RF Chirp tech: Long distance, incredible penetration, low bandwidth

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The first pitch I saw for Sure-Fi pegged the meter pretty hard. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At Ars, we get daily product pitches that range on a scale from "must review" through "no thanks" to "WTF." So when a representative for a small company's PR firm reached out with a pitch for a "radio signal that's thousands of times more robust than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi" and invited us to "take the Wi-Fi challenge," it pegged my BS meter—but I took a closer look anyway.
It turns out that Sure-Fi isn't intended to replace Wi-Fi at all. When Ars spoke to Sure-Fi president Mark Hall, he clarified that the company's gear is high tech RF for industrial controls, and it's not intended for a consumer audience. It uses 900MHz spectrum RF chirp communications to establish a low-bandwidth, high-reliability connection between industrial equipment (such as HVAC systems or electronic security gates) and their controllers.
Sure-Fi's RF chirp tech is about as fast as this 300 baud Tandy DCM-3 modem. I bought one of these cheap in 1984 and rewired an RS-232 cable to convert between its pinout and my Apple //c's.

With a typical throughput of around 300 bits per second, you definitely wouldn't want to browse the Internet across a Sure-Fi bridge. That's roughly equivalent to the external dial-up modem I used to connect to BBSes in the mid-1980s—and it would take more than an hour to load Ars Technica's current front page. But you can get a lot done in 300 bits per second if you don't need graphics. For industrial controllers that really only need to relay simple commands and occasional meter readings, it's more than enough. It would also make one heck of an RC drone controller!

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