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IoT start-up unveils end-to-end platform for 802.15.4 network

Posted: 29 Oct 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Helium  IoT  Machina Research  6LoWPAN  Zigbee 

The IoT playing field just keeps on getting hotter and hotter. Helium Inc. has released an end-to-end offering to put businesses on the Internet of Things (IoT) using a unique approach to 802.15.4 networks. The start-up has $16 million in venture capital and claims to have a strong management team, but faces competition from another start-up still in stealth mode with a similar story, seasoned team and $25 million in backing.

Both efforts indicate it's still early days for IoT with new twists on core technologies and business models still emerging. Indeed the start-ups are probably not the last to enter the field that has attracted dozens of alternatives from large and small companies.

The complexity of building an IoT system was a key concern identified in a survey of 1,700 companies across five markets conducted by market watcher Machina Research.

"It's a confusing area to navigate," said Andy Castonguay, a principal analyst at Machina Research. "The field is ripe for innovation and change, and the ecosystem is exceptionally fragmented, so I think you will see more companies coming up with easier to use solutions," he said.

Indeed, Helium was born when its co-founders (which included former Napster CEO Shawn Fanning) hit a wall trying to use off-the-shelf components for an IoT start-up. They turned to a Colorado-based radio expert and together decided in 2013 to create their own platform.

The Helium platform consists of end nodes and access points using a variant of 802.15.4, as well as cloud services and analytics. Ultimately, Helium aims to sell the platform to companies that act as system integrators, but initially it will go direct to end users to prove itself with a system it has built for monitoring refrigerators in hospitals and the food-service industry.

Helium platform

The Helium platform includes IoT nodes, access points and cloud services.

The start-up aims to attract companies that want an end-to-end system that is easy to customise. Helium created a framework on top of the Lua open source embedded language to set parameters of at IoT deployment.

"We are trying to solve the problems of making highly configurable distributed systems that move as fast on the edge as you do these days in the cloud," said Rob Chandhok, a former senior software executive at Qualcomm who joined Helium as president and COO in December. "If you can reach end nodes with software easily and quickly it's a competitive advantage," he said.

The code runs on an RTOS on a Freescale K64F12 applications processor embedded in each node. The nodes sit on a star network, communicating through an access point that acts as a bridge and does not contain a processor.

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