In 1903, a wireless transmission station built by Guglielmo Marconi in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts was used to send the world’s first wireless transatlantic telegram. It was a simple greeting from Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of the UK, and it laid the foundation for a century of innovation in wireless communication.
Over 5 Billion Subscribers
Since Marconi’s first long-range wireless message across the Atlantic, wireless communication technology has progressed tremendously. Marconi had the telegraph; today, we have the cell phone. There are now over 5 billion cellular subscribers on our planet, generating $1.06T in revenue from cellular connectivity every year. But that’s not the end of the story.
Even with a great connection, any mobile device still relies on battery power.
We started with 2G. Then we got 3G, 4G, LTE - more data, faster downloads, and increased capabilities with each new generation. At the same time, we’ve built more and more cell towers, enabling greater connectivity around the world. But signal strength and availability is just one piece of the connectivity puzzle. Even with a great connection, any mobile device still relies on battery power. Phones today offer such high bandwidth connection (enabling you to do everything from get directions to watch movies over a wireless connection) that they have to be charged every day for the battery to keep up with our ever-growing data demands. While it’s great that we can enjoy high bandwidth connections on our phones, the limited battery life has hindered many other applications of mobile connected devices - until now.
Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs)
In the last few years, industry-wide standards committees have developed new connectivity frameworks known as LPWAN technologies that offer lower power consumption requirements and wider area coverage than traditional cellular networks. These advances enable dramatically increased battery life for connected devices that have limited power needs, without sacrificing cellular’s broad reach.
These low-power networks are estimated to enable over 20 billion connected devices by 2020, a great majority of which will be IoT connected devices optimized for lower power consumption and greater power efficiency. These are devices that have to be connected everywhere, sensing and transmitting data from cars, phones, meters, thermostats, house alarms, and many other mobile (and thus battery-limited) applications. Because data is transferred to the cloud, there is no need for high computation power on the device, and thus battery life can be significantly extended.
A New Era of Wireless Connectivity
In Marconi’s time, the scope and speed of this progress would have been unimaginable. Even just a few years ago, the power consumption required to implement distributed wireless applications was prohibitive, but today, we are at a tipping point. LPWAN networks are finally enabling a new generation of connected devices with substantially longer battery lives than previously possible, opening the door for myriad new applications.
Although today’s LPWAN network technologies have not yet reached the level of maturity of the existing cellular connectivity infrastructure, the implications of this technology are vast. These low-power networks have the potential to enable cloud-connected monitoring devices that can last for years on a single battery charge, from long-term remote weather sensors, to cloud-connected meter sensors, to sensors that can continuously track shipments over months-long journeys, and a thousand more unforeseeable applications. We are entering a new era of wireless connectivity.
The magnitude of possibility enabled by this new low-power network infrastructure makes me think about just how far we’ve come since Marconi pioneered the first wireless telegraphing system in a small town outside Boston. And so as a long-time Massachusetts resident, I just had to visit the original Marconi Station Site and see the birthplace of wireless communication for myself. A few weeks ago, my family and I took a trip down to Wireless Road in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts, around the block from where a monument to Roosevelt’s first wireless message still stands.
Reflecting on the incredible evolution of wireless communication over the last century, I can’t help but get excited about the new developments that are catalyzing the next wave of advances in connectivity today. As Tive’s CEO, I am honored to stand on the shoulder of giants like Marconi and continue the legacy of pushing the boundaries of wireless communication as we enter this new era of total mobile connectivity.