Posted August 21, 2015

A separate internet for your things

The Internet of Things is one of those technology promises that appears hard to keep. Lots of hype and a certain lack of credible applications. Now a Dutch entrepreneur turns things (and their internet) upside down: he has created a ready-made internet for your things just now. Thinking up apps is up to you.

You can probably recall some of the applications the industry always mentions to promote the Internet of Things. Fridges that buy a new supply of milk on their own. Cars that report a malfunction that you didn't even notice. A home thermostat you can adjust from the office. Yawn. Where are the ideas that really make you want them NOW? Or, to go down to another level: where are the tools that make you think up those ideas yourself, just like that?

Entrepreneur Wienke Giezeman from Amsterdam has decided that the limited internet coverage we have at present is holding back good ideas. Free internet is limited to spots like homes and enterprises. Mobile internet is not free, since you need a simcard and a data plan. And then you pay for way more bandwidth than a single internet-connected thing usually needs (like a dog collar that sends you its gps co-ordinates).

A few months ago Giezeman discovered a technology called LoRaWan (Long Range Wide Area Network). For about 1000 euros you can buy a gateway with a range of a few kilometers and provide low-bandwidh internet (about 5-15 kbps) in an area the size of a town. The European Space Agency ESA is studying LoRaWan as a possible means of providing internet coverage from satellites.

In six weeks time Giezeman has convinced thirteen companies to install a LoRaWan gateway on their premises at their own expense. So now he has the whole of Amsterdam covered. Meanwhile, Dutch engineering startup Tweetonig (may ring a bell to regular readers of this blog) developed an even cheaper gateway (about €200) that private citizens can buy and hook up to their home router to help build this network.

So let a hundred flowers blossom, right? To help this happen, Giezeman and his friends, united in a foundation called The Things Network, have thought up eight examples of their own. The first to be tested will be HoosjeBootje (ScoopYourBoat), a ball containing a water detector that boat owners can leave at the bottom of their boats. The ball will send a message when it detects water, indicating a leak. The LoRaWan technology is very power-friendly so devices that use the network can stay alive fot about three years on a single battery charge.

Also, a device is in the works to connect just about anything to this free wireless internet, the main part being a card with printed electronics that will cost about 40 euros. 'In September we will have a kickstarter and let people pre-order this wireless card so we can start production,' says Giezeman.

The Things Network will officially launch 21 August with a conference in Amsterdam at startup incubator Rockstart, itself one of the launching providers of the wireless network.

About Herbert Blankesteijn

Herbert Blankesteijn is a technology journalist from the Netherlands who has written for many prominent Dutch newspapers. He presented and directed television and radio programmes and has 10 books to his name. Herbert is interested in nascent fields such as 3D printing, drones, robotics and the private space business.