World Economic Forum Helps Burnish San Diego’s On-Ramp Wireless, a Specialist in Low-Power, Low Data Rate Technology

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application space,” Silva says. “The space we’re targeting is low-energy, low-power, wide-area, critical infrastructure. If you look at ZigBee, it has a decent foothold in areas such as home automation systems and building area networks—but not ‘How do I monitor something three miles away on a distribution grid line?'”

Silva adds, “You’d have to deploy a lot of repeater infrastructure [to deploy ZigBee in a power grid] and for most customers that’s not really viable. To cover San Diego, you’d need like 10,000 repeaters and cell relays. Picking away at that a bit, I said, ‘OK let’s take the best cellular techniques of wide area communications and use it to solve that problem.'”

In doing a lot of research in 2008 on what was going on with asset tagging and tracking in the utility industry and other sectors, Silva says he realized it might be possible to reduce the wireless network infrastructure and still let a signal propagate a very long distance without using repeaters. If it could work, he says he saw “There are a whole set of applications that are underserved, from leak detection systems, to distribution grid sensors and irrigation sensors that cover a large geographic area.”

On-Ramp says its wireless system operates in unlicensed spectrum. In mesh networks, On-Ramp says, “a substantial amount of capacity is consumed by ‘housekeeping’ the network configuration. On-Ramp says its Ultra-Link Processing network is configured in a “simple star topology” that simplifies the networking protocol and enhances network capacity.  A ULP network also can take advantage of favorable antenna placement, such as a high elevation, due to its high capacity, multiple access scheme.

A key advantage of On-Ramp’s system, according to The World Economic Forum, is its ability to pick up even the weakest signals—despite ambient radio frequency background noise. “On-Ramp’s ULP System can reach over 97 percent of utility end points, such as [customer] meters, sensors and fault indicators with as little as 30 access points covering an area of 10,000 kilometers,” the Forum says in its report on technology pioneers. “The deployment cost of such a systems is $1 million, several orders of magnitude lower than competing systems.” Silva says the speed of the industry uptake of On-Ramp technology—especially among electric utilities—has taken him a little by surprise.

“We always thought it was going to be a very compelling technology,” Silva says. “But there’s just a lot of money and attention being dumped into that sector. Our biggest challenge early on has been educating the market on why our system is different, and why it’s needed versus the alphabet soup of other [wireless] protocols out there.”

On-Ramp video of CEO Joaquin Silva:

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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