Building the First Low-Power Network to Support Global IoT Demand

Technology is frequently positioned as one of the most powerful tools for tackling long-term global problems such as the climate emergency or food and water security. Terms such as “smart farming” refer to a future of agriculture where sensors monitor conditions such as soil quality, water, humidity, and temperature. Software and robotics technologies make continual adjustments to ensure maximum productivity with the lowest possible resource consumption. What’s more, these technologies can often collect vast quantities of valuable data that can be analyzed to identify where even more efficiencies can be gained.

However, the reality is that we’re still far away from achieving this vision, due to a significant connectivity gap. Most agriculture happens away from cities, in rural areas where IoT devices would be unable to connect. Furthermore, the gap is a challenge that affects many other industries that could be made more efficient through technologies, such as manufacturing, construction, or even marketing and advertising.

With the number of IoT devices set to more than double over the next four years to 30 billion, it’s evident that demand for increased connectivity will continue to outstrip supply. However, as always, necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s savvy entrepreneurs who are stepping up to fill the gap. Nodle is a blockchain project aiming to scale IoT connectivity exponentially by creating a vast network based on a device that has become ubiquitous for most people – the smartphone.

Using Bluetooth to Address the Connectivity Gap

Today’s smartphones are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, which is usually based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE,) a very low power means for devices in close range to connect wirelessly. Users download the Nodle app to their phone so that their phone can participate in the Nodle network. When they come into the field of an IoT device, their phone can receive and transmit the data from it using the BLE connection.

By leveraging BLE, which doesn’t depend on WiFi or cellular services, Nodle can support IoT devices even where there’s no connectivity. For this reason, it could be the ideal solution for IoT-enabled smart farms and factories in more remote locations.

The net result is a dense and robust network of smartphone “nodes” supporting IoT connectivity across the globe. But, you may be thinking, “what’s in it for me?” Because Nodle is based on blockchain infrastructure, it uses its native token as an incentive for people to join. Moreover, Nodle also offers a developer API so that app developers can access the BLE connectivity of their user’s phones. In this way, developers can offer an alternative between apps with paid ads or apps that generate revenue from the Nodle network.

Meeting the Growing Demand

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the demand, the network has undergone some impressive growth since Nodle was launched in 2017. By the end of 2020, the network was supporting over 25 million IoT devices a day, based on nearly six million smartphone nodes. It’s also gaining significant traction with commercial users.

For example, the City of Paris piloted Nodle to track street furniture, gaining valuable insights into how people use public spaces. Bike rental organizations are also using the network to track their assets, and a major European railway used it to track its pallets and tools. Nodle is also working with Cisco Meraki to extend its own BLE network coverage and track IoT devices outside its network.

The project is an example of the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that’s necessary to address some of the most pressing issues of our time. Along with Nodle, we’re seeing similar trends in projects such as Filecoin or Storj, which decentralize document storage, and Golem which decentralizes computing power.

Distributed networks and systems offer far greater potential to expand coverage beyond what centralized services can offer. Furthermore, they do so in a way that’s sustainable with a negligible or even zero impact on carbon emissions. As such, it seems likely that we’ll become increasingly reliant on decentralized solutions that make better and more efficient use of the resources we already have.