Former Qualcomm exec Rob Chandhok joins Internet of Things startup Helium

Former Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) executive Rob Chandhok is channeling his expertise in the Internet of Things market into an IoT startup, Helium Systems, where he has just taken the role of president and COO.

Chandhok left Qualcomm earlier this month after more than 14 years with the chipset giant. He said that working at Helium will let him stay involved in the IoT market, something he made a key focus in his later years at Qualcomm.

"I saw the opportunity to do a little bit more in the Internet of Things space at a pace that would maybe be a little different than the way Qualcomm could do it," he said.

At Qualcomm, Chandhok spearheaded the development of the AllJoyn protocol. AllJoyn, which was launched in 2011, was Qualcomm's open-source application development framework for ad hoc, proximity-based device-to-device communications. In December 2013 Qualcomm gave the code behind the AllJoyn framework to the Linux Foundation. In turn, the Linux Foundation created the AllSeen Alliance to use AllJoyn to develop a new interoperable standard for connecting devices and objects to the Internet. Chandhok said he still plans on individually being involved in the work of the Alliance.

Helium is a platform that uses a modified version of 802.15.4 radio technology for data transport, the same protocol used by the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)-backed Thread Group for the Internet of Things.

Developers and enterprises can place Helium modules into devices that then connect to what Helium calls Bridges. According to the company, any device in range of any Bridge can then connect to the network, and a single Bridge can handle tens of thousands of devices and cover 50 square miles. The company claims that devices powered using its technology "far outlast" devices connecting over Wi-Fi, ZigBee, cellular and even Bluetooth Low Energy in terms of power consumption.

Helium's platform sits at the edge of the Internet and is based on a distributed routing infrastructure that handles all device traffic in and out of the network. When data from a connected device passes through a Bridge and arrives at the edge of the network, the company's platform processes the data and can expose it to a developer's APIs. Developers or enterprises can also store the data, can add analytics, messages and payments via Helium's partners.

The platform is designed for large vertical markets like healthcare, agriculture and energy, and not right now for the connected home. However, Chandhok said that while the home is not Helium's focus right now, the company's new architecture "would lend itself to the connected home."

Along with Chandhok, Helium boasts some high-powered backers. Helium CEO Amir Haleem was CTO and co-founder of social gaming company Diversion. Helium board members include Napster developer Shawn Fanning, and Joi Ito, who served as chairman of Creative Commons from December 2006 until 2012 and is the director of MIT Media Lab.

Helium is backed in part by Vinod Khosla's venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures. Khosla was one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems and Chandhok said Khosla helped lure him to Helium. 

Helium also formally announced it closed its Series A funding round of $15.98 million, led by Khosla Ventures with participation from FirstMark Capital, Digital Garage, Marc Benioff, SV Angel and Slow Ventures, among others.

Chandhok said many people at the small company have deep expertise in 802.15.4 wireless, and the company has a great deal of experience in creating large-scale distributed systems, which is the essence of Helium's platform. "That combination was very interesting to me," said Chandhok, who early in his career spent 10 years as a research computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, his alma mater.  

Chandhok said Helium has "a bunch of things" in its product pipeline that he cannot yet discuss. Yet he said the potential of the company is huge. Simply adding connectivity to devices or pulling data into a cloud is not going to be enough to scale long term in the IoT market, he said. "We're thinking about, how do we distribute intelligence and the intelligent routing parts of connectivity," he said.

As more data comes off wireless sensors and as that data gets more sophisticated--and lets networks engage in more sophisticated manipulation of the data--developers are going to need a platform that lets them scale up very quickly. "The way we think about the data coming from things, a lot of people will like the approach that we're taking," Chandhok said.

The radio transport protocol is not as important as the platform Helium is building, Chandhok said. He added that the company's key software engineers have come from companies like Akamai and Basho Technologies, and have experience building systems that are "designed to both scale very robustly and also to be distributed in new ways."

For more:
- see this release
- see this Helium page

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