New investments, new products power wireless sensing

The fledging wireless sensing industry this week has a chance to show that it has some staying power.

Some of that stamina is evident in a big jump in investments, and in some new product introductions at the second Wireless Sensing Solutions Conference, in Chicago.

Wireless sensing networks combine low-power, inexpensive, short-range radios usually linked in a wireless mesh, with temperature, vibration and other sensors. Sensor data typically passes through a gateway to an IP network. These technologies, spurred by the creation of the IEEE 802.15.4 standard and its commercial implementation as the Zigbee specification, have spawned a host of start-ups in networking software, routing algorithms, and radio frequency silicon.

Investments related to a broad range of wireless technologies were about US$633 million in 2002, rising to US$817 million the following year, and dipping slightly to US$712 million, according to John de Yonge, associate director with Ernst & Young's venture capital advisory group. Ernst & Young worked with VentureOne to identify a broad range of wireless companies, including those with 802.11-based sensing and radio frequency identification (RFID) products, and their associated investments.

For the first half of 2005, says de Yonge, investments have already reached US$506 million, putting the industry on track for a possible total of US$1 billion for this year. And the percentage of IT investment dollars devoted to wireless sensing has been rising also: to 12.3 percent in the second quarter of calendar 2005, more than doubling the previous quarter's 5.7 percent, and slightly higher than the previous high water mark: 12.1 percent in the third quarter of 2003.

It's not possible yet to measure precisely wireless sensing investment, de Young says. But "you're seeing a gradual increase in the [funding] rounds that are directed to the wireless sensing space."

Some of the newest players in this space will be showcased this week at the Conference's Venture Forum, hosted by Ernst & Young and IDG Ventures Boston, a unit of Network World's parent company, IDG.

New products at the conference show the industry moving from the bare bones of the wireless sensing mesh to the next stage of integrating these nets with existing infrastructures, and managing them. Among the introductions are:

-- Luxoft Labs, the wireless mesh research arm of Russia's Luxoft, a software outsourcing company, will unveil here its InfoView Platform. InfoView is a set of software programs that let users select what sensing data they want to view and monitor a subset of parameters on the sensors.

-- Newtrax Technologies will showcase a new wireless mesh that's an alternative to Zigbee/802.15.4. The company is using Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum radios to create a wireless mesh that is intended to be more robust and scaleable, and lower cost, compared to Zigbee-based nets.

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