Location. It’s everything for the internet of things. Think about how location has changed the smartphone from a handheld computer to a real-time ride-hailing service or a turn-by-turn direction generator. For the internet of things, location can help us reunite with lost luggage or pets. It can tell construction site managers where equipment is and it can also help organize supply chains for optimum efficiency.
However, companies can’t do any of these things without access to cheap, scalable location data. Plenty of companies from cellular carriers to startups are trying to solve this using an array of technologies. But scale and cost tend to be the problem. Most startups are trying to reach massive scale, while cellular providers are trying to lower costs.
Mischa Benoliel, the CEO and founder of Nodle, has his own answer to the location conundrum. Benoliel, who was a co-founder of a peer-to-peer messaging service called Open Garden, is trying to build a similar network for the internet of things. Nodle aims to tackle the high cost associated with delivering location by using Bluetooth as the underlying radio technology.
Traditional location options tend to use a cellular modem, the cellular network and GPS. The modems can cost more than $10 or even $20 and require a lot of power. Adding a cellular connection to transmit the device data and you get service fees that can cost a pretty penny. These devices don’t work well indoors and require frequent battery charges or wired power.
Other solutions are coming, such as networks from Sigfox or LoRA providers. However, these have their own drawbacks associated with network size. Nodle’s network would be similar to these offerings though, in that it uses unlicensed spectrum and is limited in the amount of data it can send and receive. In fact, in the first iteration, it will be able to send location data but not receive anything.
Basically, every “thing” needing to provide location gets a Bluetooth module that can talk to nearby phones which will provide the internet connectivity. If this sounds like the model behind Bluetooth trackers like Tile and TrackR, that’s because it is. The twist with Nodle is that it hopes to increase the number of users with the ability to talk to Nodle’s network by paying developers to embed Nodle’s software into their apps.
Device makers wanting location data pay Nodle for use of this crowdsourced network which is hopefully big enough to find objects quickly. Nodle already has partnerships with IoT device makers Stilla and Trackr, as well as with IoT management platform DevicePilot.
I’ve long been excited by the potential for Bluetooth tracking devices to become a cheaper, power-efficient form of location data, so Nodle’s efforts are encouraging. One possible advantage is that Benoliel may be able to get telcos on board with the service by letting them get a small chunk of revenue by sharing their network if they put Nodle’s software on handsets. I know that many of them are probably more focused on selling their own NB-IoT networks, but some forward-looking operators may see the benefit of this for low-value devices.