What is Google up to?

June 24, 2014

dropcamMergers and acquisitions indicate rapidly growing markets ahead. Google made a 3.2B$ acquisition of Nest in January. Now they just followed on with an acquisition of the Wi-Fi surveillance camera maker Dropcam for 555M$. Thermostats, smoke alarms and cameras – what is Googles plan? I think it is the homes and maybe offices they are after. There are many thermostats, smoke alarms and smart cameras available but Nest and Dropcam definitely comes with a cool design which should at least bring home healthier margins. People love nice products! Google has always been interested in Wi-Fi and it’s not a wild bet that there will be Wi-Fi in homes and offices. But this can’t be enough, they must be going after a service model with recurring revenues and collecting data from these devices to store, manage, analyze and sell. I have always claimed that “data is the gold of M2M” and I am confident that Google shares that view.

Provided I’m right, I still questions that idea. Even if Google spend another couple of B$ to buy companies with cool things (Sonos could be a good target)¬†they will never get market share over maybe 5-10% and scattered around. I understand that they could sell the information back to the users of these devices but that seems to be a difficult path to get the money back. And if they try to sell the data elsewhere I would believe the owners of the devices and policymakers would have a view on that. But Google knows all that. The recurring revenues are obviously attractive but it feels questionable to pay this much to get there.

On top of all I believe their will have to be at least three separate wireless networks in homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi with good performance but only best effort services, a really secure fully managed network for security related applications like door locks, surveillance and medical monitoring, and maybe even a third managed low bandwidth network for connecting things like fridges, coffee machines, etc. And even worse, we will see a mix of WAN and LAN technologies being used as well. I simply don’t see how one can deliver sensible services like surveillance or smoke detection over an unmanaged best effort Wi-Fi network. Successful companies with such services like Verisure today typically manage their own network.

So I am probably wrong. Goggle sees something I don’t. And they also understand the down-side of connected hardware since Nest just had to recall 440.000 smoke alarms due to a potential risk that they didn’t alarm immediately. But I am happy for their acquisitions since it stimulates entrepreneurs, customers and other companies who consider playing a sincere role in building the Internet of Everything.

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