SigFox Keeps on Truckin’

Kathryn Weldon – Research Director, Business Network and IT Services – Americas

Summary Bullets:

• Sigfox, while one of the first LPWAN providers, has been hampered by business and organizational problems, and faces significant competition from LoRa, LTE-M, and NB-IoT alternatives.

• At its annual Connect event the service provider hoped to turn the tide with good news about coverage and traction and a spate of service and network-related announcements.

At its Connect event in Berlin on October 25th, Sigfox sought to displace the growing concern that it is running last in the global race to provide LPWANs, in the face of standardized licensed spectrum alternatives NB-IoT and LTE-M, as well as networks based on competitive LoRaWAN technology, all of which have been gaining ground. The following public announcements from the event show a range of focus areas for the service provider, notably highly accurate, global location-based services for asset tracking, along with technologies that enhance its network performance and ease of deployment benefits.

Public Announcements

New Micro Base Station. The Access Station Micro provides an adaptable and easy-to-install solution to significantly enhance Sigfox IoT service coverage to billions of devices. A single gateway could cover large rural areas, hundreds of square kilometers without effort. Its extremely low energy consumption enables remote IoT applications where no power source is available with a single small solar panel and a low bandwidth satellite backhaul.

Bubbles Asset Tracking Device. Sigfox’s new Bubbles are small transmitters which can be placed anywhere in a matter of seconds. A Bubble’s radio range defines its radius, which can go from less than one meter to a hundred meters. The devices are managed by Sigfox’s NOC and are accurately located during installation; battery level, removal, and temperature of the device is controlled by Sigfox.

Coverage Expansion. Sigfox announced that its network now covers over 1 billion people across 53 countries, with Austria, Lichtenstein, Romania, Norway, Kenya, Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras most recently joining the Sigfox network. Sigfox claims to offer the widest network globally in terms of population covered under a single umbrella.

Atlas WiFi. Sigfox introduced a global geolocation service for “massive” IoT applications, providing seamless outdoor and indoor tracking, in partnership with HERE. The new service uses its LPWAN network in concert with HERE’s global WiFI infrastructure to provide a single location service in all type of geographic environments (urban and rural, indoor and outdoor), without GPS.

In addition to these announcements, Sigfox also disclosed that it will have 8 million devices on its network by end of year. It exhibited its Bubbles and Atlas WiFi solutions at the event but also showed new consumer devices, including a people and pet tracker and a smart watch for the elderly. Also in early stages of development is a service tentatively called “0G”, which would use the Sigfox network as a backup/failover network in case of failure of a primary fixed or wireless/cellular network.

The elephant in the room is the fact that the service provider has been struggling to keep its head above water at a time when competing licensed-spectrum network technologies provided by mobile operators are starting to gain traction and continue to be built out globally. Many providers are also finding that their customers’ requirements are diverse enough to need both LTE-M and NB-IoT for different use cases and are starting to announce build-out plans for both networks. LoRa, the other leading proprietary unlicensed spectrum LPWAN option, is also gaining ground for some providers, as it is easy and inexpensive to deploy and is a perfect option for service providers without their own wireless network assets such as cable companies and even mobile operators that want to take on customers in geographies where they don’t have wireless networks. The question remains whether the market can embrace and monetize all of these different LPWAN options. Mobile operators are also looking hard at the high end of the IoT spectrum (as opposed to the lower bandwidth use cases generally leveraging LPWANs) with 5G service launches planned for 2019. Will Sigfox be able to take on a significant enough number of low bandwidth, low power deployments to remain relevant and solvent over the next few years?

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