Lose something? Here’s a $49 cellular tracker with no monthly fee

The Bluetooth tracker to help people stop leaving their wallet or purse behind has become almost ubiquitous, as has the GPS-based tracker for things that people have deemed a little bit more valuable, such as fleets of cars or even pets. But for those of us who aren’t made of money or who don’t want to pop a heavy module on a child or animal, the newly launched iTraq device looks pretty intriguing.

The product launched on Indiegogo on Wednesday, although it won’t ship until August. What’s cool about it is that it determines its position and location in the world using cellular towers. That means it doesn’t rely on its distance from a phone or its distance from another person’s phone using the app the way many of the Bluetooth trackers out there do.

Products like Tile or the newly launched Pixie work fine if you want a reminder that you’ve left your keys behind, but it can take a long time before you are reunited with a lost item if that item is in a place where not a lot of people are running the device’s app.

With iTraq, the device can be set to ping cell towers at certain times to save on battery life, but when it does ping the towers, it uses triangulation to figure out where it is within 100 feet. Obviously, this can give you too wide a range if you are looking for your lost keys or wallet in an urban area, but it could be useful for a larger item like your bike or your dog. The battery life is up to three years depending on how you set the ping time.

Unlike many other cellular-based devices, the iTraq doesn’t come with a subscription fee. All communication expenses are included in the up-front pricing, which runs from $39 in the first two days of the campaign for first movers and settles out to $49 for one tracker. There are also package deals that range from $129 for three to $196 for five.

But, a word of caution. The iTraq is using a module from a company called [company]GeoTraq[/company], which is traded over the counter and is a relatively unknown entity with no revenue and little history. iTraq purchased $300,000 worth of GeoTraq modules in December, presumably to help build the beta versions of its products and kickstart this campaign. Its most recent filings with the SEC indicate that GeoTraq has assets of $38,241, and will spend at least $200,000 in development, marketing and sales of the technology over the next 12 months.

I’ve reached out to iTraq to understand a bit more about its relationship with GeoTraq and its confidence in the delivery of the modules on which the iTraq product rests, and will update the story when I learn more.

This is big: Cablevision launches Wi-Fi-only mobile phone service

Cablevision is getting ready to pick a fight with your mobile phone company.  Next month, the cable operator is going to introduce a low-cost mobile phone service dubbed Freewheel that’s based entirely on Wi-Fi connectivity. Freewheel will offer existing Cablevision internet service subscribers unlimited talk, text and data for a mere $9.95 per month. Consumers who don’t use Cablevision’s internet service can sign on for $29.95 per month.

At launch, Freewheel is only working with one handset: [company]Cablevision[/company] will sell Motorola’s Moto G for $99.95, and the phone will come preloaded with apps that automatically authenticate with any of the company’s hotspots.

Cablevision started building out its own Optimum Wi-Fi network in 2007, and now has more than 1.1 million hotspots in the New York tri-state area. The company adopted Fon-like Wi-Fi sharing last year, essentially turning its customers’ Wi-Fi routers into public hotspots by adding a second, separate network that can be accessed by any Optimum customer, and now by any Freewheel subscriber as well.

In addition to that, Freewheel customers have access to some 300,000 hotspots across the country, courtesy of the CableWiFi initiative that brings together Wi-Fi access points from big cable companies like [company]Comcast[/company], Cox and Time Warner Cable. And of course, the device will also work with any other Wi-Fi network a user has access to, whether it’s at home or at their office.

However, Freewheel users may have a harder time staying connected on their commute: The service doesn’t include any fall-back option to connect to mobile networks when Wi-Fi is unavailable, which means that users won’t be able to make calls or access data services when they’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network. That’s why the company is primarily targeting users who are in what it calls “Wi-Fi-rich environments” like college campuses and urban areas with a high density of mobile hotspots.

Cablevision has also in the past made a point of highlighting how big of a hit Wi-Fi already is with its customers. Each Cablevision internet household already has 2.88 devices accessing Wi-Fi on average, and customers have used Optimum Wi-Fi nearly one billion times during Q4 of 2014, consuming 19 petabytes of data, according to statistics shared by the company.

Cablevision isn’t the first company to use Wi-Fi as an alternative to traditional mobile networks. Low-cost mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) FreedomPop introduced a Wi-Fi-only service tier last year that promises access to 10 million hotspots for $5 a month. However, Cablevision does have a distinct advantage by operating its own network of hotspots, and it also has a lot bigger megaphone. Its new Freewheel service will be available to consumers nationwide, but Cablevision plans to heavily market it on its home turf.

That could quickly get interesting: Cablevision’s biggest competitor in its home market is [company]Verizon[/company], which has been using its FIOS broadband service to steal internet customers away from the cable company. With Freewheel, Cablevision is now attempting to turn the tables, and offer a combination of broadband internet, TV and mobile phone service of its own.

Ultimately, Freewheel could become a blueprint for other cable-led mobile initiatives. Comcast has been aggressively building out its own Wi-Fi network by also relying on a crowdsourced approach that turns customer’s Wi-Fi routers into Xfinity hotspots. And with mobile phone usage increasingly moving towards data services, we could possibly see a whole bunch of new players offering Wi-Fi-only or Wi-Fi-first mobile services soon.

Ex-Qualcomm exec Rob Chandhok joins IoT startup Helium

Qualcomm’s former internet of things big idea guy Rob Chandhok has found a new home at a much smaller company, but he’s doing very similar work. He’s joined a startup called Helium that’s focused on building the wireless links between all of the things in IoT.

Helium announced Chandhok’s appointment as COO, president and board member on Tuesday, the same day it also announced a $16 million Series A round led by Khosla Ventures. FirstMark Capital, Digital Garage, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, SV Angel and Slow Ventures also participated.

Helium is taking on the difficult task of creating a new wireless networking protocol specifically for the internet of things, an approach already being explored by companies like SigFox and organizations like the Bluetooth and Weightless special interest groups.

Bluetooth beefs up for the internet of things

Bluetooth is getting a software update that will make it friendlier for connected devices including room for IPv6 support and the ability to act as a hub, instead of only as a peripheral.