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GCN : February 2015
CYBEREYE WHAT COULD MAKE more sense than to make mobile networks, and not just client devices, mobile? That’s the idea behind Veniam, a company that not only collects data from sen- sors – whether stationary or deployed on fleets of vehicles – but also delivers Wi-Fi con- nectivity to those within range of the vehicles. Initial deploy- ments are being targeted at fleets in metropolitan areas – such as transit or garbage col- lection vehicles – and secure areas, such as ports. “As a professor I’ve been working on connected ve- hicles since 2005,” explained João Barros, co-founder of Portugal-based Veniam. “I was mostly intrigued by how one could use vehicles as mobile sensors to get as much data as possible about a city. That’s the way I got involved in connected vehicles research – as awaytobuildanurban scanner.” At the same time, Barros, the former national director of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal program, and his partner, Susana Sargento, a professor at Portugal’s University of Aveiro, realized such a system would be an easier sell if it was delivering service the other way, too, by providing Wi-Fi connections to users on or within range of the vehicles. The team also realized that, whether it’s sensors or cell phones, they needed to find a middle ground between the expensive but far-reaching cellular communications and the low-cost but short-range of Wi-Fi. The solution Veniam came up with was part hardware, part software and part pro- cess. The hardware piece of the puzzle is called NetRider, a box that’s about the size of a thick book. The boxes are not only Wi-Fi hotspots, they also include either 3G or 4G cel- lular interfaces, all built out of off-the-shelf components. But the special sauce in NetRider is in the software, which scans available cellular and Wi-Fi connections and routes data in the most ef- ficient way, ensuring that both end-user data – even stream- ing YouTube – and sensor data is not dropped as the vehicle moves from one network con- nection to another. While NetRider supports Wi-Fi connections from devices employing all the standard IEEE protocols, Veniam engineers have also developed their own routing protocols that have enabled greater transmitting range. According to Barros, the NetRider can provide signal to devices as much as 1,000 meters away where there is a line-of-sight connection and 300 to 400 meters in typical urban environments. The system has already been deployed in Porto, Por- tugal, on a fleet of more than 100 buses and other transit vehicles. “Initially we use the cellular backhaul to learn precisely where most of the traffic is being consumed, and then we use this information to deploy access points for infrastruc- ture communications, where you need most of the traffic to be offloaded from cellular,” said Barros. While the benefits of the mobile Wi-Fi are obvious for transit riders, the benefits of creating networks moving data from sensors are at least as great. “ We also collect data from sensors, sensors that are on the vehicle and sensors that are outside of the vehicle but that use the vehicles as data couriers,” said Barros. Cities can deploy low-cost sensors that don’t have In- ternet connections – sensors monitoring air quality, noise, or even how full a garbage container is – and when a NetRider-equipped ve- hicle goes by, the data will be picked up. “When a public bus, taxi or garbage collection truck comes by, it syncs with the sensor, it gets the data, stores the data and whenever the vehicle is within range of an access point it sends the data to the cloud,” said Barros. Veniam’s mobile networks offer both end-to-end encryp- tion and authentication. Authentication is generally not required on public buses. “Our customers opted not to have logins,” said Barros. “So it works without authentica- tion, and we are not tracking any user behavior.” According to Barros, the NetRider technology is espe- cially appropriate for ports, container terminals and even military bases, where cellular doesn’t work well because large metal containers make the signal propagation less efficient. “Normal Wi-Fi has a range that is too small for such spaces,” said Barros. “Our technology allows vehicles to communicate over ranges that are 10 times larger than traditional Wi-Fi. We also were able to establish con- nections in 2 milliseconds, as opposed to a few seconds that normal Wi-Fi requires.” • A network for the Internet of (moving) Things BY PATRICK MARSHALL EMERGING TECH 34 GCN FEBRUARY 2015 • GCN.COM Cities can deploy sensors that don’t have Internet connections and when a NetRider- equipped vehicle goes by, the data will be picked up. 0215gcn_034.indd 34 2/2/15 9:59 AM