OPINION: Rob Conant, CEO of IoT specialist Cirrent – What Role Will WiFi Play in the IoT?

Cisco’s recently announced $1.4 billion acquisition of Jasper Technologies, an Internet of Things (IoT) cloud platform provider, is a sign of intent by the former networking company that it’s betting its future on the IoT.

The IoT certainly offers a massive opportunity. According to recent figures from Gartner, there will be 5.5 million connected ‘things’ added to the burgeoning IoT every day during 2016! It predicts 6.4 billion connected devices worldwide by the end of the year – a rise of 30 per cent on 2015 – and an estimated 20.8 billion by 2020.

Jasper provides middleware that helps product manufacturers connect their devices, such as street lighting, cars, utilities, and so on, to the IoT. However, there still remains a challenge for device manufacturers in that there are limited ways for them to connect their devices to the IoT. Currently, the two gaining most traction are cellular or dedicated radio networks.

According to John Conant, CEO of Cirrent, which offers instant and secure connection of devices to the IoT via WiFi, US carriers are already making billions of revenue connecting devices to the IoT. However, this is costly for device manufacturers, and could significantly impact their ability to make the most of the IoT opportunity.

The other alternatives are newly built dedicated IoT cellular networks, such as those being created by French specialist Sigfox, an IoT cellular network provider, and the non-profit LoRa Alliance, which advocates a low-power WAN network.

However, argues Conant, that this neglects the huge opportunity offered by the existing WiFi network to connect ‘things’ to the IoT.

“Device manufacturers want to eliminate the overheads of connecting to the IoT via cellular networks, while achieving the vision of connecting billions of devices by 2020. However, that won’t happen on cellular networks. Much more compelling is to find an alternative to the hardware and on-going service costs of building a new network or using cellular networks,” explains Conant.

He continues: “We see billions of dollars already invested in WiFi and there is an opportunity to take advantage of the existing infrastructure and use this network to provide a better IoT service than the low data rate from radio and other networks and the high costs of cellular connection. So the question is where does WiFi fit into this equation?”

Cirrent expects to make an exciting announcement on this front in the coming weeks, and Conant will be expanding on this vision and the company’s latest news during his presentation at Smart Mobility Summit, to be held in San Jose on March 22–23rd. We look forward to hearing further insight, and extending the debate.