SigFox? Slow Telecom to Speed Up IoT

What if the smartest thing to do was to play dumb? And when everybody's racing for the best performances, to deliberately aim at the most limited service? SixFox is not exactly 5G on steroids, but rather TETRA on Valium (for those of you who remember Dolphin Telecom). 

SigFox focuses on M2M applications, you know, that formerly un-sexy business that become hot overnight when some marketing genius rebranded it "Internet of Things". Well at SigFox, they don't hesitate to use the old 'machine-to-machine' jargon. We're talking about French entrepreneurs (Christophe Fourtet and Ludovic Le Moan) headquartered in a town of 4,000 souls near Toulouse (Labege), but Labege is an innovation cluster, and Le Moan someone who's already made it before (Scoop.it). Furthermore, SigFox rolled up its first network in San Francisco area, a neighborhood more associated with start-ups and IoT, not to mention players like Cisco. Now it's also attacking the UK with Arqiva.

What do these guys do? Provide connectivity solutions for M2M-IoT applications that DO NOT require more than:
• 140 messages per object per day
• 12 bytes for each message
• 100 bits per second

So don't expect video chats between your toaster and your Ski-Doo. With such constraints, you still can cover a wide array of basic information systems, typically two-way communications with meters or sensors, device location, alerts... Ever the early adopter, Clear Channel was among their first consumers. 

That's long distance wireless (WAN), and any cellco can provide this kind of service, and some m-VNOs have already specialized in M2M, so what's the deal?

SixFox uses Ultra Narrow Band (UNB), and unlicensed spectrum - ISM. In Frisco, that's on 915 MHz (902 usually available in the US), and in Europe on 868 MHz. So the so-called SNOs (SigFox Network Operators) can operate without a license. 

Furthermore, energy costs are really low. According to SixFox's white paper, communicating from an energy meter consumes only 50 microwatts compared to 5,000 over cellular technology, which means that a 2.5 Ah battery shall last 20 years instead of a couple of months.

You won't find much about the cloud costs, or the hardware at the device of the infra levels, but a BS is said to cover a 3-to-10 km radius in urban areas and 30-to-50 km in rural areas. Here too, because there's much less waste at many levels (e.g. protocol data), the network is supposed to consume 200 to 600 less energy than a classic cellular network.

Can this 'slow telecom' approach speed up IoT? Certainly if some guys take this ungratifying part of the job seriously. This is all about minor operations with very low margins, and you want to be among the first ones to reach big volumes. The big players have yet to join the party, and some of them could be tempted to pull out their own broadband UNB gun, or the checkbook (sending SigFox one simple message, under 12 bytes, but preferably for Le Moan and Fourtet, with a lot of 0s).

As of today, on its own counters (on sigfox.com), SigFox claims 157,499,000 messages sent and 3,935 kw saved compared to GSM. I'd like to check these numbers one year from now.

mot-bile 2014

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