One startup, one story: how a new low-power, low-bandwidth global network is connecting millions of devices to the internet. Let’s meet Sigfox.
Radio communications geek Christophe Fourtet was excited by the digital revolution, but he worried about the exponential cost of the energy needed to process all the data. He became convinced that a completely different technical solution was required and began to tinker. He created a technology that could send small messages using very little energy over very long distances – but he didn’t know what to do with it.
Enter Ludovic Le Moan. The serial entrepreneur withexperience in connected devices had come to the same conclusion. Immediately, he understood the vast potential of Christophe’s invention for the Internet of Things.
World’s largest radio telescope for the IoT
Together they created the equivalent of the world’s largest radio telescope for the IoT. Sigfox uses a UNB (ultra-narrow band) based radio technology to connect devices to its global network. This means the network is highly scalable and built for a high number of devices, with very low energy requirements. It provides two-way communications with devices and is surprisingly easy to integrate with software applications.
Today, the Sigfox low-power, low-bandwidth global communication network connects millions of IoT devices, including smart-home alarms, connected defibrillators, and monitoring devices for the oil and gas industry across 29 countries. The company expects to be operating in 60 countries by 2018.
Sigfox works on the principles of simplicity and agility. The infrastructure is completely independent of existing telecoms or radio networks, and uses an unlicensed spectrum. Base stations are as small as a briefcase, facilitating fast installation. Because data usage is relatively low, fewer base stations are needed.
1,500 antennas in France
In France, for example, the whole country is covered by 1,500 antennas, costing around €5 million to install, compared with the hundreds of thousands of masts required by telecoms networks.
In each country, Sigfox operates a partnership model, meaning the local partner is responsible for the installation of base stations and antennas on roof tops and billboards. The network is extremely secure, and designed so base stations don’t recognize each other – meaning they don’t need to be reconfigured for each new installation.
Where there is a Sigfox network, any device with Sigfox compatible hardware can connect to the internet without requiring external hardware, like a Wi-Fi router. Sensors go to sleep when not transmitting data, minimizing their already low energy consumption. The batteries used in Sigfox connected devices can last for years.
Sigfox promises massive savings for companies that migrate to its low-power network. It is also targeting devices that haven’t previously been connected. A third business case is where Sigfox technology can be complementary to existing telecoms or security networks.
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