On-Ramp’s innovation, called Ultra-Link Processing, transfers data at a very low rate compared with a home broadband connection. But its value lies in its benefit to enable smart grids, in which simple sensors installed in home energy meters send usage data to utilities.
Currently, smart-grid sensors typically use Wi-Fi-like technology with short ranges or unlicensed radio bands that can reach a couple of miles. Prior to Ultra-Link Processing, there was no technology available for devices that just need a trickle of connectivity over long distance.
According to Technology Review, a trial network currently underway in San Diego is using 35 strategically located access points to collect data from smart meters and other devices equipped with On-Ramp’s technology across a 4,000-square-mile area. By comparison, Pacific Gas & Electric current deployment of smart meters, which is using more established technology, would require over 1,000 access points to cover the same area according to an On-Ramp spokesman.
Assisted by a $2.1 million grant from the United States Department of Energy, On-Ramp is currently working with San Diego Gas and Electric to monitor difficult to reach infrastructure areas. In other trials, On-Ramp is collaborating with Shell Oil in Europe to connect pressure sensors on gas pipelines and with defense contractors for other uses for its Ultra-Link Processing transmitters.
The technology is made possible by proprietary algorithms for transmitting and decoding data signals, which allow On-Ramp’s receivers to detect a weakened signal. According to Technology Review, “On-Ramp’s technology is able to use signals roughly 100 times (20dB) weaker than those needed for a cellular link, and 3000 times (35 dB) weaker than those needed for grid sensors that link together into a mesh network, he says. It can even send signals from sensors underground, for example on subterranean electric or gas lines.”