SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Weightless Special Interest Group completed its specification for machine-to-machine communications over the TV white space bands. Startup Neul Ltd. leads the alliance and is the only member with RF silicon supporting it, believing its chips will help drive the much-discussed Internet of Things (IoT).
The industry is “not on trajectory” to optimistic predictions of 50 billion Internet of Things nodes, and “one of the big sticking points was lack of a suitable wireless net,” said William Webb, chief technologist of Neul and chief executive of Weightless.
The TV white spaces provide three ingredients for what Neul believes will be rapid IoT growth: RF chips that cost $2, carry data up to 10 kilometers and can run ten years on a single battery, he said. The new spec covers the entire 470 to 790 MHz band and supports both 6- and 8-MHz channels.
Neul's initiative is one of the latest pursuing an Internet of Things future. The Zigbee Alliance has been working similar territory for years. More recently, several initiatives such as the IPSO Alliance cropped up to drive Internet Protocol down to low-cost nodes, and many others are pushing proprietary protocols and networks.
Currently, Neul has a few hundred FPGA versions of its designs, mainly being used for rural broadband trials in the U.S. The base stations—some made by Neul—support aggregate throughput of 16 Mbits/second over 10 Km with line of sight access.
“We think there is a market of 200,000 to 300,000 homes in U.S.,” said Webb. “It’s a bit of a divergence from our machine-to-machine goal but this market is happening faster than M2M because it’s more clearly defined."
The NeulNet system is geared for rural broadband.
Indeed, some observers say the Internet of Things is a fragmented basket of possible new applications. Many of the optimistic visions are in reality hard sells because they aim to be deployed where there may be either no systems in place or robust mechanical or analog alternatives.
“I buy that the IoT concept is hundreds of apps and some will be really tough to crack,” Webb said. “For instance, health care has lots of regulations and is conservative, so it will be massively hard to penetrate but once it goes it will be huge."
Similarly, Webb notes he is aware of M2M trials of seismic sensors systems in shale oil and gas fields but “at the moment they are wired,” he said. On the other hand, “there are a few cases that will happen more quickly such as smart [utility] meters,” he added.
Overall, “I’m optimistic it will be enormous,” said Webb.