With new auto-connect hotspot standards, low-cost M2M modules and increasingly pervasive coverage, WiFi looks viable as a wireless M2M alternative to cell. Ian Scales reports.
It's not going to happen overnight - nothing ever does - but WiFi is looking more and more like a serious long-term candidate technology for mobile M2M/Internet of things applications.
Its place as the fixed or nomadic connection technology is already assured of course. WiFi is well-entrenched as a major connection method in the home for today's leading M2M applications - things like home security and monitoring for instance.
In fact a survey due to be released in full at the upcoming Internet of Things Event in Eindhoven, The Netherlands on June 6, ranks WiFi as the run-away first choice for the home. Respondents were asked which standards they thought were most promising ‘Technology Wise’ and ‘Business Wise’ in a range of markets. WiFi naturally won the 'most promising' for IoT in the Consumer Electronics market, followed bij ZigBee and Bluetooth. That wasn't a surprise. What was? That it won by a gigantic margin, gaining four times the approval of the next most highly rated - Zigbee.
The interesting question now is whether WiFi use cases for M2M/IoT can be greatly extended in the mobile or at least 'nomadic' domains. The development this year of auto-login with the deployment of Hotspot 2.0 standards certainly changes the game (see- Seamless WiFi to be bundled with seamless marketing jibber-jabber).
It means that 'things' can move more easily and connect on an ad hoc basis to any available and participating WiFi network. As a result there is no reason why we shouldn't see a flowering of new wholesale network business relationships to enable an M2M or IoT service provider to federate with a range of WiFi network providers.
Does this get us close to completely mobile WiFi?
Certainly the other part of the pincer movement - blanket coverage - also seems to be developing fast.
This big WiFi news this week came from a big Cable TV event in the US, where it was announced that the five big cable TV networks have federated their WiFi networks to enable their users to roam across a combined footprint of 50,000 hotspots. The service is to be branded CableWiFi and there's no doubt that the ability (coming soon) to auto-connect will be a big assist in making it a big value driver for the cable companies' WiFi offerings. The cable companies are all talking about extending their WiFi hotspot count and coverage as a replacement activity for their (generally half-hearted) attempts to get into the cellular market in the US over the past few years.
Another example of the WiFi challenge comes from a year-old startup, Electric Imp. It has produced a Wi-Fi node in a memory card physical format that is getting a lot of attention as a potential standard means of assigning IP addresses and connecting to the Internet,. The initial price of the small cards are $25 per card, but if all goes well this sort of solution would be distributed at a fraction of that in volume.
The excitement around Electric Imp is partly to do with the founders' previous stints. CEO Hugo Fiennes managed Apple’s hardware team for the first four iPhones, then became iPhone architect. Kevin Fox designed the Gmail Web interface for Google, was senior product designer at Facebook and principal user experience designer at Firefox browser developer Mozilla.
For more on WiFi see our Special Report on Small Cell Backhaul below
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