There should be an easy way for start-ups to build data connectivity (3G/4G) into any device. This idea is inspired by Amazon's Whispernet so I'll refer to it as Wispernet as a Service (WaaS).
An ideal solution would involve a small chip that could be attached to an Arduino or similar board. There would be various financing options which allow either company or customer to shoulder data costs.
This would enable any hardware startup to build an internet connected device. It's become incredibly cheap for a startup to create and sell a physical product, aided by platforms such as Kickstarter, Etsy, Shapeways, and the aforementioned Arduino; with WaaS; these platforms have helped enable an explosion in the long tail of cool physical products. Imagine what might could be built when anyone can snap on a cheap chip to make a device connected.
What is Whispernet?
Whispernet is the data delivery network that Amazon uses with 3G Kindle devices. Amazon has deals with telecom companies around the world which enable its customers to download books (and other content) from any location. While they have successfully built Whispernet to work with their own devices, Amazon does not license the technology or partnerships.
Telecom companies are notoriously difficult to work with and it's unclear whether a company smaller than Amazon would be able to negotiate similar deals.
Once the Network is in place, there is potential complexity in working out the data payments. The startups using WaaS could be responsible for the payments but what happens if the company goes under? Will the products stop working?
Other solutions involve the customer paying for the data via either a monthly plan or per usage. This isn't ideal as it complicates the sale. If there are enough WaaS products on the market, perhaps a consumer could pay one monthly fee for all of their WaaS devices to connect.
A Final Word
Ideally, Amazon would open their Whispernet network to developers and start selling WaaS chips and subscriptions. There are some parallels here to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Both cases involve Amazon developing awesome technology for their own use and then opening it up to a broader community; both platforms lower the barrier (and cost) to creating products. Companies could pay for data on WaaS similar to how they currently pay for computing cycles on AWS.
If Amazon isn't willing or able to create WaaS, I'm not sure how else the platform could be created. We may have to wait until there is ubiquitous Wifi in urban areas before we see the type of innovation WaaS would unleash.
Have any thoughts about how this could be accomplished? Leave a comment!