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Why the Internet of Things needs another ten years

Ira Brodsky | Jan. 25, 2016
The IoT market is being hyped for a second time. But perseverance is a virtue. The pieces of the puzzle are very slowly falling in place.

Mobile phone and satellite services are a good fit for monitoring critical assets. In some cases, a critical asset (such as an 18-wheeler) may be equipped with multiple sensors and actuators. These can be networked locally using short-range technologies such as ZigBee, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The data can be aggregated by a router or gateway and forwarded over the mobile phone or satellite connection.

However, there are many applications that call for communicating intermittently with simple, inexpensive devices that are dispersed around a city or the countryside. These devices could be installed on street lamps, fire hydrants and traffic signals. Or they could be deployed by farmers to monitor soil moisture. They are too scattered to use short-range wireless technologies, and too numerous and cost-sensitive to use satellite or mobile phone service.

Fortunately, a new generation of low power wide area (LPWA) networks are being built that are specifically designed for such IoT applications. These networks can usually cover a city for an order of magnitude lower cost than a mobile phone network, and they are typically optimized to handle many short messages from large numbers of battery-powered devices.

San Diego-based Ingenu (formerly On-Ramp Wireless) “bring[s] connectivity exclusively to machines.” The company says that its proprietary random phase multiple access (RPMA) technology enables wide area connectivity using unlicensed devices in the globally-available 2.4 GHz band. An RPMA access point can cover 30 to 200 square miles, depending on terrain, communicating with devices that can run for years without having to replace their batteries. Ingenu says it can serve devices that individually consume less than $1 of service per month. The company claims 38 private networks operational in 20 countries. Ingenu provides the technology -- operators build their own networks and choose their own business models.

Based in France’s “IoT Valley,” Sigfox competes for similar business using a different approach. The firm sees itself lowering the barriers to Internet of Things connectivity by providing “simple, economical, energy-efficient two-way transmission of small quantities of data over long distances.” Using ultra narrow band (UNB) technology at frequencies below 1 GHz (such as the unlicensed 900 MHz band in the U.S.), Sigfox sells base stations that can cover areas with a radius of a few kilometers (in urban centers) to 50 kilometers (in rural settings). Operators must share a small percentage of their revenue with Sigfox. Sigfox claims 7 million connections in 12 countries (four of which have built out nationwide networks). In addition to familiar applications, creative solutions inspired by Sigfox include a “smart button” that hotels and restaurants use to call taxis and a sensor for detecting when a fire hydrant has been opened.

 

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