(BLOG): August 22, 2013 — It sounds quite odd to start a book from its last page, but this is the claim of SIGFOX, a French start-up company, which is intending to be the network operator of “Things”. As Groupe SEB’s Karim Houni writes, since the first minutes of a meeting with SIGFOX, its aim has been to tackle one of the major challenge of the Internet of Things: connectivity cost.
When scanning the available technological solutions to bring wireless connectivity to a product, a wide catalogue of solutions appears. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, NFC, cellular with all its generations, Ant and so many others. The way through that digital jungle can only be found with a good understanding (or choice!) of the connectivity scenarios: To what will my product connect? How much data do I need to transfer? Does it need a gateway to the internet? Could it be the domestic access point or a smartphone? What happens when none of them is reachable? Could cellular fit the need?
Cellular is indeed one of the best ways to tackle the coverage issue, network operators have done tremendous work over the years to make SIM cards a turnkey solution almost anywhere under the blue sky. This ubiquity comes at a cost for an integrator; putting the power-consuming modem in the product to be connected, and figuring its data plan.
SIGFOX as a small network operator in the short term (but probably much bigger in the long) tries to fit in the uncovered zone; geographically, by building its cellular network around its patented Ultra Narrow Band (UNB) which allows better coverage with much fewer antennas; and “market-ly”, by building its business model around the $1-per-year gimmick which allows everyone to start brainstorming about cheap connected applications like the tweeting thirsty flower. This simplicity comes at a cost for an integrator: SIGFOX networks offer only long range but low data rate (around 100bps), and for now only the uplink.
When it comes to daily life products, like domestic appliances, SIGFOX UNB network won’t be of any help pushing HD video for step-by-step recipes. But this long range, low rate, low cost connection could be the assistant sought by business technologists to create a better link with customers eager to have an always fully functional appliance.
The UNB network is a well-fitting solution to make your kettle digitally whisper its functional status to the manufacturer who will repair it before it fails. Along with low power consumption modems, which will be soon widely available, SIGFOX pre(o)mise is a complementary network for the Internet of Everything, where kettles, flowers, alarms, meters and so much more will be sending bunches of bits, thus cheaply connected.
The thread may be thin, but its web might be gigantic.
The author of this blog, Karim HOUNI, PhD. Eng., is innovation project manager, Connected World & Smart Home, Smart Systems Innovation Center at Groupe SEB. Groupe SEB is based in Pont-Evêque, France.