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19 December 2014

Wyplay puts Sigfox low-power IoT radio in Frog set top stack

Set top software company Wyplay has added Sigfox’s low-power, long-range Internet of Things (IoT) networking protocol to its Frog set top software platform. The two French companies say this will bring interactivity to millions of set tops that are not otherwise internet connected, and will be showing it off at CES.

The tradeoff for Sigfox’s low-power and long range is seen in its data rate. Sigfox operates using what it calls ultra-narrowband (UNB) technology, in the unlicensed ISM bands of 868MHz in Europe and 902-928MHz in the US. What it gains in efficiency and range, Sigfox lacks in bandwidth.

Its current maximum data rate in Europe is 100 bits per second, and 600bps in the US – thousands of times slower than WiFi. But the signals that a Sigfox-enabled IoT device would be sending, such as status updates or positional data, only require very small message sizes; meaning that Sigfox’s bandwidth is more than adequate in the IoT world.

What this means for set tops using the Frog software is that small-volume information could be sent over the Sigfox network to the set tops that aren’t connected directly to a home’s internet connection. The most practical push applications would involve EPG information or small software updates and tweaks, since sending video or even images on a 100bps connection is unfeasible.

But the two companies are confident that other use-cases justify the integration, and it’s hard to argue with them. They say that diagnostic information from a set top could be retrieved over the Sigfox network by call center staff, in order to quickly identify the root cause of a complaint – such as a dead battery in a remote control, or a disconnected cable. Other options such as setting programs to record remotely or push notifications to the set top are equally viable on the network.

Another major benefit according to the pair will be “allowing TV operators to connect their broadcast decoders to their backend systems without a direct internet connection, potentially providing enhanced service to two-thirds of all satellite subscribers worldwide.”

“Sigfox’s cellular connectivity solution is a cost-effective and pragmatic way to improve the TV subscribers’ experience on already-deployed and new devices alike,” said Dominique Féral, CMO at Wyplay. “This plug and play solution will allow innovative pay TV broadcast use cases such as user statistics and set top diagnostic recovery, push recommendations, remote recording and other features that improve functionality.”

The Frog middleware, which is an HTML5-based open source project, will see the Sigfox software protocol, drivers and API pre-integrated into Frog – so that new set tops could use integrated receivers, or a dongle that would also serve already deployed CPE. There are currently 75 licensees of the Frog platform, which are also members of the Wyplay open innovation community.

With Sigfox’s IoT deployments, which include a rather large security alarm deal with Securitas in Spain, generate revenue on a per-device subscription. Sigfox will provide the software that needs to be installed in the device in order for it to talk to the Sigfox base stations – which have currently achieved national coverage in France, Spain, the Netherlands, and much of the Benelux region, with a UK rollout in progress and a number of smaller European city-scale projects, a couple of small installations in the US. The company is focusing on aggressively expanding into Asia and the US in the near future.

The Sigfox network architecture itself is a collaborative system, which means that each cell has no knowledge of other cells that may be nearby. This allows quick rollouts, as adding a new cell to an area does not require you to reconfigure all the other nearby cells. The platform appears to be much more flexible than a comparable cellular network, given that it managed to achieve 100% coverage in Spain using 1,500 base stations with a budget of $12.9 million.

If the Sigfox network becomes congested in a specific area, the upgrade would be a simple matter of adding more cells where needed and shortening the range of the existing cells. Each cell can handle around 1 million devices, and is comprised of an off the shelf antenna and a small server. Thomas Nicholls, Sigfox’s Head of Marketing and Communications, told us the architecture was scalable, and able to handle billions of devices.

All the complexity is in the network, which helps Sigfox and its partners keep the hardware costs down. The software defined network (SDN) is configured by a centralized cloud, whose main task is to de-duplicate the multiple copies of data that might be collected by the independent cells in the collaborative network architecture.

In a previous conversation, Nicholls stressed that the network’s main advantage arises from its simplicity. Unique ID numbers in each device mean that you don’t have to provision the devices as you would in a cellular network – activation is straightforward. The other main benefit is keeping the hardware and subscription costs down.