Cirrent's Plan to Solve Smart-Home Connectivity Problems

The startup plans to leverage existing technology in consumers' homes to make adding devices to their Wi-Fi networks a seamless, secure task.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 29, 2016

It all started when Rob Conant was helping his mother-in-law set up a new printer back in 2014. Having worked for Dust Networks, an early developer of wireless sensor networks for IoT applications, and then Trilliant Networks, which provides wireless networking for the energy industry, Conant's world was enterprise IoT. But if his mother-in-law was struggling to connect a new printer to her home Wi-Fi network, he reasoned, millions of other consumers must have similar struggles.

That year, Conant left Trilliant to launch Cirrent (pronounced SIR-ent), a startup with a mission to make onboarding—the process of connecting smart products to home Wi-Fi routers—smarter and more secure. "People don't want to be IT managers for their homes, and that is a big challenge for the [smart home] industry," Conant explains. So instead of requiring a consumer to link and register a new product to her home's Wi-Fi router by selecting or entering the correct network name and keying in the network password—and then, perhaps, having to perform troubleshooting to figure out why it's not working as intended—Cirrent automates the process, while also decoupling the product's connection to the homeowner's network password. Thus, if the consumer later changes the password or obtains a new Wi-Fi router, the thermostat, door lock, video camera or any other smart-home device residing on that network will not be impacted.

Rob Conant
When Accenture's 2016 Digital Trends Survey polled 28,000 consumers in 28 countries, 64 percent reported that they had experienced challenges while setting up IoT devices. Eighteen percent of this group was unable to connect the device to the Internet, while 14 percent said the setup did not proceed properly.

Cirrent's technology does not require special hardware. A home Wi-Fi router broadcasts multiple service set identifiers (SSIDs), or network names. There is one that the homeowner uses, along with a password of his choosing, to connect the router to the internet, plus one or more additional SSIDs, which are generally used to create additional hotspots (these IDs may or may not be visible to the homeowner, depending on how that person's internet service provider [ISP] operates the router, assuming that the router was provided by the ISP, and not the homeowner). Cirrent uses one of those additional SSIDs to connect Wi-Fi-enabled devices to the home's router. This is made possible through a partnership with the homeowner's ISP, as well as firmware that runs on the product the homeowner is connecting.

In 2014, according to a 2015 report from research firm his, 66 percent of Wi-Fi routers or gateways in homes around the world were provided by ISP providers. But as the number and type of devices consumers add to their Wi-Fi networks is quickly growing, ISPs consider issuing and managing home routers an increasingly important role to take. By 2019, HIS expects that 90 percent of home Wi-Fi routers will be provided by ISPs, globally.

Cirrent has secured partnerships with enough ISPs to make its technology accessible to a "substantial" portion of the United States and Western Europe, according to Conant, who says it's too early to divulge the names of the ISPs or the quantity of homes that currently have the potential to access Cirrent's technology through their ISPs. However, he adds, the first round of smart-home products (including Wi-Fi video cameras and wireless speakers) with Cirrent's firmware will be available this summer. In addition to the firmware, these product manufacturers establish an account with Cirrent's suite of cloud-based commissioning tools. Combined, this allows a homeowner to simply power on a new device and, using either that device's companion smartphone app or a web browser, respond to an "add to network" prompt.

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