Sigfox enters market
Low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) are undoubtedly one of the hottest IoT topics in the last couple of years. Such an IoT device can cover distances from several kilometers to tens of kilometers at extremely low power and collect data to be put on the Cloud. Therefore, it is believed that LPWANs can offer a wide range of potential applications. As a result, the market is seeing a large number of new LPWAN technologies appearing and jockeying for position in the business. Among them, Sigfox is one of the most impressive names.
Sigfox is a French company founded in 2009. It can be said to be one of the earliest advocates of LPWAN. Their goal is to build a wireless wide area network that is completely independent from the existing wireless lattice network, to provide low speed connections for low power sensors.
Sigfox networks operate in unlicensed sub-1GHz bands. With UNB, Sigfox network systems send 140 messages per day with a payload size of 12 bytes (96 bits). The data rate is 100 bps, and therefore consumes only 50μW to 100μW. Such a chip can cost less than US$1. In terms of coverage, Sigfox has set a target of up to 1,000km, with each base station capable of processing up to 1 million objects. At this rate, it will require no more than 10,000 base stations to cover the entire United States. The cost of network construction and maintenance would be relatively low. Low power, low speed, low cost, and large coverage make a great combination for potential applications in home automation, remote metering, health, transportation, retail, remote surveillance, security and similar fields.
Sigfox has been working in this field for a number of years. As of the end of 2017, it has covered a total area of 3.8 million square kilometers in 45 countries and regions and connected 2.5 million devices while serving 803 million users. Sigfox has set a goal of covering 60 countries and regions and connecting 6 million devices and 1 billion users by the end of 2018.
Fig. 1. Sigfox global coverage, with blue indicating completed networks and purple indicating those under construction (source: Sigfox)
Breaking into Asia
Sigfox's global coverage suggests clearly Asia will be the next key regional market. In fact, the list of new countries and regions covered by Sigfox as of the end of last year already included Malaysia, South Korea and other Asian countries.
In China, Sigfox and remote care provider Senioradom entered into a strategic cooperation agreement regarding the Chinese market in January 2018. The plan is to implement elderly care programs in 20 large Chinese cities, including Chengdu, in the coming year, based on Sigfox technologies. The project has been interpreted by those in the business as Sigfox signaling its entry into China.
In Taiwan and Singapore, the strong support of local service provider Unabiz in the last few years has led to the start of commercial operations in 2017. The signal currently covers more than 90% of the population.
Meanwhile, Sigfox continues to expand signal deployment in other regions. The aim is to achieve "global coverage in one contract" and give users the most expansive user environment.
It can be observed from the business model of Sigfox that Sigfox owns all of the necessary technologies, from backend data and Cloud services to terminal software. Given terminal systems are essentially an open market, the approach of "making money not on hardware but on software sales and network services" gives many chip and solutions companies as well as other business partners more room to work with. The process, over time, creates an open ecosystem that supports networks and business development.
A business model like this also presents new challenges for technical service providers in the business. To provide comprehensive Sigfox solutions, it is necessary to be not only capable of developing point-to-point IoT solutions and applications, but also able to offer a more complete range of ecosystem support. For Avnet, the company has been transforming itself from a service provider of "component distribution + technical solutions" to an enabler of IoT supply chain integration in the IoT age. Avnet plays the role of a resource hub in the process (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2 Avnet becomes a whole-ecosystem-chain enabler in the IoT age.
For a client that needs to deploy a Sigfox network, finding a well equipped partner like this will undoubtedly make the process more efficient. It may make all the difference in the LPWAN market where companies are still in the early stage of trying to secure their market shares.
Fig. 3 Avnet has brought together many industry resources in the fields of Sigfox.