Unlike some LPWANs, Starfish doesn't need towers at all. Instead, it's a mesh of devices all of which talk to each other, typically creating alternate paths in case one device in the mesh fails. Using a mesh also gives Starfish greater range without the need to reach each piece of infrastructure from a base station. Though the network has to have links to the greater Internet, each of those can can serve thousands of endpoints, Bell said.
In the LPWAN sweepstakes, Silver Spring is rare in that it promotes the speed of its network, which at 1.2Mbps (bits per second) is relatively fast. The company also says Starfish is more secure than rivals' systems, with certificate-based device authentication and radio-level encryption.
But the real battle is over building a thriving ecosystem to easily get lots of devices and applications onto the network. To that point, Starfish is based on an open standard, IEEE 802.15.4g, a long-range variant of the one ZigBee and Thread are based on. It uses IPv6 so every device can have its own unique IP address.
To promote the growth of its ecosystem, Silver Spring will offer both hardware and software development kits. It will also host a series of hackathons in San Jose, Calcutta and other cities.
Like other LPWAN backers, Silver Spring has a lofty goal without public delivery dates: It plans to expand Starfish coverage across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand "throughout 2016 and beyond." Who will achieve this kind of vast region-spanning infrastructure remains to be seen.
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