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A wireless network for gadgets set to arrive in San Francisco

Patrick Thibodeau | May 22, 2014
The San Francisco Bay Area and south to San Jose will soon have what may be the nation's first dedicated Internet of Things network. It may change the way you think about the future of the IoT.

Whistle says that by using Sigfox, instead of 4G or 3G, it can keep its WhistleGPS unit, which includes all the activity monitoring functions, to about a half an ounce in weight and about the size of a silver dollar, and it will maintain a charge for a week, which it claims is twice that of other pet trackers. Users connect with a mobile app, and will pay $5 a month for the GPS tracking capability. The units will cost $129, although the company is selling them is selling them through May 27, pre-order, at $49.

Whistle CEO and co-founder Ben Jacobs said the company didn't build a 3G device because it would have been three to four times larger, and the monthly service would cost twice as much for consumers.

The relationship with Sigfox isn't exclusive and Jacobs expects other providers to emerge with sub-GHz networks. Jacobs says Whistle will able to provide support for other networks in different areas, should the need arise, but "our belief is that Sigfox is an early leader," he said.

Long-range, low bandwidth and low energy technology has a number of advantages.

Home sensors, for instance, have wireless radios but are short-range and connect with hub and router and a power source. If the power goes out, the sensing capability may be lost. But Sigfox claims batteries can last for years in these devices and continue to connect to a network, making data available.

Sigfox's technology also means that wearable tech can be connected without a smartphone or proximity to a WiFi network.

For instance, a GPS-enabled watch may keep track of your running, but the data isn't mapped until a user connects it to a mobile device or PC. But a GPS watch with a Sigfox radio included will be able to send location data via a network so someone can track your run from home.

"The IoT definitely needs these types of networks because they provide a balance of features that isn't matched by current wide area networks like cellular," said Nick Jones, a Gartner analyst.

Jones see Sigfox technology as a competitor to some other long-range wireless technologies, such as U.K.-based Nuel's Weightless technology, and the Japanese-developed Wide Area Ubiquitous Network (WAUN).

"These sorts of networks are filling a technology gap and will be an essential element of the future IoT," said Jones. The downside, though, is the risk of vendor lock-in, he added..

The bottom line is that this type of technology will be a part of the future IoT, but it's not certain which technology will be the long-term winner, said Jones. "We need standards and a broad ecosystem of vendors to emerge to make it more attractive," he said.


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