By George Dannecker
For years we’ve talked about how the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to change our world, but the challenges have always been battery life, short distances, high costs and difficulty to deploy. But these challenges didn’t stop, Senet Inc, formerly known as EnerTrac, from building its own private long range and low cost IoT network four years ago.
You may ask, why build up our own? Well, the major telecom operators are focused on cell based networks, which is necessary to facilitate high data rate applications, but is too expensive and energy demanding for the types of IoT applications we had in mind.
So we decided to become America’s first Network as a Service (NaaS) provider. In a way, a NaaS really isn’t much different then a telecommunications operator, where we essentially rent out our wireless infrastructure to clients — the first ones coming from the heating industry, more specifically delivering oil and propane heating to residences and businesses.
Consider the following. On average, oil delivery drivers visit each customer six times per year. They typically make the delivery runs when the tanks are filled at 50%, which is at a cost per delivery of $50-100. With the IoT we showed them how they can deliver at 20% capacity, saving two deliveries per customer per year. If they have between 10,000-15,000 tanks, that’s $1-$1.5 million a year in savings.
So we retrofitted the existing oil tanks at both residences and businesses with sensors sitting and every hour they collect and transmit data, including fuel levels, gauge status, sensor status, and sensor recalibration reports, to oil dealers via the cloud, who then determine when to dispatch deliveries and replenish supplies.
It’s that simple and the end-consumers love it. Similar to a smart meter, they see value in keeping track of how much oil they are burning to make sure they have enough, which is particularly useful when they return from vacation in the middle of winter.
Growing a Network
Originally everything was build on our own proprietary network, which initially worked very well for fuel usage data, but we knew that we wanted to expand to new vertical markets, which would require more features including hardened security.
So we looked around at the commercial wireless space. The two most readily used networks are either cellular networks or Local Area Networks (LAN) with protocols such as WiFi, Zigbee, Zwave, etc. But cellular, although readily available, is too costly for many applications. LAN installations, on the other hand, while lower cost, are limited-distance networks making wide area implementation unfeasible.
Soon we discovered an emerging technology known as LPWAN or low-power, wide-area networks. LPWAN overcomes the hurdles of Wifi and cellular. It’s based on a new specification and protocol that taps an unlicensed wireless spectrum known as the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio band.
Using this technology we can connect sensors over distances of more than 100 km (62 miles) in favorable environments with sensors that can be powered over 10 years with AA batteries. In addition, it’s highly secure, using AES128 keys, making communication tampering and eavesdropping virtually impossible — exactly what we needed.
Today, the Senet solution is RF-based and designed to provide the ability to transmit and receive data to and from sensors and controllers over long distance at very low costs. As a result many new solutions based on attractive ROIs are now feasible and the number of potential Senet network tenants delivering those applications is extensive.
Today our network provides more than 45,000 square miles of coverage throughout the USA, with plans to more than triple that through 2015 with 20,000 sensors on the east and west coast.
Check us out and let us know what low power, long distance applications you have in mind.