Back to the Future – How does it feel - Wirepas

Back to the Future – How does it feel

Jari Hämäläinen

In September 2023, I embarked on an exciting new chapter as the Vice President of Product Management at Wirepas. This role propelled me into the fascinating realm of wireless connectivity deep tech. Surrounded by brilliant minds, I found myself striving to make a significant impact and thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie of my colleagues and our partners.

Background: A Nostalgic Series called Back To The Future 

My fascination with the “Back to the Future” movies began in childhood and persists to this day. The character of “Doc” Emmett Brown, the inventor of a time machine, captivated me. He taught me that sometimes, to shape the future, we must revisit the past and learn from it. 

During my tenure in the maritime container handling and logistics industry, I was inspired to author a series of 30 LinkedIn posts titled “Back to the Future” between 2022 and 2023. In this series, I revisited past visionary publications and examined their relevance in the context of today’s digital transformation landscape.


The Golden Era: When everything was selling, and the future was underestimated.  

My career took off in telecommunications at the Hermia Technology Center in Tampere, Finland, the birthplace of wireless packet data connectivity, camera phones, and smartphones. We were pioneers, setting standards for what are now known as smartphones. We introduced the world’s first video call and downloadable Internet applications on mobile phones, laying the groundwork for application ecosystems. Our innovations, though unimaginable at the time, have profoundly impacted billions of lives globally. The driving force behind our success was a combination of courage, passion, and a team of extraordinary individuals. Everything we did was ultimately selling big way and every projection of the future business potential was an underestimation. 

Let’s take a trip “Back to the Future”: 

At the onset of my career, a 14.4 kbps modem was the pinnacle of online connectivity. Only a handful of people had Internet access. The first digital mobile phones were sold that year, primarily used for voice calls and occasional text messages. The cost of an online modem connection was determined by the duration of the call. 

Challenged by my forward-thinking boss, I was chartered to design wireless connectivity for future personal communicators. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the existence and appearance of future personal communicators (today’s smartphones), we envisioned high speed data and “always online” wireless data connectivity (e.g., patent of packet data transmission in a radio communications network, as well as patent of digital camera integration with the mobile phone). This vision led to the development of packet data transmission in a radio communications network, forming the foundation for 2.5G GPRS, 3G, 4G, 5G, and WiFi-based data communications. 

The pace of advancement in this field has been remarkable. Today, we no longer gauge high-speed data in kilobits per second (kbps), but in gigabits per second (Gbps). This kind of dramatic escalation in digital technologies has fueled economic growth over the past decades and continues to drive progress. 
The business potential of wireless packet data connectivity was largely underestimated. Forecasts predicted 25-100 million users by the end of the century. However, the reality far exceeded these predictions. The first smartphone, Nokia Communicator, was introduced in 1996. By 1999, worldwide sales of mobile handsets reached 283 million units, a minority of which were smartphones. As is often the case, short-term predictions were overestimated, while the long-term impact of smartphones and wireless packet data connectivity was vastly underestimated. In 2023, global smartphone users numbered 6.92 billion, accounting for nearly 86% of the population. A staggering 92.4% of the world’s Internet users use a mobile phone to go online at least part of the time. Mobile phones now account for more than half of our online time and more than half of the world’s web traffic. To date, about 25 billion mobile phones have been sold globally, most equipped with wireless data connectivity and cameras.  

Despite the hardware, it’s the apps that truly make smartphones integral to modern life. It’s astounding to consider the immense impact these devices have had on our daily lives. 

Despite the profound impact on our lives, I often ponder whether introducing these technologies, which enable people to spend a significant part of their daily hours on social media and video streaming services with their smartphones, was beneficial. Every coin has two sides. 

Value Creation: The Essence of B2B 

Transitioning from telecommunications to the maritime container handling and logistics industry, I learned that value creation is the essence of B2B. Technologies don’t sell without a mutual understanding of the use case and business case. Success hinges on knowing your customer and the end customer, understanding the touchpoints in the value chain for selected industrial use cases, and building an offering that delivers customer value and fosters innovation in the value chain. You need to play a clear, value-adding role in the ecosystem, as business cannot be done alone, without our partners. 

Even though sea containers at ports and terminals move daily with fully automated and electrified container handling equipment, and the entire fleet of equipment can be monitored in real-time on digital dashboards, most of the global supply chain still operates on paper. This was recognized as a significant business opportunity about ten years ago and still is. There is an existing opportunity for massive Internet of Things (IoT). 

Back to the Future: A Familiar Feeling 


Picture: Jari at Hermia, where Wirepas headquarters is located 

Joining Wirepas in September 2023 felt like a journey back to the future. I returned to the familiar Hermia Technology Center in Tampere, delved back into deep technologies and wireless connectivity, and once again found myself working with people who possess the courage needed to make a significant global innovation and business impact. 

Wirepas, an international company hailing from Tampere, is a powerhouse of innovation. I am surrounded by passion and exceptional talent every day. Many of our people work in Tampere, collaborating daily with our colleagues and customers globally. 

While biking to work last autumn, I contemplated my small contribution to global sustainability. However, at Wirepas, we can make a much larger impact. IoT automates many tasks that previously required manual site visits and unnecessary maintenance operations. We play a role in reducing customer footprint, improving energy efficiency, and ensuring the security of supply. 

I am happy that Wirepas products and technology have been field-proven. More than a million smart meters run on our mesh connectivity in a single mesh network in the Oslo region in Norway. A few million smart meters in India use Wirepas Mesh, with a 99%+ service level agreement. We have over 200 licensees worldwide and more than 100 proven use cases, not only in smart electricity metering but also in asset tracking, predictive maintenance of industrial manufacturing, and smart buildings. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Wirepas Mesh, here’s a brief overview. We deliver software for wireless mesh connectivity that combines performance and reliability with the lowest total cost of ownership in wireless IoT connectivity. Our focus is on large-scale industrial applications, where we provide infinitely scalable mesh connectivity software that never fails. We also provide backend systems, tools, and references to create robust IoT solutions. 

I am privileged to work alongside the main contributors to the new non-cellular 5G standard, NR+, the first non-cellular standard recognized by the Radio communications sector of International Telecommunications Union (ITU-R). NR+ takes reliability to a new level, thanks to a field-proven mesh protocol and an advanced radio modem. I believe that standardization is a significant business advantage among all the de-facto IoT technologies, as it has been for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G cellular communications. 

Looking “Back to the Future”, I predict that the anticipated growth of massive IoT solutions for the upcoming decades is likely being underestimated. 


Picture from Wirepas office: Mom - Straight outta Tampere 

Wrap-up: Back to the Future Movies 

In the “Back to the Future” movies, the flux capacitor was the core of the time machine. Similarly, Wirepas has mesh network technology at the core of massive IoT services today and in the future. Perhaps it’s our flux capacitor fueling the business of our ecosystem. 

I bet Wirepas Mom would have been a great companion for Doc Emmet Brown. 


Picture: Mom. 

Author: Jari Hämäläinen 

Vice President, Product Management at Wirepas.

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