Wirepas, an IoT device connectivity company based in Finland, is a relatively small company with big ambitions. With about thirty people, the company recently has attracted world-class talent to its leadership team, and today announced the addition of several industry veterans to its Board of Directors.
Andrew Gilbert was named the new chairman and Jörgen Lantto as a new member of its Board of Directors. Vesa Laisi has been appointed as a new advisor to the board.
One of the company’s goals is to enable the connection of one billion devices by 2022, and after developing a distributed, or mesh networking protocol building on research done at the Tampere University of Technology initiated in 2000, the company is well on its way having inked deals with a number of large companies who are embedding their code into IoT devices.
“When we started out, we were offering hardware, actual sensors with our connectivity protocol built in,” explained Sebastian Linko, VP, Marketing and Communications, Wirepas. “As the IoT market expanded, and the number of sensors, devices and technologies exploded, we realized the real value of what we had invented could be leveraged in any endpoint, and we pivoted to becoming a software licensing company.”
Wirepas’ protocol is disruptive in that it works on any radio hardware, and on any frequency band, whether 2.4GHz or other radio frequencies. For localized deployments where devices, such as energy meters, are in close proximity, using de-centralized radio networks dramatically reduces the requirement for energy consumption (thus prolonging batter life in the devices) as well as the cost associated with alternatives, for example cellular connectivity.
When Teppo Hemiä joined the company as CEO in 2014, after assignments at STMicroelectronics, ST-Ericsson and Nokia, he started the transformation of Wirepas into a pure software company, shedding hardware then building the protocol stack into a format that could be licensed by manufacturers as well as systems integrators.
Hemiä attracted financing from Inventure so the company could build the new leadership team and invest in R&D, then build a large ecosystem of partners able to offer turn-key IoT solutions. In 2016 also Vito Ventures and ETF Partners invested in the company.
Today the company is working with a number of large technology companies including Silicon Labs, Nordic Semiconductor, Telit, U-blox, SKT to name a few.
Linko credits the success of the company over the last year in large part to extreme focus in the vast world of IoT. “We are only focused on industrial IOT applications – no home or white goods consumer level devices. Home automation, for example, is easy to do. In Industrial IoT there are harder radio problems to solve and less companies willing to invest in solving them.”
Within IIoT, the company is focused on three areas: smart metering, smart lighting and asset management.
“Scalability has been one of our biggest differentiating factors,” Linko said. “There are 2 million electricity meters in deployment in Norway, for example, and once ready 700,000 of them will be connected in a single, decentralized mesh network – one thousand times bigger than any other mesh network deployed on this planet. Key to scaling and reliability for deployments like this? There is no need for any dedicated network infrastructure – just need a radio hardware with software embedded. No separate base stations, routers, or repeaters. No network management function in the cloud that would help make network decisions. We offer a fully decentralized topology where all the intelligence is in the node itself, and the nodes decide how traffic will be routed.”
We asked Linko about the limitations when it comes to the need for visibility into large deployments – the need for some centralization.
“We work with other companies to create end-to-end solutions,” Linko said, and compared their approach to vehicular traffic. “There is a protocol (rules and laws) around how one must drive. There are traffic lights, signs, lanes and laws – still the individual driver does all decisions independently based on the situation. Endpoints, or nodes, with our protocol can make local decisions that make the network and devices work better just as traffic moves around cities and highways every day. Of course, the information about traffic flows, congestion, energy usage and more can be shipped to a management system for oversight which is where our ecosystem partners come in.”
The biggest deployment for Wirepas so far has been in Norway, with electricity metering.
“Once we have an ecosystem which has done one medium size city with streetlights and sensors, we can replicate it,” Linko said. “In the early stages and with the first deployments there is the usual need for engineering and customization of the end-to-end solution. For now we need to tailor solutions, like we did for with Aidon (name of Norway company or organization) – but in the future we can roll out solutions that are standardized and easy for systems integrators and organizations to implement.
The company does have a basic network monitoring tool through with which all decisions the node can be monitored, including frequency band, transmission power and other data. The company is also able to deliver Over the Air (OTA) updates.
“Just as we have no interest in competing as a hardware company, we also don’t offer any applications. We simply enable the applications that the ecosystem and customers create,” Linko explained.
The company charges a one-time royalty fee, per device. “This has been important to enable us and our partners to scale – recurring charges become quickly cost-prohibitive,” Linko said, “and our fees are in single digit euros per device , depending on volume. And with that price you get unlimited data for the whole lifetime of your connected device.
Today the company announced it has added (info about the board) after announcing the hire of Richard Kinder as the Head of Product Marketing, and Asset Management expert Mirva Saarijärvi as director, Product Marketing a few days ago.
“We are excited about the momentum and the future,” Linko said, indicating the company will be announcing new deployments and new ecosystem partners in the near future. “We believe we have cracked the code on one of the biggest challenges in unlocking value in the connected things world, and believe also that the applications we support have the potential to change the way we manage critical natural resources, the way we power homes and cities, and the way those cities deliver better economics to their citizens. These are improvements worth scaling.”
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