In the wireless industry, there’s usually a long wait between a technology standard getting finalized and the emergence of its first devices and networks, but the Weightless Special Interest Group isn’t wasting any time bringing its internet of things connectivity technology to market. If all goes according to plan, we’ll start seeing linked sensor grids running in the gaps between TV transmissions by mid-next year.
Neul, the U.K. company spearheading Weightless, plans to start shipping its first machine-to-machine (M2M) communications modules to sensor and device makers in the first quarter and launch its first networks in the U.S. and U.K. in the second quarter. Not bad, considering the SIG only finalized the Weightless standard in April. As a small group – consisting of core members Neul, CSR, Cable & Wireless and ARM – though, it can be a bit more nimble than the big standards bodies.
Neul will sell the initial modules, which will be 35-by-45 mm (1.4-by-1.8 inches) and cost about $12, which isn’t cheap considering they’re intended to go into sensors like structural integrity gauges in bridges and traffic monitors on roadways. But Neul said that as it ramps up its production and improves its technology it will be able to make the modules both smaller and cheaper. In 2015, Neul hopes to ship modules for $7, and by 2016, it plans to build a 20×24 mm module that sells for $4.
Weightless taps into the white space spectrum, the unused channels between TV broadcasts, which is being designated for unlicensed wireless data use in many countries. While in the U.S. white space focus has been on broadband access, the U.K. is keen on using these airwaves as building blocks for new “smart city” infrastructure and as a communications fabric for the internet of things.
So instead of designing big powerful radios designed for high-speed links, Weightless’s key focus is on creating small, inexpensive radios that transmit minute amounts of information, often intermittently, at long range (more than six miles is the goal) while only consuming a modicum of power.
Neul plans to launch the first networks using its own NeulNet base stations. The company hasn’t announced what cities it will launch in first – it already has a trial network up in Cambridge – but it promised to have live networks in both the U.S. and the U.K. in the second quarter.