Companies, like people and cities, have every right to call themselves whatever they please. I come to this conviction, perhaps, as a native of Illinois, where cities like Des Plaines (pronounced dess-PLAINS) and Marseilles (mar-SAILS) defy the sophisticated outsider to apply a French pronunciation.
Silver Spring Networks, a publicly traded company that provides so-called smart meters and other networked energy-efficiency services to electric utilities, prefers to be known, at least by its newish CEO, as an Internet of Things, or IoT, company. “IoT is real, not slideware” says Mike Bell, who joined Silver Spring in late 2015. Bell has an illustrious background: a varied career at Apple before and after Steve Jobs returned to the company, followed by senior stints at Palm and Intel.
He says he took the recruiter call from Silver Spring because he recognized the IoT potential. “We have 26 million devices in the field on every [habitable] continent,” he says, noting that the networks Silver Spring runs on behalf of its utility customers amount to something nearly as powerful as an alternate Internet.
Still, Silver Spring has challenges. It has expanded into non-utility services like managing a municipality’s streetlights to maximize efficiency and minimize downtime. It wants to be more than a smart meter company. Yet three utilities make up nearly 70% of its revenues. And according to its securities filings, Silver Spring faces a bevy of competitors, from giants Cisco, AT&T, and Alcatel-Lucent to smaller players like Sigfox, Ingenu, and a nonprofit cell phone company coalition called the LoRa Alliance, which is focused on IoT.
Silver Spring, which doesn’t make money, is a relative pipsqueak, with a market capitalization of about $600 million. Foundation Capital, one of its venture-capital backers, continues to hold a nearly 20% stake in the company.
Bell is right that IoT is real. His well-positioned company’s slowness in capitalizing on the trend illustrates where the skepticism comes from about it. Making money on an idea is harder than it looks.
BITS AND BYTES
Facebook shareholders: How much could ‘fake news’ hurt the company? A proxy proposal filed last week suggests that the social networking giant prepare a broad report about the issue. The group is interested learning more about both the overriding threat to democracy and free speech, as well as the risks to Facebook’s revenue model posed by the phenomenon. Facebook’s directors aren’t keen on the idea. (Reuters)
Apple is now officially allowed to test self-driving cars in California. It recently received a permit from state regulators, serving as confirmation that the tech giant, like its big rival Google, is working on autonomous vehicle technologies. But we still don’t know much about the initiative, which reportedly goes by the codename Project Titan—including whether Apple is working on just software or an actual car. (Fortune, New York Times, Fast Company)
Bitcoin proponents beware. A hacker group claims to have figured out a way to break into digital wallets by “brute force,” potentially allowing them to steal the digital currency. Realistically, though, the chances for significant financial gain are pretty slim. (Fortune)
Here’s how hotels are making it rough for upstart Airbnb. The industry is using its lobbying power to encourage regulatory scrutiny of the home-rental company at the local, state, and national level, reports The New York Times. It turns out the American Hotel and Lodging Association—backed by Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt—was behind both New York’s stricter rules regarding home and apartment rentals, as well as the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into its business model. (New York Times)
Why some cloud deals are fake news. Just under two years ago, NetSuite announced a set of partnerships with Microsoft, including plans to move some of its computing workloads from Amazon Web Services to the Microsoft Azure public cloud.
This was interesting in that it seemed to demonstrate a large software company agreeing to use data center infrastructure from Microsoft, which is a distant second to AWS in public cloud—basically a huge set of computing, storage, and networking resources that one company owns, manages, and rents to multiple customers.
The thing is: This promised move never happened. Fortune‘s Barb Darrow reports on why it’s not all that unusual for a big multi-vendor partnership to die on the vine.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Microsoft Says It Has Patched Leaked NSA Hacks, by Jeff John Roberts
Will Anybody Actually Use Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck? by Aric Jenkins
Intel Pulls Out of OpenStack Effort It Founded With Rackspace, by Barb Darrow
Apple Hits the Ice With NHL Deal, by Don Reisinger
Netflix Could Have a $1 Billion Merchandising Business, by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
New Device Pulls Drinking Water from the Air, Using Only Solar Energy, by David Z. Morris
ONE MORE THING
Remembering a pioneer in personal computing. Robert Taylor’s work at the Advanced Research Project Agency led to the creation of Arpanet, the precursor to today’s Internet. Taylor, who was 85 when he passed away last week in Northern California, also worked at the Palo Alto Research Center. There, he helped fund the Alto, one of the ancestors to today’s personal computers. (New York Times)