When your dishwasher is ready to network, GainSpan wants it to use WiFi.
GainSpan has just launched its ultra low-power All-in-One GS1011M WiFi modules that will allow appliance manufacturers to easily drop WiFi into their products using GainSpan's hardware and software.
For companies that have spent decades fine-tuning wash cycles and preheating times, moving into the world of connected devices presents a lot of hurdles. Enter chipmakers like GainSpan that want to make it quick and easy for manufacturers without RF or WiFi expertise to incorporate communications.
Although GainSpan is championing WiFi, there is a standards race going on in the home area network with ZigBee. The White House is pushing for a standard, according to John McDonald, the general manager of the transmission and distribution business at General Electric and the chair of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel Governing Board at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. McDonald recently told Greentech Media that the White House has asked NIST to accelerate the process of narrowing down the standard.
The solution is likely going to be a few standards, potentially ZigBee and WiFi, which could be integrated onto a single board that could then be used by appliance makers. But for now, it's anyone's game. Greg Winner, CEO of GainSpan, argues that ZigBee doesn't have the interoperability that will be needed down the road and WiFi already has a high penetration that can be leveraged.
GainSpan is offering a module that packages all of the appeal of WiFi with none of the headache. The single chip allows for security, WPS and provisioning, so that hypothetically you just turn on your dishwasher and then, via your smart phone or internet, all you have to do is enter your password. No resetting your router. "I don't know anyone else who is doing web-based provisioning on a single chip," Winner claims.
But it's not just the single chip concept that Winner thinks makes this an attractive option. The idea that smart meters will ultimately be some kind of gateway into the HAN, said Winner, "that's the most bogus part."
He envisions a world where everything is connected easily via WiFi and devices can be managed on your computer or smart phone. He thinks the idea that the meter, which usually sits on some forgotten outer wall of your house (or in the basement of your apartment building), will be the gateway into every networked piece of your home is completely ridiculous. Instead, he sees that connectivity coming from the ISP provider.
From a manufacturing perspective, makers of thermostats and smart plugs are showing immediate interest, according to Winner, but white goods manufacturers are shopping around, as well.
But the question still remains who is going to manage the customer service line for any chip set that makes its way into consumer goods. Winner guesses that if companies are smart, they'll team up with a store like Best Buy that can offer Geek Squad support. Maybe the Maytag repairman should have spent his downtime taking some online computer classes.
And while companies are investing in smart appliances, whether they run on ZigBee or WiFi, it's unclear what will make consumers come running. While some people will be lured by the idea of setting their thermostat from their iPhone, energy savings potential may draw others.