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The Internet of Very Cold Things: Sigfox extends its low-power radio network to Antarctica

Peter Sayer | Jan. 20, 2016
Sigfox and its partner Sensolus are donating low-power GPS devices that could report on the location of ice-bound researchers and equipment for three to five years on a single battery charge.

One advantage that Antarctica offers over more densely populated areas is a lack of radio interference. Because there are no other networks operating there on the same frequencies as Sigfox, signals carry almost as far as the eye can see. From the top of a mountain overlooking the icy plain that can be up to 80 kilometers, said Van Rattinghe, adding that this is achieved with a device no more powerful than a garage door remote control. 

Sigfox and its partners operate nationwide commercial networks in France, Spain and Portugal, and are rolling out coverage across the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Belgium and parts of the U.S.

The Antarctica network, though, is not a commercial venture: It's part of a new initiative launched Tuesday, the Sigfox Foundation. Through this organization, Sigfox and other donors will offer the tracking and monitoring capabilities of Sigfox-enabled devices to research and humanitarian aid projects.

Among the possibilities being studied are "connected forests" to detect and study forest fires, and a sort of fitness wearable for rhinoceroses, designed to report on their location and stress level, something that could enable game wardens to come to their aid if they are threatened or harmed by human hunters.

At the launch of the foundation on Tuesday, Sigfox co-founder Ludovic Le Moan said he didn't want to commit to any projects until he is sure the foundation has the resources to complete them -- but he does have a keen interest in the fate of the world's remaining rhinos. The small size and low power consumption of Sigfox devices means they could be embedded in a rhino's horn, and would continue to operate until the natural growth of the horn ejected them, he said. Competing systems need their replaced every six months or so, which involves capturing and sedating the rhino. 

A nature reserve in Zimbabwe was one of the first organizations to approach Sigfox when it launched its technology a few years ago, said Le Moan's co-founder, Christophe Fourtet. At the time the company didn't think it had the resources to help track the reserve's rhinos, but via the foundation this might become a reality, he said.


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