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Hello HaLow

Posted by Todd Mersch on 2 February 2016

Well, I’ve been a bit of a stranger – it’s been super busy but I am trying hard to get back into regular blogging. The recent news in the IOT space provides a nice opportunity to do just that. So here goes…

IOT as a whole is a VERY fragmented market.

This fragmentation spans all facets – connectivity medium (e.g. regular Wi-Fi, regular 2.5g / 3g / LTE, modified versions of these two – like HaLow, zigbee, Bluetooth, etc.), sensor platforms, service creation and management infrastructure (registration, authentication, management, etc.), applications, and so on.

As an industry, we too often generalize and that is a HUGE mistake in IOT. First you have to subdivide the market minimally between Enterprise and Consumer.

Let’s look at Enterprise first, you can subdivide between size (small, medium, large) with small looking a lot like consumer (i.e. self-managed) and verticals (e.g. healthcare, manufacturing, etc.). For the larger scale Enterprises, in a lot of ways due to the fragmentation, system integrators have a stranglehold on the market. An army of $300 / hour consultants come in and create a purpose-built package for your enterprise using tools and technology they understand. In these environments you have some luxury to use different tech that is better suited to the domain or application. Door locks may work well using Zigbee®, inventory tags with some sort of licensed spectrum, and so on. From the Enterprise perspective, who cares as long as the SI makes it all work and the price makes sense? It’s NOT the Enterprise clamoring for a standard. It’s the operators and other players who are essentially locked out of the market – unless they become an SI who then want to drive some standardization… so far without much luck. ,

For the consumer we’re left on our own to figure it out and the large majority of “connected” stuff is over Wi-Fi. It’s cheap, has decent range and you can rely on the Wi-Fi AP to act as a hub. Some alternatives require a separate hub that frankly is going to connect to your Wi-Fi AP anyway either wirelessly or using one of the few LAN ports. This to me could be a market more easily attacked by operators, because they are providing the “hub” – the Wi-Fi AP today. If operators can manage the quality of experience by gaining visibility to the devices connected, ensuring reliability and simplifying setup, people will be willing to pay. The neat thing is they can do this today – they don’t need to wait two years for HaLow or some other standard connectivity.

So, what does this mean for the standards battle. I don’t see this as VHS vs. beta, but I do expect we’ll settle on just a few connectivity mediums. There will be gateways that aggregate different sensors using different types of radios and abstract the connectivity medium away from the services themselves. Think of this as IOT 2.0. It will bring down the cost by creating broader competition in the Enterprise, but I’m not convinced it will necessarily replace Wi-Fi based IOT in the consumer market. I think something like HaLow could end up being the “high-end” solution. Take Sonos®, the self-configuring wireless speaker system as an example. Sonos works over Wi-Fi until it doesn’t (i.e. if I want to use a speaker too far away from the Wi-Fi AP, are in a noisy radio environment, etc.). When that happens, and you’ve already sunk hundreds of dollars on Sonos, the solution is to purchase Sonos Boost™. This is a dedicated hub that creates a proprietary higher power mesh network. HaLow could be the standardized “Boost” so you don’t have five little white boxes hidden throughout your entertainment system.

So I guess it’s see you a few years HaLow vs. Hello today…

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