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Photo: Douglas Levere

Buffalo now has wireless network for the internet of things

By CORY NEALON

Published August 29, 2017

“It’s really cutting-edge technology for UB researchers to conduct groundbreaking experiments that could lead to great societal benefits.”
Josep Jornet, assistant professor
Department of Electrical Engineering

Buffalo has joined a growing list of cities nationwide to have a wireless network tailored for the so-called internet of things — the tech industry’s buzzword for connecting everyday physical objects to the internet.

The network — a partnership between Sigfox, a global IoT (short for internet of things) connectivity provider, and UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — puts Buffalo in company with San Francisco, Boston and a few dozen other high-tech hotbeds.

To stream video and transmit other data-intensive content, traditional wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G cellular systems are needed to support fast speeds and large amounts of bandwidth. While great for laptops and smartphones, these devices are relatively expensive, use lots of power and can cause wireless traffic jams.

Sigfox differs because it employs a unique device-to-cloud communications approach to put simple objects online. The approach, which uses radio frequencies ideal for sending small amounts of data over long distances, is known as a low-power wide-area (LPWA) network. It reduces the cost to connect to the internet and limits battery consumption.

Sigfox’s LPWA network is ideal for systems that track whether a parking spot is vacant or occupied, if a public recycling bin is empty or full, whether or not a shipment has arrived, or if a door is open or closed — virtually any modest-sized bits of information.

The range of a Sigfox network is greater than most cellular providers, too. For example, its network at UB provides coverage to the Buffalo Niagara region.

“It’s really cutting-edge technology for UB researchers to conduct groundbreaking experiments that could lead to great societal benefits,” says Josep Jornet, assistant professor of electrical engineering, whose research attracted Sigfox to Buffalo. “We’ll also be able to implement the network into our classrooms, offering students an immersive, hands-on course specifically about the internet of things.”

As part of that course, UB is working with the city of Buffalo to identify how students can apply the technology to improve services.

Buffalo’s tech sector, startup community and hobbyists will benefit, too. The internet of things is a segment of the world’s economy that could be worth more than $11 trillion by 2025, according to management consultant firm McKinsey & Company.

“We are excited the University at Buffalo chose Sigfox LPWA network as the backbone to support the internet of things academics,” said Sean Horan, director of sales and partners at Sigfox North America. “What can be achieved through IoT is limited only by human imagination, and providing universities with IoT technologies, where imagination is fostered, we’ll see a whole new wave of innovation powered by IoT.”

Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, notes that bringing Sigfox to Buffalo “provides fantastic new opportunities for our academic community, as well as for our many startup and tech communities. The network will provide a state-of-the-art technology platform for professors and students, as well as for entrepreneurs and existing companies looking to innovate.”