Internet of things gets big push from ARM and other Silicon Fen players

This may turn out to be an important day for the ‘internet of things’, that slightly nebulous concept that refers to millions of everyday items getting connected to the internet: some of the biggest players have come together to collaboratively push a wireless standard called Weightless, and a UK accelerator has launched a bootcamp specifically targeting the field.

Some of the same names pop up in both announcements, specifically ARM, the British chip-design powerhouse whose architecture underpins almost every mobile processor out there, and white space comms pioneer Neul, a firm that boasts some of the UK’s leading lights in the wireless space.

One must have standards

Let’s tackle the standards thing first, as that’s going to be utterly crucial in the development of the internet of things, or machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, as it has more traditionally been known. Here’s a great explanation from Kevin as to why standards are so important here – it also lists some of the rival standards initiatives that are going on.

The Weightless standard we’re concerned with here comes from Neul, which was founded by veterans of Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) and other top ‘Silicon Fen’ firms.

The royalty-free open standard exploits the so-called ‘white spaces’ between TV transmissions, which are there to avoid interference between the transmission but which can generally be used for short-to-medium-range wireless communications without causing too many problems. The only hitch I can see with this approach is the fact that white space usage is not permissible in every country – it depends on the disposition of the national telecoms regulator.

Weightless was unveiled last year, and now it has a special interest group (SIG) to push it worldwide. SIGs are basically partnerships, and this one’s a doozy: apart from Neul and ARM (also from the Cambridge region), it also includes CSR and Cable & Wireless Worldwide.

“This is a very important milestone for Weightless,” Neul CEO William Webb said. “The SIG now has a board comprising leading players spanning processors, networks, chipsets and innovative wireless technologies. Weightless has gained a solid legal framework enabling royalty-free licensing of terminal-related technology. Our plan is to rapidly grow membership from our current base of 50 high-technology companies and I would strongly encourage interested parties to join this world-changing initiative.”

ARM CTO Mike Muller – whose company must be licking its lips at the ginormous market represented by the internet of things – gave a timely reminder of the kind of use cases we’re looking at here: “the next wave of connectivity across smart grids, enhanced healthcare, smart cities, asset tracking, sensors and future applications as yet unimagined”.

Stimulation too

Over to that other announcement now. This one’s from Springboard, an accelerator program that straddles London and Cambridge, and it involves the establishment of a three-month ‘accelerator bootcamp’.

This time, ARM and Neul are joined by consumer goods behemoth Unilever and the folks behind the Raspberry Pi ultra-cheap computer project (which, you guessed it, is also based in Cambridge).

The program will accept 10 teams in any area of internet-of-things tech, and give founders over $150k-worth of free services, seed capital and mentoring. Needless to say, the mentors are of a pretty high standard – they’ve even got Hermann Hauser.

I’ll skip the quotes from the big players on this one and go straight to Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton:

“To date, the internet of things has been largely the playground of corporates. Dramatically falling hardware costs are shifting innovation toward smaller teams in a similar manner to how web technologies have evolved over the last 10 years.”

It’s very interesting to see the UK staking its claim in the internet of things, and it does make complete sense. Companies such as ARM and CSR have made their names in the low-power wireless stakes, and that’s what this sector is all about.

And now their push is beginning in earnest. Game on.