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How Sigfox plans to spread its low-power IoT network across the U.S.

Colin Neagle | Feb. 3, 2016
French low-power networking company has big plans for the U.S. in 2016.

"When you put up a new Sigfox cell, you just basically plug it in and it's part of the network," Nicholls says. "So you just extend the capacity and the reach of the network by installing a new node, but there's no reconfiguration to do on the others. One base station doesn't know the other one."

Sigfox is already live in San Francisco, where the company partnered with city officials looking to launch smart city applications on the network. Proithis says that San Francisco was a "unique situation," due to the city's cooperation. Going forward, the company is likely to deploy in multiple cities at the same time, Proithis says.

What kinds of 'things' is it connecting?

Nicholls says Sigfox considers its market split into three categories. The first involves existing use cases, such as utilities, that could become more efficient or less expensive by integrating its low-power connectivity. The second is the kinds of devices that haven't been connected before. A good example of this is Sigfox's recent collaboration with French postal service La Poste, which involves attaching a small, internet-connected button to mailboxes that customers can press to alert La Poste when they have a package to send.

The third market segment that Nicholls laid out is when Sigfox's technology can be complementary, in a sense. As an example, Nicholls cited a security camera company that used 3G to send its video feeds to security personnel, which became concerned over the availability of GSM signal jammers that could disrupt the video feed. By integrating Sigfox's technology alongside the 3G networking technology, the device could fall back on the Sigfox network to send a low-power message to alert personnel in the event that the 3G signal was jammed.

Will it succeed in the U.S.?

Sigfox has had some success in Europe, with live coverage throughout France, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, and parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, England, and Ireland. In addition to its U.S. plans, Sigfox is still in the process of rolling out its networks in Italy, Czech Republic, Denmark, and further throughout the UK and Ireland.

It'll surely face competition from networks based on technology from the LoRa Alliance, although at least one company has developed a chip that integrates both technologies. And though some experts claim the forthcoming 5G networking standard will be designed to accommodate the Internet of Things, Sigfox doesn't seem too concerned about it. While some early discussion may suggest 5G will accommodate the IoT, the network's first priority will be high-bandwidth applications, Proithis says.

"When you have a hammer, everything works like a nail," Proithis says. "And so, I think there's some great spectrum efficiencies, some peer-to-peer stuff, some of the things they're doing with 5G that will be very valuable. But to say that one thing is going to provide a premium service and at the same time provide the lowest-battery service, it's like saying Nordstrom is going to start opening dollar stores. You sort of have to say 'which one do you want to be?'"

 

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