Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

27 November 2019

Sigfox extends its model to take on private LTE, boasts 15m devices

Sigfox is one of the more prominent of the unlicensed low power WAN (U-LPWAN) providers, but has lost some ground to LoRaWAN. Its latest effort to regain momentum is to launch its first private WAN solution, which will be trialled in its homeland of France from early 2020 and then rolled out more widely.

Essentially, it is a service that will see Sigfox deploy a dedicated network for a customer’s needs, with the option of buying a ‘WAN extension’ to move onto the wider Sigfox LPWAN network. This will take Sigfox more directly into the private LTE business model, in which operators or alternative service providers build and manage private cellular systems for enterprises or cities, with roaming rights onto the wide area mobile network. This model is growing in importance as many industries start to see 4G and 5G as strategic to their process transformations, and adoption of IoT services will extend it from broadband LTE to its LPWAN extensions, LTE-M and NB-IoT.

The model allows customers to build and operate their own Sigfox networks, and offers a capex model rather than the opex approach of subscribing – that is, an upfront cost and no ongoing subscription fees.

As all the numbers are hidden, it’s hard to try and gauge why that capex approach would be preferable. You can’t know if it’s cheaper to build or rent a network unless you can see the pricing, and that’s a figure that is being kept from view.

As with private LTE, there is a strong emphasis on privacy, which is often a key driver for enterprises to want full control of their own connectivity. However, Sigfox has made a big song and dance about the security of its global network, and we have yet to come across any incident that could portray the network as ‘un-private’ and therefore risky – but of course, it is early days for the IoT, and as it scales up, the data privacy and security fears are sure to mount up.

Sigfox cites Facilities Management, Sensitive Site Monitoring and Management, and Smart Home as the three main use cases for the PAN approach.

“Sigfox’s PAN offer will benefit from the existing ecosystem around the Sigfox WAN. The possibility of using all the components on the market, combined with the use of extremely low transmission power to support objects without the need for batteries, gives Sigfox’s PAN offer huge potential,” commented Le Moan. “Smart Home or Smart City solution providers will be among the first to benefit from this new offer.”

Meanwhile, the turnaround has already started if device connections are anything to go by. The company has surged past its 2019 target, claiming to be on track to surpass 15m devices by the end of this year – far ahead of the 10m it was aiming for. With 1,500 customers, Sigfox will be hoping to scale these contracts quickly, and hope that its upcoming launch with Eutelsat next year lays the groundwork to hit its billion-unit target for 2023.

In February 2019, it had 6.2m connections, which sent 13m daily messages. Speaking at the time, CEO Ludovic Le Moan told Wireless Watch’s sister service, Rethink IoT, that he thought the company could reach 10m devices this year. And he is halfway to his target of doubling the 2019 number in 2020, already.

Sigfox had 1.5m devices in 2016, then finished 2017 with 2.5m, closed 2018 with 3.5m, then a couple of months later reached 6.2m, and now should have over 15m by the end of the year.

This is all, of course, before the impact of its Eutelsat ELO deal becomes known. For Sigfox’s 1B23 strategy, which is aiming to have 1bn connections by that year, Eutelsat might not even matter.

Using our rough calculations, if Sigfox managed to sustain the growth seen between 2018 and 2019 through the period (roughly 428%), it would hit 1.1bn in 2022, and then pass 5bn the next year. That is, of course, a very remote possibility, and its terrestrial efforts are going to return a far lower number of connections. However, it is still very likely to make its way into the eight-figure realm, and could swell to nine figures by 2023.

But reaching the ten-figure club of  passing 1bn connections is rather a lot harder. Eutelsat seems vital if this is to come to pass. At two-thirds of 2018-2019 growth, Sigfox would end up on 960m devices in 2023. At half the apparent growth, it would hit just 316m in 2023. At one-third of this growth, which would still be a CAGR of 42% or so, it would reach just 62m. Given that it seems realistic Sigfox would manage somewhere between the half and one-third rate, you can see the sort of gap that Eutelsat has to account for, if the 1B23 plan is going to be met.

  • In announcements made at its recent Sigfox Connect event, SeongJiannounced a Sigfox module that integrates new Monarch capabilities – which let the devices hop between the different radio frequencies needed to run on Sigfox networks, as the devices move between regions. This capability is quite important for devices that will be traversing the globe.
  • There were also updates to Atlas, Sigfox’s geolocation system, which lets a device sniff around to work out where it might be, based on other radio information. Bluetooth beacons and WiFi networks are the main ways that Monarch works this out, and Sigfox tapped Here’s global mapping offerings to enable this functionality last year. Now, Sigfox and Here say that the global roll-out has been completed.
  • This means that the Atlas service now has both the pure Sigfox version (Atlas Native) and the new Atlas WiFi option. The sales pitch is that this Sigfox-plus-WiFi will provide a much better battery life than trying to use cellular-plus-GPS, and work seamlessly indoors and outdoors. Sigfox adds that DHL and Groupe PSA are already deploying such trackers ‘at significant scale.’
  • Also announced was a tracking deal with Amadeus, an IT provider for the travel and tourism industry, which will be using Sigfox’s portfolio to provide asset tracking for its customers. Focused on airports and airlines, the pair have a strategic alliance called PinPoint. Citing the new IATA Resolution 753, which will require far better luggage tracking visibility, the pair say that reusable tags (made by Alps Alpine) and Sigfox Bubble beacons will power the offering.
  • “Sigfox technology is unique in its ability to track objects seamlessly across the globe, and at such a low cost. Combining Amadeus expertise and partners’ network in travel with Sigfox technology, we can enable luggage tracking at a price which is within what consumers are ready to pay for, and thus bring peace of mind to billions of travelers,” said Marion Mesnage, head of research, innovation and ecosystems at Amadeus.
  • Nippon Gas(NICIGAS) also ordered 850,000 Sigfox connections in Japan, via a partnership between Kyocera, Soracom, and Unabiz. The retrofitted meter reader was developed by the latter two firms, is called Space Hotaru, and will serve as the link to Nippon Gas’s new NICIGAS Stream platform, and will supply hourly rather than monthly readings, via Kyocera’s Sigfox Network Operator (SNO) offering.

Sigfox was founded in France in 2009 and has raised nearly $300m. Investors include Intel Capital, Partech Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, Total Ventures and Tamer Group. It has direct operations or subsidiaries in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the USA and networks in 65 countries.

According to COO officer Franck Siegel, Sigfox may look for more funding to expand into huge markets like India, though he expects Sigfox may be profitable towards the end of 2021 or early 2022.