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FireChat's developer wants to give IoT a mesh-network boost

Stephen Lawson | Sept. 9, 2014
Internet of Things devices that are too small to reach the Internet by themselves will get help from a vast network of nearby smartphone users if the latest plan from FireChat vendor Open Garden succeeds.

Internet of Things devices that are too small to reach the Internet by themselves will get help from a vast network of nearby smartphone users if the latest plan from FireChat vendor Open Garden succeeds.

The Open Garden Network, announced on Monday at the CTIA trade show in Las Vegas, is software that lets devices and apps get online via a mesh network made up of ordinary consumer gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. Over Bluetooth Low Energy or Wi-Fi Direct, each link in the network connects to another participating device until it reaches one that's within range of a cell or a Wi-Fi access point.

Linking small, power-sipping devices to the Internet is one of the main challenges in IoT, an area that's likely to be a major focus of the annual U.S. mobile show. Both consumer wearables and enterprise machines and sensors are expected to make up much of the wireless universe in the next few years.

The first company taking advantage of the system is Phone Halo, which makes TrackR, tiny coin-sized tags that users can attach to something valuable in order to track its location via GPS. The TrackR tags don't have cellular or Wi-Fi radios because they would take up too much space and power, so they already use a concept like Open Garden's. Users who've tagged their things use a TrackR app to find out where they are. The tags communicate their GPS readings through other phones that have the TrackR app.

That's a big network, because there are 250,000 TrackR tags in use, according to the company. But with Open Garden Network, it's going to get bigger because TrackR devices will also be able to communicate through any phone equipped with FireChat, Open Garden's app for online and offline communication.

The Open Garden Network software could draw many more apps and IoT devices into that system. The more partners Open Garden signs up, the bigger and more useful the network would get. The users of all apps that take advantage of the Open Garden Network would become conduits for all the other apps and devices on that network.

The process is just beginning, said Christophe Daligault, Open Garden's chief marketing officer.

"The device space is new for us and we don't know quite yet who will be interested," Daligault said. "In terms of apps, it's anyone who wants to increase the connectivity time or user time."

App developers and device manufacturers can get into the network by using an Open Garden API (application programming interface) and licensing a software key from the company. Open Garden provides a software development kit for getting started. Individual users won't have to do any configuration or setup, Daligault said.

 

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