What happens if your IoT providers are out of business…

This morning, I saw a post:

Spectrum discontinues home security service, leaving customers with bricked equipment

https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/13/21063596/spectrum-home-security-discontinued-service-charter-cable-cost-refund

Spectrum is owned by Charter Communications, which provides home security services and stuff like security cameras, doorbells, etc. Please note that Charter is the second largest internet equipment providers, operating in 42 states.

Due to whatever reason, Charter decided not to continue the service Spectrum provides… So it leaves customers with bricked equipment because Spectrum reportedly firmware coded its devices to be incompatible with other devices, effectively orphaning them once the service shuts down unless the company pushes a firmware update. Oh… such a classic story.

Same story for Samsung years back, I couldn’t find the story, but one of my friend’s Samsung smart fridge is not supported anymore and became dumb… they are allowed to do so because firmware update is never written in the warrant book: https://www.samsung.com/us/support/service/warranty/RF22K9581SR/AA

So I asked myself, why the hell is this happening and really, I want to know why the market is behaving like this. So I asked a few questions to one of my friends in the IoT business.

  • Why Spectrum codes their devices not to be compatible with other companies?

I interviewed a local Dutch smart door lock company. Its founder (Jack) told me the most significant thing they care about when designing the lock is, security & safety. Sure, because you guys are making a door lock. That being said, they have to use a proprietary communication protocol for device communication that hardly, no one can ever break it. And he told me that most of the IoT device companies do this today.

  • Why don’t you move to those big platform providers, such as AWS, Azure, Google, or ARM?

Jack told me they did try at the beginning, but AWS, Azure or whatever other IoT platforms are way below their expectations… neither security nor functionalities. For a specific IoT product, such as door lock, it needs a lot of specific features that those big players cannot generalize.

Hence, they cannot wait for those big players… so they just started building their platforms. That’s why you will find nearly all IoT providers have their devices and a whole software suite.

  • What are the priorities of an IoT device company?

This is a very simple answer: Sales!

The priority is only about conquering the market. Gain as many market shares as possible, and…then what? After gaining a big piece of market share, they are waiting for AWS, Microsoft, or Google to integrate them into their ecosystem.

Holy shit… now I know why they don’t care about the ecosystem. Nope, they care, but they don’t want to do it because creating another similar platform is recreating the wheel. And you don’t want to compete directly with the big cloud providers!

After my talk with Jack, I can’t help thinking about what is the best solution for the IoT companies today. Maybe he is correct. Before the market becomes being dominated by a few giants, no one has the economic incentive to contribute to the ecosystem. Gain market share is more practical, for sure.

So what can a customer do to minimize their loses in your smart IoT devices?

  1. Pick a big brand with high credibility. Just like you invest in your stocks. At least you can sure this company won’t die quickly in the next 20 years. (be very careful about this tho, because the company will discontinue the support of your product but not going bankrupt. They simply don’t want to support the old and try to sell you new ones)
  2. Bug IoT devices that have a vast ecosystem already. Such as Alexa, Google home, etc. (not sure about Google home tho…)
  3. Don’t buy any IoT devices, stay cool and stay human! (there are quite a lot of these people don’t like technologies)
  4. Don’t buy cloud backed up devices (I am not saying you can’t buy a device that connects to the cloud. What I am saying is DO NOT buy devices that only work if connects to the cloud/internet/.
  5. Buy devices that support self-hosting, with decentralized device management. Doing that gives you the flexibility to find another host if the current provider discontinues it. 
  6. Buy devices that support open-source standards (I would not do so tho… you have a risk of being exposed to security breaches if you don’t find a good service company behind it)