Hugo Fiennes sees a few forks in the road to the Internet of Things and he plans to take them.
The co-founder of Electric Imp will add cellular modules to his portfolio of Wi-Fi and Ethernet ones next year as his business transitions to mainly commercial users and he finally makes inroads into the smart grid. The rise of relatively low power LTE options will open up a wider range of IoT uses, said Fiennes in a wide-ranging interview.
“Cellular hasn’t been in my opinion very viable for the IoT mass market until LTE Category M and NB-1 came along…M2M has been around a long time, but it had to target higher value apps to be cost effective,” he said.
Electric Imp’s modules and services are suited to cellular-style managed network services, said Fiennes, who helped design several generations of Apple iPhone before founding the startup in 2011. Cellular IoT will open markets in farming and telematics and circumvent concerns of IT managers who don’t want IoT traffic messing up their corporate Wi-Fi networks, he added.
Like others jumping into cellular IoT, Imp initially will use hybrid chip sets that support multiple LTE and 2/3G standards. “It will take a few years” for service providers to deploy LTE variants for IoT and silicon vendors to roll optimized, integrated chips that support things like the 5V interfaces industrial users like, he said.
The 802.11ah standard aka HaLow for sub-GHz Wi-Fi is promising because it can tap virtual LANs and other network management tools to separate traffic streams. But “no one’s shipping it now…it’s still vaporware,” he said.
Fiennes is bearish on 802.15.4 meshes due to their low data rates and lack of such tools, making them difficult to get to run at expected performance levels. He traces his disdain back to his work before Electric Imp designing the Nest thermostat for W-Fi.
“[Nest founder] Tony [Fadell] insisted we add 15.4 to talk to smart meters, and it shipped but no one got any software working for it for a couple years until [Nest’s] smoke alarms shipped,” he said of the network on which Nest’s Thread is based.
Among other IoT options, Fiennes gave praise to LoRa as “a modern design...that’s getting a lot of mindshare.” But he is “is not a big believer in Sigfox.”
Looking at the pack of emerging low power, wide area nets, he asked, “why run a commercial network on unlicensed spectrum that competitors can stop working while being completely legal?”
Next page: Commercial, smart grid markets surge