Jan. 8, 2015 — Barclay Knapp thinks his new venture will be easy, at least compared to his cellular tenure.
When he cofounded Cellular Communications Inc. back in 1982 and built out a multimillion-dollar cellular network across Ohio, he had only the hope that people would buy devices to access that network. Today, M2M Spectrum Networks, which he cofounded in 2013 with Carole Downs, turns on a nationwide M2M network that will tap into a market that is already seasoned with millions of devices ready to be monitored, turned on or turned off through radio waves.
“When we put up the cellular network there were no devices out there. With M2M, there are millions of devices out there to be monitored, we just had to build the network,” Knapp, M2M Spectrum Networks CEO, told AGL Link.
Knapp also sees a ready-made market of companies that used to receive their monitoring from the cellular carriers’ 2G networks, which are now being decommissioned and transitioned to 4G.
“We had a little windfall, because a lot of these industries that currently have M2M connectivity are being disenfranchised as the carriers disconnect their 2G services,” Knapp said. “The new LTE service promises to be more expensive upfront with higher monthly use fees for a broadband service that is not geared toward M2M applications.”
M2M Spectrum Networks serves the middle segment of the market known by some as the “Internet of Things,” which encompasses three different segments, according to Knapp.
The top end of the market includes high-value, bandwidth-intensive applications, such as the connected car and the connected home, full-motion video tracking and facial recognition. The cellular carriers will serve that market, because of the heavy bandwidth and high speeds needed. On the other end of the spectrum, high-value low-bandwidth wearable devices serve short-distance applications in concert with smart phones, which are also served by the cellular carriers.
The sweet spot for M2M Spectrum Networks, the middle segment, is fulfilling the need for devices to communicate simple messages. Using M2M communications, business users can make so-called “dumb devices” smart by connecting them to the Internet wirelessly for remote control or monitoring.
“The middle segment is mundane. It is not sexy. That is the gap that we are filling,” Knapp said. Not sexy maybe, but very important.
The applications include monitoring and control of utility meters, remote patient monitoring and alerts using biosensors, inventory management and real-time asset tracking, real-time restocking information based on purchase and inventory tracking, monitoring people and things, machine diagnostics, and traffic and fleet management.
“We felt like there was the opportunity to build a network that was dedicated solely to the communications of small, frequent transmissions, which were not bandwidth heavy,” Knapp said.
Formed in 2013, M2M Spectrum Networks set about building a low-cost, nationwide dedicated M2M network. The initial setup looks a lot like a cellular network with antennas on towers and equipment shacks below. Beyond that, it doesn’t require roaming and other expensive features of a cellular network.
“It is our job to build our network extraordinarily cheaply and efficiently to compete with the cellular networks,” Knapp said. “In order to deliver potentially to billions of devices connected online, one must think about creating a network in a different mode. You can start to be very creative, using mesh networks and concepts like that to extend coverage into remote areas.”
How to Grow a Nationwide M2M Network
M2M Spectrum Networks is 90 percent complete in building in all the economic areas (EAs), as defined by the FCC, across the country. In the first quarter 2015, it will have at least some coverage in all of the EAs. The company expands coverage by collocating its antennas on existing cell towers.
“We will be able to go to customers in each region and find out their coverage needs in that particular area, and we will build out coverage from there. We don’t need blanket coverage in a region, like cellular networks do,” Knapp said. “The beauty of this [M2M] network is we build to suit, almost. We don’t need an enormous network just to attract attention.”
M2M Spectrum Networks is deploying its network with the help of partners in network equipment, engineering, site acquisition and construction. Among other companies, it has partnered with 4G Unwired and Commdex Consulting for engineering; Powder River Development, Crown Castle, and Industrial Tower and Wireless for site development; Edge Communications for network management; and TrueNet Communications for network construction project management.
“In the old days, you tried to be all things to all people. We are a modern company. This is a massive undertaking, so we have assembled a group of strategic partners, each of whom are leaders in their field,” Knapp said.
Technology Trials Set to Prove System
M2M Spectrum Networks has launched several trials and pilot projects to test its network in various vertical markets.
In September, it announced its plans to deliver a real-time remote access GPS tracking solution for fleet management and driver behavior data to Powder River Trucking in remote areas of North Dakota, including managing vehicle preventive maintenance schedules and on-board diagnostics.
In October, a pilot project with the Val Verde County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office was announced that will electronically track Sheriff’s Office vehicles, officers and assets, using GlobeRanger’s RF identification applications.
“What we have tried to do with our trials is to prove our wares in multiple vertical industry segments, especially the industry segments using 2G cellular that are most affected by the 4G upgrades,” Knapp said. “[The Val Verde] pilot will not only track patrol cars, but track the equipment in the car through RF identification. The dispatcher will not only know the location of the cars, but what assets are in each vehicle.”
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of the AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link newsletters.