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Start-up to build low-power IoT network in U.S.

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IoT? wide-area network? Internet of Things? start-up?

A France-based start-up intends to build a national network in the United States for the Internet of Things to the tune of $70 million. Sigfox plans to close funding next year in what it sees as a race to be the first with a broadly deployed wide-area IoT network.

The company says it has a lead with national IoT nets using ISM-band transceivers that have already been deployed in France and Spain and are in the works in the United Kingdom. It also has an unnamed partner with whom it hopes to put base stations on satellites for a future IoT network with global coverage.

The ambitious effort is part of the latest race to create low-power, wide-area networks. At least half a dozen companies (including Huawei, China's top communications company) are engaged in separate efforts taking different approaches, many at an early stage.

The efforts face competition from entrenched cellular operators, whose prices they hope to undercut with offerings that have longer battery life and range but much lower data rates. An emerging standard for Wi-Fi on the ISM band is likely to spawn other competitors among the big Wi-Fi vendors, including Qualcomm.

"We think the potential is substantial," said Andy Castonguay, a principal analyst with the U.K. market watcher Machina Research, who tracks the area. "If properly implemented, it can be very applicable for industrial, agricultural, transport and other sectors for a number of use cases, but the challenge is coverage." Who will get there first "is still up in the air."

Sigfox

Sigfox has deployed national networks in France and Spain.

A smarter approach to signalling

Christophe Fourtet, a cellular specialist who spent a decade at Freescale and Motorola, co-founded Sigfox with the entrepreneur Ludovic Le Moan. The company's name is meant to suggest smart signalling, pointing to Fourtet's realisation that ISM-band links made more sense than GSM for many IoT applications.

Four unnamed companies now make base stations using the company's software running on off-the-shelf 800-900MHz transceivers. They now cover 420,000 square miles in Europe with ranges that run from a couple of kilometres for underground water meters to 500km for connected billboards run by Clear Channel.

The base stations can run for five to 20 years on batteries. But they are limited, by both technology and regulations, to data rates of 100-600bit/s, sending a maximum of 140 12byte messages a day and receiving no more than four eight-byte messages a day.

"Each customer has its own vocabulary where it can express a lot in a few bytes," said a Sigfox representative. No customer is near the limits for its IoT apps.

Each base station costs about $4,000. In simulations, they have been able to support as many as a million end nodes sending 10 messages a day.

Sigfox charges operators a subscription rate of $1-16 a year per node based on volume. That's a fraction of the $1-2/day a cellular link would cost, said Castonguay of Machina Research.


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