Sigfox, once the rising star of the low power wide area [LPWA] Internet of Things (IoT), is chalking up the departure of its former North American head Allen Proithis and the company’s spectrum manager, Thomas Schmidt, at the end of 2017 to typical growing pains that occur at startups. It’s also acknowledging that while the IoT market is still very hot, it’s taking longer than anticipated to become a volume business.
The company in March said that it has coverage in 24 out of the 25 top metropolitan markets in the U.S. and about 25 percent of the U.S. population. It also claims to cover 40 of the top 50 busiest airports nationwide.
“The IoT market has been slower to move to volume than expected,” said Christian Olivier, president of Sigfox USA. “However, customers are starting with pilots and then with proof of concept and then volume deployment. They are integrating IoT into their processes and that takes time.”
Getting customers on the network quickly is critical. According to Steve Hilton, analyst with MachNation, the faster LPWA networks can acquire customers, the more likely they are to succeed. “LPWA operators will eventually sell-out to larger service providers,” said Hilton. “And the value of an LPWA business is directly related to the number of customers.”
In an interview with SDxCentral, Olivier said that the company’s strategy is the same as when it first launched and it believes that it can provide very competitive pricing in terms of connectivity and end-user devices. “Our technology is best positioned for battery life. There are a number of advantages,” he said.
The company uses a narrowband technology coupled with a standard radio transmission method called binary phase-shift keying (BPSK). Several large manufacturers such as STMicroelectronics, Atmel, and Texas Instruments, have been making SigFox radios. The company says it plans to have 6 million devices connected to its network globally by the end of the year.
But Olivier acknowledges that some types of IoT connectivity will be better suited to other networks, like cellular’s narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network. “There are some uses where NB-IoT is better,” he said. “But overall I think there will be market growth.”
Hilton believes that there is room for both cellular and LPWA networks in the U.S. as long as the LPWA players continue to differentiate their offerings and find customer segments that value these offers.
In fact, Sigfox is preparing for that diversity of IoT connections by working with GCT Semiconductor to create a hybrid cellular/Sigfox integrated chipset that will support LTE CAT-M, NB-IoT, EC-GSM and Sigfox IoT connectivity. The company also has partnered with cellular operator Telefónica, which has agreed to support Sigfox’s IoT network and the GCT chipset.
But Sigfox is not alone. Senet, another LPWA network operator in the U.S., recently partnered with rural cellular operator Inland Cellular to offer IoT connectivity for applications that include tank monitoring, water metering, and smart agriculture applications.
The two companies said they plan to work closely to expand Inland’s IoT coverage footprint and will also jointly work with solution providers and system integrators to offer IoT solutions.