The latest in scalable controls? Wirepas might support 4 billion lights (UPDATED)

Sept. 24, 2021
An enhanced version of its wireless mesh protocol, now called Massive, could be ready in about a year. More venture funding, and a tough talking ‘Mom,’ arrive to help see it through.

The scalability of lighting control systems could be poised for a quantum leap, as Finnish wireless mesh networking specialist Wirepas is talking about supporting up to 4 billion IoT devices. The company recently landed a €10 million (US$11.7M) round of financing to help develop the capability.

Wirepas is a wireless proprietary mesh networking protocol that is less well known than the open Bluetooth and Zigbee wireless mesh. Like Bluetooth and Zigbee, it is not a lighting technology per se but is a general wireless communication conduit for all sorts of devices, such as phones and laptops and the myriad “things” (such as lights) that are joining the Internet of Things (IoT).

A mesh approach expands the reach of a control network by using each connected device to act as an intelligent router passing instructions along to other devices in the network.

In the lighting world, Tampere-based Wirepas has won over certain enthusiasts including Amsterdam-based smart lighting firm Ingy, which has for some time hailed the protocol for being able to “scale up” to support far more lighting units than other technologies.

The technology not only supports lighting controls but can help luminaires serve other IoT functions including asset tracking. For example, Ingy has deployed Wirepas-equipped luminaires to help track the whereabouts of medical equipment at University Medical Center in Utrecht. Swedish security giant Securitas has used it for presence detection at a biotech park it guards in Sweden, in partnership with lighting provider Fagerhult.

Over the last year, Wirepas has been developing and trialing a new version of its protocol that it says can support 4 billion devices around the world. With that sort of scale, the expanded mesh scheme will provide what Wirepas describes as a cellular-free form of 5G that will cost far less than cellular versions such as LTE that require a mobile operator.

With the “4 billion” in mind — current limitations are probably somewhere in the thousands — Wirepas sometime over the last year changed the name of its protocol from Wirepas Mesh to Wirepas Massive.

One might imagine the expanded capability supporting schemes in which a company could control lights and IoT operations across multiple locations, a concept which some users have deployed, such as when a British retailer tapped a Signify system (not Wirepas) for lighting control across different stores in England.

Wirepas expects to commercialize Massive by October 2022. The technology is based on DECT-2020 NR (New Radio) transmission, which is an enhanced version of the DECT standard used for cordless phones. Wirepas played a leading role in the development of the DECT-2020 NR standard, which the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) published last October.

Earlier this month, Wirepas announced the injection of a combined €10M from two investors — Finland’s state-owned Tesi and Tallinn, Estonia-based Karma Ventures. Tesi was part of a €14.4M ($16.8M) round in 2019. Karma is also an existing investor.

Wirepas is showing signs of making more noise in the IoT world. It has rebranded itself with a brash, no-nonsense persona, proclaiming on its homepage that “in Tampere we cant stand bullshit,” and deploying a weather-hardened woman it calls “Mom” as the straight-talking face and voice of the organization in a series of humorous videos on its website.

*Editor's note: Some of the features mentioned in this story as coming next year are actually available now. We have clarified this in a subsequent story.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.