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IBM and Peugeot could be Sigfox’s saving grace

Two weeks ago, we noted that one big deal could be all that Sigfox needs to right the ship, to ease investor pressure after a rough few quarters. This week, Sigfox has announced that it is part of a deal that will see IBM provide Peugeot with a container tracking system for its supplier and assembly logistics. Of course, it’s not yet a victory lap, but this does look like good news for the embattled LPWAN provider.

Groupe PSA, which includes the Peugeot, Citroen, Opel, and Vauxhall brands, is the second-largest European automaker, after the Volkswagen Group, selling around 3.9mn units annually. With annual revenues of around $75bn, and a market cap of some $22bn, this is a big win for IBM, and consequently for Sigfox too.

Unsurprisingly, IBM is using its Watson IoT platform, which is being supported by Sigfox’s offering, which it is now positioning as “0G.” We’re not a big fan of this term, but Sigfox is essentially trying to say that as 4G is more capable than 3G, its 0G option is lower down the stack than the current crop of cellular protocols. As such, the 0G offering is a good candidate to act as a backup to these protocols, in a similar fashion that cellular-enabled routers are used as out-of-band (OOB) backup connections to data centers. In this instance, it is a good candidate to track shipping containers, as you only need to send a very small amount of data, and there’s no place for voice-calling or MMS messaging.

Moving on, Groupe PSA is very enthusiastic about its new Track&Trace system. “We are constantly looking for technological solutions to meet with the needs of our factories and to be as efficient as possible. This Track&Trace system allows us to know, individually and in detail, where our containers are located. This technological advance must allow to optimize our rotation loops and to prevent incidents. It is a real disruption and a new step in the digitalization of the Supply Chain,” said Yann Vincent, EVP Manufacturing & Supply Chain at Groupe PSA.

The announcement outlines how once IBM was selected as the supplier, Track&Trace was jointly developed in the IBM Studio with Groupe PSA’s logistics team. Following this, it was ‘industrialized’ inside IBM France’s ScaleZone program, which lead to its eventual deployment.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an IBM announcement if it didn’t mention AI and blockchain, and there’s no such disappointment here. IBM has drawn a lot of flak for floundering with Watson, failing to take the enterprise world by storm, as it had so promised in its marketing. Similar jabs were fired at Sigfox, and so the two are perhaps rather well-suited bedfellows. Both need to show that such a combined offering has legs in the market, and both need to prove that such a deployment has a great upside for the buyer.

No party involved is talking about numbers, however. There’s been no chest-beating about the X-million sensors that will be deployed, or the X-billion data points that are going to be harnessed by Watson. To this end, it’s a bit of a wet squib, but given the trumpeting that has heralded announcements from these two in the past, this shift in tone is a welcome change.

Sigfox has had two similar deals in the past quarter, with much smaller companies. Metiora is a pallet-tracking specialist, and is using Sigfox to backhaul data from its devices to the internet, where it can provide that data as a service to its customers. Minsait, a subsidiary of Indra, is providing a similar service to Dachser, a German logistics firm.

Sigfox’s Atlas WiFi geolocation system, which is provided thanks to a partnership with Here, is going to be key to these projects. By sniffing for nearby WiFi networks and backhauling the findings to the cloud, Sigfox has a low-cost way of finding out where its devices are in the world. A pure-Sigfox approach would not be accurate enough for many of these applications, and so it has had to piggy-back on another protocol.

Of course, a GPS approach could be much more accurate (when outdoors at least), but a device that combined LTE, WiFi, and satellite would be both much more expensive and more power hungry. The new Bluetooth 5.1 stack might offer some future competition (see separate article), but for now, Sigfox is hoping that its low-cost is enough to offset any tradeoffs that customers might have to make.

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