What Is Wi-Fi’s Role in the Internet of Things?

I’ve wondered before about whether Wi-Fi will become a major factor in RFID. Now a similar question: where does Wi-Fi fit in the Internet of Things?

The market for Wi-Fi may be on the verge of truly astounding growth - as in, the billions of radios required for the Internet of Things (IoT). Think Wi-Fi is just for client access and the occasional point-to-point or point-to-multipoint link? Think again.

I've asked this question before: what's the minimum number of radios that we really need? This was in the context of a handset - clearly, we need LTE and Wi-Fi; they're the essentials. Bluetooth for connecting to headsets and cars - OK, I still don't think people should talk on the phone while driving, but BT will be around for a long time serving these applications. It's not clear if Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) will be a factor in handsets, but I'm a big fan of this technology for monitoring, sensors, and control/telemetry applications - as in, IoT. NFC seems like a long-term win for credit authorization and perhaps security applications as well; the limited range here is a key selling point, but uptake has been slow. And there are other possibilities - especially the remote-control technologies, like Z-Wave and Insteon, but let's just leave it as the above for now - things are already getting pretty complex.

All of these have been mentioned in the context of IoT. But I've long speculated that Wi-Fi, perhaps with a different "quick-connect" MAC, could fill a big role in machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, including (active, of course) RFID. As for IoT, the market expansion for Wi-Fi may now be happening. I recently spoke with a senior executive at Ayla Networks, a company that is building a novel cloud-based solution for M2M applications. Ayla has realized the real key to success in IoT: understanding the meaning and value of the data obtained during operations. I've been calling this element the Googleization of Everything (GoE) - Google's real business is gathering, analyzing, applying (for advertising purposes), and reselling data that accrues to them via the use of their many products, services, and systems. They provide services of great value, usually at low to no cost, thereby turning users into products - exactly the same model as broadcast television. So what Google does isn't that hard in concept and it's clearly manageable, given sufficient financial resources, of course, even at scale. So expanding this concept to IoT makes a lot of sense - Ayla's on the right track here.

But returning to the point I really want to make, what caught my eye here wasn't this element of the firm's operations, but rather an announcement that industrial radio leader muRata is using Ayla's platform with Wi-Fi-based IoT solutions, integrating Ayla's client Embedded Agent software into their Wi-Fi modules. This isn't an out-of-the-box, ready-to-go solution for any particular IoT opportunity, but it gets customers a lot closer to that solution than they otherwise would be. An remember, we're talking Wi-Fi.

I expect this won't be the last announcement connecting Wi-Fi and IoT - IoT is hot and getting hotter, and it looks like Wi-Fi may indeed play a major role here.

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