Wireless data connectivity, a la The Internet of Things, generally happens one of two ways.
- Short Range- Bluetooth, WiFi, Zigbee, etc.
- Long Range- Cellular Modems
We all understand the benefits of broadband wireless connectivity in the home or in the sphere of coverage created by your smartphone, but let's focus on the cellular modem use case.
Traditionally cellular modems are forced into high ROI (return on investment) applications. Vendors like Sierra Wireless and Telit have made it easy for developers to add cellular connectivity to devices, but it comes at a high price ($$$ and batteries).
Cellular modems cost $50-150 each, and service can easily run into tens of dollars per month. Generally these costs are justifiable when the savings from having the data could be several times more than was invested. Businesses like alarm.com or Air Vend can justify these costs.
The hidden cost of cellular modems is power. They are simply too power hungry to run on batteries, at least for long. The idle current draw from a cellular modem is 100 mA on the low end, and when transmitting most draw about 300 mA. Even getting a day of operation is going to require several D cell batteries or more.
Long Range, Low Power wireless networks allow connectivity over the same range (miles), but at a tiny fraction of the power budget. For example, Link Labs network modules draw about 10 uA (micro amps) in idle and about 80 mA when transmitting. For low rate applications (a few times per day), this can translate into 5-10 years of life on batteries that would power a cellular modem for about a day. These modules cost much less than cellular, and data service is measured in cents, not tens of dollars.
This opens the aperture on problems that can be solved with wireless data in two ways.
- Battery Powered.
- Low ROI uses.
Here are some examples of battery powered sensors, where the ROI of data has never made sense before:
- Parking Sensors
- Dumpster Monitors
- Propane/Fuel Oil Tank Monitors
- Soil Monitoring
In addition, efficient battery powered devices disrupt how traditional markets are served. Imagine if an alarm company could place small battery powered sensors in your home and they are instantly connected to a wide area network. No wires, quick installation, no need to power or wifi from the home.
Or in asset tracking, if the costs associated with tracking drop by 10-100x, imagine the impact on logistics.