New wireless network aims to boost internet-of-things activity in north-central Indiana

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The Wabash Heartland Innovation Network in West Lafayette is teaming up with New Hampshire-based Senet Inc. on an effort to boost the use of internet-connected devices in Tippecanoe and surrounding counties.

WHIN is installing radio towers equipped with Senet technology throughout its 10-county operating footprint, creating what the network says will be the largest long-range, low-power wide-area network in the country.

This type of network, commonly known as LoRaWAN, is designed to transmit small amounts of data from internet-connected devices such as water meters, temperature gauges or location trackers, to name a few.

“What we’re talking about here is the internet of things,” said Senet President and CEO Bruce Chatterley.

LoRaWAN can handle much less data than other types of networks such as traditional cellular networks, WiFi or Bluetooth. But LoRaWAN is also less costly and can operate over long distances, making it a more feasible solution for many IoT applications. LoRaWAN networks also require less power, meaning that a low-power device could operate for 10 years or more before its battery ran out.

WHIN, which is currently working to install the radio towers, says it expects its LoRaWAN network to cover thousands of square miles, reaching almost every part of its 10-county region of Tippecanoe, Pulaski, White, Cass, Benton, Carroll, Warren, Fountain, Montgomery and Clinton counties.

WHIN envisions the network being utilized by area manufacturers, farms and researchers, including users at Purdue University and Ivy Tech.

“WHIN exists to foster economic growth and broad community prosperity throughout the Wabash Heartland region, and through a combination of strategic planning and strong partnerships we are accelerating the adoption of IoT technologies to support our objectives,” WHIN CEO Johnny Park said in a prepared statement.

Chatterley said IoT technology can be useful in a wide variety of settings. A farm, for instance, could use sensors to keep tabs on soil moisture or to track the location of harvesters or other equipment. A utility company could deploy smart water meters that can be read remotely without need for a human meter reader. A distributor could use sensors that tell it when a storage tank needs refilling.

Under the WHIN/Senet partnership, Chatterley said, WHIN is purchasing and installing the towers. Once the network is up and running, WHIN will get a share of Senet’s revenue from existing customers in that region.

Those customers, Chatterley said, already use Senet’s LoRaWAN networks in other parts of the country where such networks are available. When the WHIN network comes online, those customers will be able to access the network in these Indiana counties as well.

“We have ready-made customers that are waiting to deploy in these areas,” Chatterley said.

Senet says it has one of the largest public LoRaWAN networks in the U.S.

Chatterley said Senet typically enters rural markets only if there is a clear use case for the technology. The partnership with WHIN provided that use case for Tippecanoe and surrounding counties, and WHIN has the connections to bring more users to the network.

“To us, it is the ideal partnership,” Chatterley said.

The project with Senet is the first major piece of a larger WHIN initiative to improve broadband access in that part of the state.

Alivia Roberts, WHIN’s marketing and communications manager, called the LoRaWAN project a “stepping stone” towards securing better broadband internet access in the region, particularly in its more rural areas.

The idea for the project, called the Broadband Alliance, had been percolating for some time, Roberts said. But the pandemic increased the urgency around the idea when people were forced to work and attend school remotely.

“There’s a lot of people out in Benton County, Fountain County, Warren County that don’t even have internet that can stream Netflix,” Roberts said.

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