Dedicated machine-to-machine (M2M) networks capable of supporting Internet of Things (IoT) connections might just be commonplace by this time next year.
Ingenu, a company with proprietary technology for M2M connectivity, has launched such networks in two cities as it gets ready to set up in more than 30 cities through 2016 and 2017. The networks will be open to public- and private-sector users as a means for connecting devices without forcing them to compete with more “noisy” technologies like cell phones.
The company has already launched in Riverside, Calif., and Dallas, and plans to expand to the rest of the country soon. In some places, the company is already working with local governments — in Riverside, for example, the public power utility is setting up an array of nine sensors along its electricity infrastructure that should help it fix power outages more quickly.
“The utility is using the network to connect intelligent devices out on distribution feeders that will tell us when power goes out and help us identify the location of the outage quickly so that we can limit the power outage,” said George Hanson, engineering manager for Riverside Utilities.
The city has two such devices set up now — according to Hanson, it takes a day or two to install each device — and plans to install the rest before the end of summer. The presence of these devices means the utility will no longer rely on customer phone calls to identify outages — it will now know when and where the problems are.
In the future, he said the utility plans to look at other possible uses for the network. That could mean controls for LED streetlights, or possibly hooking up advanced meters.
That’s the thing about dedicated M2M networks — because they can support multiple use cases, there’s no telling what can come of them. That’s the message San Francisco CIO Miguel Gamiño has been preaching for a while now: Don’t just establish a dedicated connection for one IoT use case; set up a dedicated network and watch what people do with it.
Ingenu’s planning on launching a network in San Francisco during the fourth quarter of 2016. That would more or less make it a competitor to Sigfox, which launched its own IoT-dedicated network in the city last year on a different band of spectrum.
No matter, says Gamiño — competition is a good thing for the tech-rich city.
“I want people who want to build … (IoT) use cases to come to San Francisco because that’s where you go if that’s what you want to do,” he said.
Ingenu touts a few key traits of its "Random Phase Multiple Access" technology that its representatives say give it an advantage over other IoT networks, including a long battery life, efficient data transmission and a relatively low number of access points needed to cover large areas. In Dallas, for instance, the company set up 17 access points to cover more than 2,000 square miles — most of the metroplex.
The company already has experience serving the private sector, having set up M2M networks for companies in industries like electric power. The public roll-out will allow it to work more closely with governments, which are now starting to explore the possibilities of IoT applications in public work across the U.S.
“These applications could be anything from water management — you know, that’s a big problem for cities all over the country, how do you meter and manage a resource like water — to … streetlights," said Landon Garner, Ingenu’s chief marketing officer. "Something as simple as streetlights can save cities a lot of money."
But IoT work can’t really happen without having the means to connect machines together with a network, and so cities like San Francisco and Atlanta have been looking for ways to build networks dedicated to M2M communication. While machines can connect to each other via established networks such as LTE and Wi-Fi, they need to accommodate competing signals. Dedicated networks can be built to handle machine communications more efficiently.
“You have to have the right ecosystem in place if you really want to have a smart city,” said Ingenu CEO John Horn.
Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.