Low power Wi-Fi fan Ozmo loads up another $10m
Still no sign of any products
Having burned through its first $30m, Ozmo Devices has raised another $10m by promising to have low-powered Wi-Fi devices breeding like flies by the end of 2010.
While raising the latest $10.8m, Ozmo has added Atlantic Bridge as an investor. The company also acquired a new CEO, Bill McLean, who has chucked in some of his own cash to supplement money from existing backers. That shows a lot of confidence in a company that has already spent $30m without a creating a product or announcing any customers, not to mention entering a highly competitive and unproven market.
The premise behind Ozmo is to use Wi-Fi connectivity to link up keyboards, mice, headphones and all the other peripherals that get plugged into computers these days. Using Wi-Fi means reusing existing hardware, but it also means competing with Bluetooth and the various proprietary solutions that exist, as well as upcoming standards like Wireless USB and WiMedia.
To be fair the last two are really for high-speed connections, so Bluetooth is the primary target, and Ozmo's advantage is the reuse of existing Wi-Fi hardware.
That hardware needs to support Intel's Cliffside technology, which enables one Wi-Fi chipset to manage multiple simultaneous connections. That's part of the new Wi-Fi Direct standard for peer-to-peer connections, which Ozmo has been heavily involved with, and promises to be a standard feature of laptops later this year. Once the hardware supports Wi-Fi Direct, Ozmo will be a software upgrade and Ozmo devices will be able to attach to it - after someone licences the chips from Ozmo and builds some devices.
Ozmo says it has manufacturers lined up to make stuff, but it won't name them. When pushed, McLean pointed out that he wouldn’t have invested his own money unless he had complete confidence in the company's future.
One might argue that it's only by having a single standard (Bluetooth) that short-range wireless works at all. One might also point out the rarity of Wi-Fi devices that don't already incorporate Bluetooth, which might render the alternative pointless. But Ozmo is hearing none of it, and reckons it can turn this new round of funding right into positive cash flow - scheduled for early next year. ®
The Wi-Fi Direct technology blinkers
Of course, the low power Wi-Fi approach is coming along just as Bluetooth low energy is launching, with its promise of reducing power consumption by several orders of magnitude below anything WI-Fi Direct can achieve. So this could be a classic example of building a brand new stable after the horse has bolted.
As always, wireless standards never meet their delivery dates. Wi-Fi direct was promised to be complete and have a qualification process in place around now. The Ozmo announcement implies that is probably still a year away. Although equally delayed, the Bluetooth low energy standard was published last December. Its qualification process should be in place by the end of this month and at least three companies are ready and waiting to start shipping chips.
One interesting point is that much of the Bluetooth low energy work is happening in Europe, which is frequently off the radar for US technology companies. As happened with GSM, they only believe what they see in sunny California, and then wonder what's hit them when the European standards arrive. So Bill McLean’s confidence may yet turn out to be more than a little myopic.
And to answer the pricing question, a Bluetooth low energy chip will be around one fifth of the cost of a Wi-Fi Direct chip, as it’s been designed for minimum silicon area. Plus it has the advantage that the volumes are higher, as they ride on the mass volume cellphone market, whereas Wi-Fi is limited to the much smaller smartphone and laptop markets.
The wonderful thing about IT standards...
...is that there are so many to choose from.
It'll come down to one thing.
Does low power WiFi cost less (or will it cost less) per unit used than current bluetooth?
If I want high speed wireless comms that bluetooth can't do, I'll use WiFi as-is.
If I want connectivity that bluetooth can't do, I'll use WiFi as-is.
In other words, if it ain't cheaper, I'm not interested.
And I'm willing to hedge a bet that few others would be too.