When speaking and sharing with a lot of you, I decided to start a”What is?” series of blogs to share the knowledge that is out there and bring some insights. The first post is about Sigfox.
Sigfox is one of the leaders in the market of non-cellular LPWA network or LPWAN wireless communication technologies. The company was founded in 2009 in France.
Since IoT adoption grows and the role of connectivity and data is essential both Sigfox and the other major player in the unlicensed band LPWA space, LoRa, have been growing rapidly in recent years.
As mentioned in my IoT book Digitize or Die, the wireless landscape is made up of many acronyms and protocols. To begin classifying the most known technologies and protocols, we will use network range as a first filter. A network range is typically categorized into 5 classes:
- Proximity, body area networks – covers all wearable devices (including implants, surface mounted on the body, etc.)
- WPAN: Wireless Personal Area Network – covers a range of about 10 meters to 100 meters
- WLAN: Wireless Local Area Network – covers a range of about 100 meters to 1000 meters
- WNAN: Wireless Neighborhood Area Network – covers a range of about 1000 meters to 10 km
- WWAN: Wireless Wide Area Network – covers a range above 10km (as big as the entire globe of needed)
The aim of Sigfox is to build the first global public LPWA network. You could compare Sigfox in a sense to a mobile operator, yet for a very specific type of connectivity: lower power, wide range and IoT-related only. The company calls itself the ‘global communications service provider for the Internet of Things’.
Sigfox has benefited from its first-mover position in Europe and in 2017 Sigfox, which is both the name of the company and of its LPWAN technology and offering, accounted for most public LPWAN connections across the globe as LPWA connections research found.
Sigfox has a very specific approach whereby it only offers public LPWAN possibilities. While the number of private LPWAN connections has been higher so far (and dominated by LoRa and LoRaWAN, the topic of my next post), by 2023 public networks will capture over 70% of LPWA connections (cellular and non-cellular) according to ABI Research.
Characteristics of the Sigfox network
Because of its ‘global IoT service provider’ approach Sigfox works with companies, of which several are investors, that dispose of infrastructure (essentially towers for its Sigfox antennas). The business model of Sigfox, which is privately owned, requires a large ecosystem of partners, including the ‘Sigfox network operators’, and high investments to keep rolling out globally and to innovate.
- SigFox uses the Ultra Narrow Band (UNB) – sub GHz ISM band with radio frequencies ranging from 862 to 928 MHz (depending on the region). A good video they posted on their website: https://www.sigfox.com/en/sigfox-iot-technology-overview#popin-235-1
- Sigfox devices use small messages (12 bytes uplink and 8 bytes downlink) with up to 140 messages per day. A Sigfox gateway can handle 1.3 million messages per 24 hours maximum, thus if each object transmits 10 messages per day this would be 130K objects.
- The network redundancy is achieved by overlapping cells coverage of 3 gateways. As the spectrum usage is not optimized this mean any message use the spectrum available to 3 gateways and thus its cell capacity is approximatively 130K / 3 = 43K objects/cell.
- A cell’s range, in rural areas, is between 30 to 50 km and in urban areas between 3 to 10 km. The standby time for a 2.5 Ah battery with SigFox access is about 20 years.
Sigfox innovations and use cases
Since my book was published Sigfox has announced several new features and services which are key for its development:
- The Sigfox Monarch cognition service enables more use cases as it enables devices to recognize and manage radio frequency changes autonomously, depending on the region the device is in.
- Sigfox has also been working on IoT interoperability whereby IP on LPWAN devices would enable to complement cellular LPWA technologies, such as NB-IoT.
Traditionally Sigfox has been mainly used in typical non-cellular LPWAN IoT use cases, from smart city applications and smart buildings to smart agriculture, smart homes and manufacturing.
The mentioned ‘technical specifications’ help you see in which use cases it fits best. Yet, with the Monarch service Sigfox has broadened the (potential) number of use cases, for instance in logistics and supply chain management where asset tracking and maintenance beyond local applications is now easier. A typical example is asset tracking in shipping.
On top of the core Sigfox IoT connectivity service, Sigfox also offers solutions such as Monarch, Sigfox Geolocation and an onboarding process service for partners.
Early 2018 Sigfox said it is available in 45 countries with coverage for little over 800 Million people.