This $20 Device Is Making the Internet of Things Possible


WICED Sense. Source: Broadcom. 

Nearly every major tech company wants to make a splash in the Internet of Things -- the so-called technology trend where everything from coffee pots to wind turbines uses sensors to gather data and communicate with each other and us.

That's why earlier this week, semiconductor company Broadcom (NASDAQ: BRCM  ) released a $20 software development kit (SDK), complete with a physical device loaded with sensors, to spur on new Internet of Things development. The device device is called WICED Sense, and it stands for Broadcom's Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices platform.

WICED Sense packs a motion-sensing gyroscope and accelerometer, an electric compass, barometer and altimeter, humidity, and temperature sensors all into a device a bit larger than a key fob.

Source: Broadcom.

Broadcom's Internet of Things (or IoT) senior product line manager, Sid Shaw, said in a release that, "The idea is to democratize this market and open it up to millions of software and hardware developers so they can experiment with low-energy Bluetooth and innovate on the WICED(TM) platform." Broadcom says the device can do things like send a smartphone alert when the temperature in a room gets too high. While that seems simple, the company hopes the device and SDK will allow developers to quickly create Internet of Things and wearable computing apps without having to spend lots of time and money on prototype devices.

The device is compatible with Apple's iBeacon technology, Near Field Communication, wireless charging and uses the battery-sipping communication tech called Bluetooth Smart and is controllable from an iOS app right now, with an Android app coming in October. The device also supports data encryption and can receive firmware updates over the air.

Though Broadcom's WICED Sense is a simple and inexpensive option for those pursuing IoT, the company has much bigger Internet of Things ambitions.

More than just a cheap device
At $20 apiece, WICED won't generate significant revenue for Broadcom. It's more likely the company wants to expand an open platform for IoT development, while encouraging use of its mobile chips.

WICED Sense app. Source: Broadcom.

The WICED Sense device includes Broadcom's BCM20737S, which the company hopes will become a major part of IoT and wearable devices. Along with Bluetooth Smart system on a chip technology, it also encrypts and decrypts data transfers. Broadcom thinks this makes the chip ideal for wearable tech and IoT devices that require lots of safe connectivity, but don't have lots of power.

Broadcom's banking on IoT growth in the near future, and it's probably a safe bet. According to Gartner, revenue from the Internet of Things will be worth $309 billion by 2020, with 26 billion connected devices. Accordig to ZDNet, Broadcom's CEO, Scott McGregor, believes IoT will grow by a factor of 10 over the next five years.

Broadcom's not the only one betting on IoT, though. After missing out on most of mobile's growth, Intel  (NASDAQ: INTC  ) is working hard to get in on the Internet of Things. The company released its Quark chip and Edison development board this year. And in the most recent quarter ending in June, Intel made $539 million in revenue from its IoT division, compared to just $51 million from its mobile unit.

Aside from Intel and Broadcom looking to expand IoT revenue, the companies are part of a larger Internet of Things group, called Open Internet Consortium, which is creating open standards for the burgeoning sector.

Foolish thoughts
This is where IoT gets tricky. Lots of companies are creating their own platforms and standards -- jockeying for the best position in the space -- while some are trying to lay an open foundation for the Internet of Things. There's no clear leader right now, but over the next few years, we'll likely see certain standards rise to the top, while others fall off.

Part of that standardization includes the necessity to keep IoT devices secure. Right now, it's far too easy for companies to create unsecure devices that connect to the Internet, leaving gaping holes in security.

For Broadcom, teaming up with Intel, Samsung, and others to create IoT standards and including encrypting technology should help push the company further toward its Internet of Things goals. Hopefully the inexpensive WICED Sense will promote open IoT growth, but it's likely Broadcom will have to adapt to whatever dominant Internet of Things platform arises, whether it's open or not. Fortunately, the company can shift its chips to whatever Internet of Things platform pops up, and showing off the BCM20737S's capabilities in the WICED Sense device is a great start.

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