Sigfox is growing. Founded in France in 2009 by Ludovic Le Moan and Christophe Fourtet, the company behind the eponymous low power wide area network (LPWAN), now counts a staff of more than 200, numerous partnerships with operators and integrators, and offices across Europe, USA, and Asia. The latest (Series E) funding round in November 2016, which raised €150 million, will help accelerate Sigfox network deployment from the current 29 countries to 60 by next year. Investors in Sigfox include Air Liquide, Intel Capital, Salesforce Ventures, and Total.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Sigfox network or LPWANs in general, then this article on the site from last year provides a useful primer. But briefly, these wireless networks address a market that’s come to be known as Massive IoT – less complex, low bandwidth, mainly monitoring-type applications involving large numbers of sensors spread across extended geographic areas. Desired attributes of a LPWAN IoT network include long device battery life (multiple years) and low deployment cost.
Of the 10 million devices currently registered on the Sigfox network, the majority are located in Western Europe, perhaps not too surprising given the company’s French roots and headquarters (near Toulouse). However, a major push in 2016 to build out the network in the US means Sigfox connectivity is already available in more than 100 American cities, and growth plans are for the now 20 percent US population coverage to double by the end of this year. In Asia Pacific, Sigfox deployment countries include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
Sigfox in Singapore
In most markets, the Sigfox network is deployed and managed by designated Operator companies. Here in Singapore, that company is Unabiz, and at a recent seminar organized by IoTSG, a highly active Internet of Things interest group, CEO Henri Bong and his Unabiz colleagues provided details on the network roll-out, its value proposition for Massive IoT, and announced an Innovation Challenge for budding application developers.
So far, Unabiz has deployed 15 percent of its planned quantity of Sigfox base stations in Singapore, In tests, these already deliver 90 percent outdoor coverage. After full deployment in the next few months, the coverage will extend to 100 percent indoor and outdoor. As a licensed, carrier-grade operator, Unabiz has to meet a service level agreement (SLA) with the Singapore regulatory authority, IMDA. Aspects of the SLA include 99.8 percent guaranteed message delivery and full message traceability.
In marketing Sigfox to prospective Singapore customers, Unabiz stresses simplicity in that users do not need to buy or build any network infrastructure; just attach a Sigfox modem to each sensor and you’re almost ready to go. And that module costs around $2, which is several times less than the typical per-sensor cost for cellular connectivity, an important factor given a Massive IoT application could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of devices.
As for service cost to use the network, while official commercial launch of the Singapore Sigfox network only takes place next month (Feb 24), it’s likely to be in in the range of $0.10 to $1 per device per month, depending on the number of devices and message data size. Other attractive features of the Sigfox network include very low energy consumption, which translates to long battery life (upwards of five years) out in the field, and cost-effective global reach as more countries deploy Sigfox networks.
As for Unabiz’s Innovation Challenge, I guess this is about accelerating the “build it and they will come” phenomenon. Like any network operator, the company needs to get customers paying to use the network, and with Sigfox, this means getting people to build suitable IoT applications. Winners of the challenge will gain free access to Sigfox’s network, development kits, technical consultation with UnaBiz’s team, and seed funding to produce their first prototype.
In Singapore and elsewhere, the Sigfox network is applicable to multiple IoT end user sectors, including agriculture, healthcare, industrial, logistics, public sector, and retail. In the Smart City arena, where I am sure Sigfox will find a welcome home, it’s already enabling applications such as connected waste bins, connected street lights, connected fire hydrants, and water and electricity metering.
When it comes to Industrial IoT, potential developers and users should be aware that Sigfox is not designed for heavyweight, high bandwidth applications and definitely not for anything requiring determinism, so control is out of the question. Rather, the network specifications of maximum 12 bytes message size and strictly no more than 140 messages per day imply a use in non-critical applications, and it is instructive to look at what’s being done in the industrial realm.
In France, rail operator SNCF has implemented a predictive maintenance application incorporating temperature sensors on a Sigfox network. In summer, SNCF is alerted upon rises in track temperature, since excessive heat can cause track distortion. Come winter, the application delivers ice alerts so that salt can be directed to the right locations. Meanwhile, French natural gas distribution firm GRT Gaz is using the Sigfox network to monitor and maintain the “markers” along its 32,000 km pipeline infrastructure. Temperature, shock and verticality sensors on the network provide immediate indication of damaged or fallen markers.
In Australia, Silicon Controls, supplier of gas/liquid tank and cylinder monitoring devices (Gaslog) is working with Sigfox network operator Thinxtra to connect its remote monitoring devices to over one million tanks and cylinders via the Sigfox network. By delivering tank level and other operational data, remote monitoring of equipment eliminates run-outs and the need for emergency deliveries while improving resource planning and route optimization. With a nod to Sigfox’s global business model, long battery life, and low data and infrastructure costs, Mike Neuman, CEO of Silicon Controls, says his customers can now monitor many more tanks and cylinders than conventional cellular solutions would allow.
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About the Author:
General Manager, Southeast Asia.
Bob joined ARC Advisory Group after a decade-long career in industrial technology media, most recently as Editor-in-Chief at Singapore's Contineo Media, where he had editorial management responsibility for Control Engineering Asia, Asia Food Journal, PharmaAsia, Logistics Insight Asia, and Payload Asia, while also concurrently being Editor of Control Engineering Asia.