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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.

The company's approach is two-pronged: For IoT devices, it would offer indirect Internet access for things that couldn't otherwise get online. For mobile apps, it would give users access in more places so they can spend more time playing a game, chatting or doing other activities that require a connection. That extended online time could make the Open Garden Network a good deal for mobile operators, too, a pitch that the company is making to carriers at CTIA.

Mobile operators could incorporate the Open Garden Network API in their handset software to give subscribers better coverage, he said. When subscribers can't reach the carrier's nearest cell, they may be able to reach it via a string of Open Garden users in between. With Bluetooth Low energy, for example, each hop is about 100 feet (30 meters), but the network can make multiple hops, Daligault said. That could improve the subscriber experience at large events, where there may be many active devices but not enough cellular capacity.

However, the network isn't intended to be a panacea for overtaxed cells or poor coverage. It's designed to carry relatively small amounts of data, such as those GPS coordinates that TrackR devices send, rather than video streams or other heavy traffic, Daligault said.

Users who download an app that can connect to the Open Garden Network won't end up as the sole Internet link for a mob of people and use up a month's worth of data allowance on their behalf, Daligault said. When that user goes out of cell coverage, they'll get online through others and not be paying for any of the bits.

"You get as much as you give," Daligault said.

 

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