The network is now on the air.

That would be the eleven-x network, Canada’s first wide-area, low-power network purpose-designed for the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).

Using six base stations operating on what’s known as the LoRaWAN open global standard, eleven-x Tuesday announced the deployment of infrastructure designed to enable connectivity for IoT – think remote tracking, lighting control of streets and buildings, water flow monitoring, health monitoring and soil moisture monitoring, just for a small sample.

With the rollout, the eleven-x network now serves the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and the greater Region of Waterloo. The company, based in Waterloo, hopes to quickly build out across southern Ontario and major Canadian cities as customer demand warrants.

Tuesday’s announcement means eleven-x is ready to receive network customers. The network will allow private businesses, municipalities and public institutions the connectivity they need to gain information from remote, inexpensive, low-power devices.

Until now, IoT services were provided by traditional Canadian wireless carriers on networks built for voice and data. The eleven-x network will allow remote devices to operate with substantially more efficiency, using less battery power and at lower cost.

“One of the key characteristics of this technology is that on a couple of batteries, you can get 20 years of battery life [from your device],” said eleven-x Chairman and co-founder Dan Mathers. “You basically set it and forget it.

“The promise of IoT is the ability to transform our lives. The problem was, with the existing technology, a lot of those use cases were not enabled and in fact weren’t practical. So what we’re talking about is enabling is all those use cases that will realize the full promise of IoT.”

The concept is relatively straightforward.

“We buy gateways from partners, we put them up on towers where we rent space, then we connect our customers’ devices to those gateways,” said Mathers. “Then we allow them to operate those devices, get alerts from those devices, and take action [based on the data].”

Eleven-x was founded by a group of former BlackBerry employees and got its start at Communitech, eventually moving into the Accelerator Centre in the David Johnston Research and Technology Park in Waterloo, where it is now based.

“We started in Waterloo because it’s Canada’s innovation hub,” said Mathers. “Our technical team and two of our co-founders have BlackBerry heritage. So we knew that a network with the highest security, lowest power consumption and lowest cost would be best built here.”

The company, which has 18 employees, has plans to scale rapidly over the next two years, Mathers said. Eleven-x has been largely bootstrapped until now but acknowledged that “in order to grow as fast as we want to in the next year,” the company would soon explore other funding options.

“In some respects this is a real-estate grab,” said Mathers. “That’s what money allows you to do.”

The worldwide Internet of Things market is expected to reach US$1.7 trillion by 2020, according to research firm International Data Corp., with 30 billion connected devices and a compound annual growth of 16.9 per cent.

“From smart metering and lighting, to traffic monitoring, to more efficient services, greater IoT connectivity holds great promise for improving life in Canadian communities,” said Mike Murray, Waterloo Region’s Chief Administrative Officer.

The eleven-x announcement underscores the degree to which Waterloo Region is fast becoming a centre for IoT development and innovation.

Catalyst137, a 470,000-square-foot warehouse currently undergoing a $55-million renovation and being repurposed as an IoT hardware innovation centre, is now under development in Kitchener.

A host of firms specializing in IoT devices are expected to occupy the space, including Miovision, a Kitchener company that specializes in traffic data. Miovision is spearheading the Catalyst137 development.

Other firms include AlertLabs, FoxNet Solutions, MyShop Makerspace, Snap Pea Design, Spin and Swift Labs.

All have all signed leases and are many are believed to be ready to scale.

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.