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22 November 2019

Sigfox hits 15mn devices, launches weird private network offering

Sigfox has surged past its 2019 target, claiming to be on track to pass 15mn devices by the end of the year – far ahead of the 10mn it was aiming for. With 1,500 customers, Sigfox will be hoping to scale these contracts quickly, and hope that its upcoming Eutelsat launch next year lays the groundwork for its billion-unit target for 2023.

In February 2019, it had 6.2mn connections, which sent 13mn daily messages. Speaking at the time, CEO Ludovic Le Moan told us that he thought the company could reach 12mn devices this year, meaning that Sigfox has managed something of a turnaround. Le Moan’s hope of doubling the 2019 number in 2020 is apparently 50% complete, and he’s still got six weeks of 2019 left before getting to crack that nut in 2020 proper.

In terms of projections, Sigfox revealed that it only had 2.5mn devices in February 2018 – a massive climb-down, given the discussions we had had with the firm. Based on this, it had 1.5mn devices in 2016, then finished 2017 with 2.5mn, closed 2018 with 3.5mn, then a couple of months later had reached 6.2mn, and now should have over 15mn by the end of the year.

If Sigfox could double 2019’s result in 2020, as Le Moan hopes, then it would net around 30mn active devices. However, if it managed to grow in 2020 as it has apparently done so in 2019, that figure would be around 64mn. This is all, of course, before the impact of the Eutelsat ELO deal becomes known. For Sigfox’s 1B23 strategy, which is aiming to have a billion connections by 2023, 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 much 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.

However, reaching the ten-figure club, passing the billion connections, is rather a lot harder. Eutelsat seems vital if this is to come to pass. At two-thirds the 2018-2019 growth, Sigfox ends up on 960mn devices in 2023. At half the apparent growth, it hits 316mn in 2023. At one-third of this growth, which would still be a CAGR of 42% or so, it would reach just 62mn. 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 – but to be clear, it is entirely possible.

As for the announcements made at the Sigfox Connect bash, SeongJi announced a new Sigfox module that integrated new Sigfox 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 rollout 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 much 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 & Ecosystems, 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.

But Sigfox announced something really quite strange – the new Private Area Network (PAN) offering that is going to be tested in France next year. 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’ if you want to stray onto the wider Sigfox WAN network.

Now, PAN is typically taken to mean ‘Personal Area Network,’ especially when used in conjunction with Wide Area Network, but irksome nomenclature aside, this is a weird offering. It 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.

But the stranger part is the emphasis on privacy, as if that has been the stumbling block preventing potential IoT adopters from launching their own networks and initiatives. As the network operator, 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 wanting of a private option.

Cost and RoI have been the major obstructions, not privacy. To this end, it is tricky to value the use cases that would opt for a Sigfox PAN rather than a Sigfox WAN deal. Sigfox cites Facilities Management, Sensitive Site Monitoring and Management, and Smart Home as the three main use cases, but again, it is strange to think that privacy would be the deciding factor in any of those. To this end, we suspect that it is simply a matter of capex vs opex.

“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.” comments Ludovic Le Moan, CEO and co-founder of Sigfox, “Smart Home or Smart City solution providers will be among the first to benefit from this new offer.”