2014
07.09

Recently, I added Spansion Inc. to my patent “watch list” because of some interesting news about the company. It also received four patent grants today. Let’s start with the interesting news. On July 3, it was announced Spansion had joined the ZigBee Alliance, noting this would position the company firmly in the build out of infrastructure of the IoT (Internet of Things).

ZigBee was formed about in 2002 as a standards setting group, defining open standards for wireless sensor networks. ZigBee’s approach was to develop low-cost, low-energy sensor standards that would allow information from a source sensor to be passed “cooperatively” to the closest sensor, then on to the next one on the path, continuing the along the trail of sensors to the last stop, usually a collection node that was linked by the Internet to a monitoring device. Another way to describe this process is mesh networking. It offered the promise of having sensors that were cheap to deploy and useful in extending the reach of remote-device monitoring deeper into buildings and other dense structures.

Back in the early 2000’s this was a very big deal for companies that offered remote monitoring and managed services. Getting to devices deep within structures that were “masked” from typical wireless systems required hardwiring them, a significant expense to the customer that in most cases caused the customer to balk. Many devices went unmonitored. Mesh networks could bring the cost of coverage of these devices down significantly, while concurrently setting up the infrastructure to monitor other devices that could be deployed in other use cases. ZigBee’s founding members were leaders in promoting this approach. Today, the ZigBee alliance has more than a hundred members, many which design and manufacture the sensors and their components, including the controller chips. This is where Spansion is positioned.

The four new patents granted to Spansion are:  8772953 (“Semiconductor device and programming method”) , 8773885 (“Semiconductor memory device featuring selective data storage in a stacked memory cell structure”) ,8774400 (“Method for protecting data against differential fault analysis involved in rivest, shamir, and adleman cryptography using the Chinese remainder theorem,”) and 8775853 (“Device and method for preventing lost synchronization”).

Let’s circle back to the ZigBee Alliance. Of the top 11 companies in the highest membership category (Promoter), you will find Kroger. Let’s pause to think about this. Kroger is a very large food and multi-merchandise retailer. Yet it is part of a wireless mesh networking standards body at the highest level of membership, sitting on the Alliance’s Board of Directors. Why would it do this? Kroger’s position as a ZigBee Board member provides it an opportunity to approve projects that will enhance the retail experience through deployable mesh networks. They have the ability to be first user in a learning lab, which if successful, gives them significant competitive advantage.

ZigBee is about infrastructure development, while Kroger is all about front line customer engagement using that infrastructure. The Internet of Things, and now, the Internet of Everything, has generated a significant business opportunity, which by all accounts, is in the billions of dollars. Consumers are using the “things” for “everything”, and for retailers, control of this newly emerging “smart” customer experience is paramount.

In April of 2014, Kroger joined with eInfochips to roll out a Retail Site Intelligence capability that is deployed over ZigBee mesh networks. Take a look at pages 8-11 of this 2012 presentation. You’ll get a very clear understanding of the synergy between Kroger and ZigBee as they envisioned and created the “store of the future” environment, and now begin to massively deploy it throughout the brick and mortar venues of a major retailer.

The point of all of this is that companies have always sought out alliances that would bring in new revenue opportunities. In this sense, Kroger’s active membership in the ZigBee Alliance is a continuation of traditional business practice. What is new is the positioning joining together of infrastructure developer with a premier infrastructure user to create the new customer engagement model for the Internet of Everything. Expect to see more of this in the newer alliances, such as the Allseen Alliance.