By Benny Evangelista, San Francisco Chronicle
Verizon placed a bigger bet on the burgeoning smart device market Wednesday with a platform to encourage the creation of tech-enabled devices like trash compactors, street lamps and vineyard soil sensors.
Verizon dubbed its platform ThingSpace, which puts a simplistic-sounding name on an aggressive business strategy to make the company’s wireless network the center of what some analysts project will be a $1.7 billion market by 2020.
“We see it as the future for our business,” said Mark Bartolomeo, a Verizon vice president in charge of the company’s Internet of Things and connected solutions division.
Verizon announced at an event for reporters and tech analysts at its downtown San Francisco innovation center. The platform, a website and infrastructure, includes staff to help smart device makers create applications and devices, especially for agriculture, health care and consumer electronics.
Best known for its mobile phone services, Verizon is also planning to dedicate some of its network to the Internet of Things, providing data analysis. It’s also developing devices of its own, including surveillance, traffic management and lighting systems for cities.
Last week, Verizon’s quarterly earnings report showed that the company generated $495 million in revenue from its Internet of Things business for the first nine months of 2015.
But executives said the market is barely being tapped. Bartolomeo said there are about 15 million Internet of Things devices connected today, but projected 20 billion in the near future.
“We really believe that the market is underserved today,” said Mark Lanman, Verizon’s senior vice president of enterprise and Internet of Things products. “With all the babble going on in the marketplace, why aren’t people executing faster?”
Verizon is trying to create a platform to accelerate development of easier to use smart devices, “whether it’s connecting your dog or whether you’re connecting your water meters,” Lanman said.
The announcement comes a day after San Francisco officials introduced a pilot program with French startup Sigfox to also spur development of Internet of Things devices. Those are products that use some form of wireless connection to turn common non-tech objects, like streetlights or door locks, into smart devices that automate and add to their functions.
But unlike the city, Verizon trotted out real examples of devices either under development or already in use, including smart municipal trash compactors that signal public works employees when they are full. Verizon said it is working with about 1,000 Internet of Things companies.
Verizon also displayed its video surveillance system, now being tested in a California city that it would not name, that recognizes when a car or person is loitering in a sensitive area of a public street.
Paul Clifton, director of winemaking for Napa’s Hahn Family Wines, said he’s been working with Verizon on a project to install sensors 12 inches into the ground in his vineyards to monitor whether roots need moisture.
So instead of watering for 10 minutes three times a week, Hahn sets the sprinklers to water “when the vine needs water,” Clifton said. “This has taken us away from calendar-based irrigation to more targeted irrigation on our properties.”
The winemaker also has sensors that detect temperature and humidity on the grapes, which helps combat rot and mildew instead of the more traditional way of spraying fungicide every two weeks, he said.
“That’s the way we’ve been doing it for 50 years,” Clifton said. But, he said, “for me not to embrace technology and be this kind of Old World winemaker, I’d be losing out.”
Ali Sebt, CEO and president of Renesas Electronics, a Santa Clara semiconductor manufacturer, said part of Verizon’s platform is making sense of the huge amount of data the Internet of Things will produce.
“The value of (the Internet of Things) is taking information and deriving intelligence from it,” Sebt said.
Roman Kuropas, founder and CEO of Innova, an Illinois electric vehicle company, said it has developed a car-sharing app that tests how a small electric passenger vehicle can be used on several college campuses.
“For every ride, we’re collecting data and showing our subscribers how many carbon emissions they’re saving per ride,” Kuropos said.
©2015 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.