To make it even easier, Wirepas has provided customers with some of its code and tools on Github to help them build networks and gateways. It’s a smart strategy, one that keeps the core tech protected for licensing revenue, but makes it easier for others to build compatible products that can support the Wirepas Mesh.
Unlike Semtech, which makes LoRa chips, Wirepas isn’t trying to lock customers into one particular semiconductor provider, which should help ease the fears of customers who are worried about having a single supplier. And unlike Sigfox, which is pushing a specific frequency for its wireless protocol, Wirepas can run on a variety of frequencies, which makes it more flexible.
If the technology passes muster with businesses, we should see more Wirepas networks out in the world soon.