At the local area network (LAN) level we have a lot of different wired and wireless alternatives for M2M connectivity. But at the wide area network (WAN) level we have few options. There are a lot of legacy solutions using the fixed switched phone network (PSTN and fixed broadband Internet access is the dominating way to connect LANs to the Internet. The mobile industry is positioning themselves as the obvious solution for wireless WAN connectivity. The mobile operator alternative includes the cheaper and low capacity 2G option, 3G and the emerging high-capacity and low latency LTE option. 2G is still by far the most utilized option with more than 90% of all M2M subscriptions. Satellite communication provides an almost complete outdoor coverage and is a frequently used alternative especially for tracking.
But there are potentially other alternatives for M2M WAN connectivity. Entrepreneurs are working on the idea to build a dedicated M2M network designed to connect billions of devices in a cost efficient and high quality fashion. One of the most interesting today is Sigfox in France who has designed and built a wireless network optimized for M2M using ultra narrow-band modulation techniques. They started roll out earlier this year and plan to have France covered by the end of this year which is amazing. Sigfox uses unlicensed spectrum (868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US) normally used by cordless phones. With open sight distances up to 40 km covered and when compared with GSM, for the same level of coverage, Sigfox’s solution requires around 1,000 times less antennas and base stations. The impact on cost is massive – it is 100 times less expensive to build, install and operate. They claim they will have France covered with some 1000 transmission sites. The radio modules embedded in the connected things are tiny and consume 1/50 of the power typically consumed by a cellular M2M module. With such low power consumption batteries could last up to 20 years before recharging or replacement is needed.
The Sigfox network is designed to connect millions of devices that only send messages occasionally – maybe once a week or once a year. The position of the object is included and data is encrypted. The bandwidth is only 100 bps which allows transfer of only small messages. And this will likely be the most common type of connected object why volumes could be very large and economies of scale could help Sigfox bring down cost to a couple of dollars per module. They predict that their efficiencies in running the network will enable them to connect devices for a couple of dollars a year.
Now you might wonder what type of mushrooms they have down in Toulouse. But already now they have announced that Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings is a customer using Sigfox to connect their billboards and MAAF Assurances just announced an agreement for their innovative connected objects’ household protection service, they have suggested to ETSI to make their proprietary UNB technology a standard and in September Intel Capital led their €10 million B round.
Friends, this is for real and companies like Sigfox have the potential to change many games onwards. Connected objects without hassle for a couple of dollars a year sounds attractive, doesn’t it? Bonne chance!
[…] I dived into what I called narrowband networks for IoT 2011 since there was an obvious need for an infrastructure that didn’t exist. I used to say “think cat, bicycle and smoke detector” to put the finger on the need. Or translated into requirements: low cost and often small and light communication modules, low cost connectivity and very low energy consumptions. The answer to that would be inexpensive infrastructure which is providing primarily heart beats, events and when needed position. The first solution I found was Sigfox and after a training in Toulouse I wrote this post. […]