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S.F. Internet of Things Wireless Network Open for Business

One of the first features of the new IoT in San Francisco will be a series of smart streetlights.

(TNS) -- A wireless network designed for tech-infused objects like smart traffic lights, garbage cans and garden sensors opened for business in San Francisco Tuesday, even though those gadgets are more theoretical than actual.

City officials agreed to run a one-year pilot project with Sigfox, a French company that is building a low-power Internet of Things wireless network now in hopes of someday cashing in on the boom.

The city plans to encourage entrepreneurs to invent more devices that will connect with the network. Miguel Gamiño, the city’s technology department director and chief information officer, compared San Francisco to ancient governments, which built networks of roads specifically to move armies.

“Now we’re using roads to develop companies like Uber and things like autonomous vehicles that they never could have predicted,” Gamiño said.

Sigfox, founded in 2009, wants to create a wireless network that runs separately from existing cell phone networks and is made just for these smart devices, which require a much lower level of data and power usage. It has already built some networks in Europe, and in May announced plans to bring it to 10 U.S. regions, including the Bay Area.

Sigfox and city technology crews have installed about 20 of its base stations throughout San Francisco, using libraries and other city buildings. Each base station covers about 12 to 18 miles, and is the company’s largest network so far in the U.S., said Allen Proithis, Sigfox’s North American president.

The company is also extending its network down the Peninsula toward San Jose. It doesn’t have any customers signed up, but is in discussions with several companies, Proithis said.

“We’re just going live with it now,” he said. “You have to build a road before you can drive on it.”

The market for the Internet of Things — ordinary objects made “smart” by technology that connects them and the data they produce to the Internet — should grow from $655.8 billion last year to $1.7 trillion in 2020, according to a report released this year by IDC, a Framingham, Mass., research firm.

There are already consumer devices in the Internet of Things, like fitness trackers and smart thermostats. But most of the market will come from devices used by governments and businesses, IDC said.

There are vague ideas about how a connected network could help governments, such as sensors that could signal to public works departments when a traffic light bulb needs replacing, when the soil in a park’s lawn needs watering, or when Muni buses are running behind schedule.

But those ideas still have to be made into real devices, and each will pose other questions about privacy and security.

At a city-run press conference at the Palace of Fine Arts, John Heibel, CEO of Santa Cruz smart meter company Glen Canyon Corp., held up one of his company’s devices as an example of how utilities could take advantage of an Internet of Things network.

“The Internet of Things has had an incredibly revolutionary effect on the world,” he said.

But city officials don’t want to specify the kind of devices they have in mind, because they don’t want to limit the potential ideas or build a network that could only be used for one or two types of categories, Gamiño said.

“Our approach is to make the connectivity pervasive and create an environment where a whole bunch of use cases can develop,” he said.

The city plans to host a hackathon in November to get the tech community to come up with potential devices and to better understand the challenges, said Jay Nath, the city’s chief innovation officer.

“Our vision is to make San Francisco the Internet of Things capitol of the world,” he said.

©2015 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.