Wouldn’t it be cool if you could stick a $5 module into anything and have it talk wirelessly to the internet?
That’s what our portfolio company Neul (pronounced like ‘fuel’) is building, and they just announced the the launch of a city-wide wireless network in Cambridge, England, that connects devices powered by their modules to the web – i.e. an internet of things. The network operates in the spectrum that is freed up by the switch from analogue to digital TV, and their technology includes the modules that connect the devices and the software for operating the network.
We think this could be huge. Cisco and others are predicting that 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, and Neul’s technology is a key enabler. Using existing cellular networks is expensive and unwieldy as the modules are too power hungry to rely on batteries, the spectrum is licensed, and the network stack is optimised for voice traffic rather than intermittent bursts of small data. Neul’s modules can run for years from a single battery, operate in free spectrum and use the new ‘Weightless’ standard which is optimised for machine to machine communications. The network will be cheap to roll out too – the Cambridge network runs from only five base stations.
The first and most obvious application is smart meters but more exciting to me is the new applications that people will dream that are only possible with such cheap and low friction connectivity. My favourite idea is toys. I like the idea of being able to communicate with (or through) my children’s teddy bears from my laptop as they get ready for bed.