Kevin Fitchard at GigaOM writes about the French start-up Sigfox that wants to take on the mobile service providers. Sigfox plans to build a new network just for the Internet of Things. Thomas Nicholls, Sigfox business development chief and internet of things of evangelist said that cellular networks were meant to connect humans, not objects. Sigfox is proposing to build an alternate wireless network dedicated solely to linking together the internet of things.
The Toulouse France based start-up argues that the majority of objects linked to the network will connect rarely. A GPS tracker in a vehicle or shipping container may send out its coordinates just once a day. A smart meter may link back to its utility company’s servers once a week. Many of the sensors being embedded in devices from vending machines to security cameras only transmit when something goes wrong, meaning a M2M module may wait months if not years between connections to the Internet of Things. Connected home appliances like LG Electronic’s (LGLD) new Smart Thinq refrigerator, GPS tracking devices, smart meters and medical alert sensors are all the types of devices that Sigfox hopes to target.
Mr. Nicholls added that Sigfox thinks there’s a huge opportunity in the growing business-to-consumer connected device space. The assortment of gadgets and wearable devices making their way into the connected home and onto our bodies are typically connected by local area networking technologies like Bluetooth, Zigbee and Wi-Fi. But he thinks there’s a big case to be made for replacing those technologies with Sigfox according to the article.
The author claims that as Sigfox achieves economies of scale, its radio will not only shrink, their costs will fall to just a few dollars per module. Due to the huge efficiencies in running its network, Sigfox can support a device connection for little more than a dollar a year, Mr. Nicholls said. At those prices, gadget manufacturers can include IoT connectivity costs into the device costs without requiring customers to sign up for a subscription.
Not only would using Sigfox give these devices range far beyond local networks, they would be “on” right out of the box, the Sigfox IoT evangelist said. It also wouldn’t require any signing up, or logging on, as the machine to machine communication would just work out of the box.
To host these devices over power-hungry and expensive cellular radios makes little sense, business development chief said. The better course is to attach these devices to a network optimized for their use cases — one that can support billions of devices each sending relatively little data at distinct intervals, the start-up believes. “Our network is structured in a radically different way,” Nicholls claims in the GigaOM article. “There is really no notion of a network. You only connect when you have a payload to deliver.”
Sigfox has developed a wireless architecture using ultra narrow-band modulation techniques that can theoretically support millions of devices with only a handful of network transmitters. Using the unlicensed frequencies commonly used for baby monitors and cordless phones (868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US), Sigfox says it can offer the same coverage with a single tower that a cellular network could provide with 50 to 100 cell sites. Sigfox is building a network covering all of France with 1,000 transmission sites, and Mr. Nicholls estimates that the company could do the same in the US with 10,000 transmitters.
The author describes the embedded radio modules as about the size of two thumbnails, and they transmit at power levels 50 times lower than their cellular M2M counterparts. Such low consumption levels mean that objects that normally have no external power supply could stay connected for as a long as 20 years before their module batteries would need recharging, Mr. Nicholls said.
Apparently Sigfox’s ultra narrow-band technology can only support bandwidths of 100 bps (YEAP THAT’S BPS, NOT KBPS) — which makes it far slower than even the poorest 2G data connection so it will be popular with wireless service providers who will try to connect everything to the Internet of Things.
Sigfox does not appear to be the answer for devices that send large quantities of data or keep up constant connections to the network like telemedicine aren’t the “things” that Sigfox intends to connect to the Internet.
- M2M and the Internet of Things: A guide (zdnet.com)