Sigfox founder and CEO, Ludovic Le Moan, says the company is aiming for very rapid rollout and uptake, and at offering devices at well under a dollar that can be used on any Sigfox network through a single contract with one Sigfox network operator.
Speaking to IoTAustralia at Sigfox’s Australian partner, Thinxtra’s launch event in Sydney, Le Moan said: “We are looking for a new sum of maybe $US300 million and we have a bunch of partners including Temasek [Temasek Holding, a Singapore-Government owned investment company] and private investors that are looking at us because they see IoT as the next big opportunity.”
He added: “I have met many VCs and they have told me they have never seen such an ambitious project [as Sigfox], but for me it is the only way to address the IoT opportunity.”
Sigfox announced in February 2015 funding of US115 million from seven heavyweight investors: Air Liquide, Eutelsat, NTT Docomo, SK Telecom, and Telefónica.
Australia and New Zealand will be Sigfox’s first networks in Asia, but Le Moan said he hoped to have partners in six or seven other countries in the region by year-end. “We have a bunch of partners we are in negotiating with in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taipei.”
The origins of Sigfox
Le Moan founded Anywhere Technologies in 2000 and sold it to Wavecom in 2008 because, he says, he could not find a suitable communications technology for IoT. He then encountered cofounder Christophe Fourtet, now Sigfox’s scientific director. He was part of the group at Motorola that developed the first cellphone technology,
“Christophe had found a way to do communications very cheaply and I said ‘If you are telling the truth we can change the world.’ So I decided to do the biggest bet I could image: a worldwide network for IoT.” Le Moan said Sigfox’s approach was to stay at the level of basic connectivity for IoT, but to make that as cheap and simple as possible.
“For you as a customer, it needs to be transparent, it needs to be simple. What has been done for mobile [for international M2M roaming] is a nightmare. We offer one network, one contract. If you contract with Sigfox anywhere in the world, each device has a unique ID and as soon as that device appears on the network we recognise it and we deliver services to the owner, and we have the same price in every country.
“You can contract here in Australia with Thinxtra and say ‘I want to have 100,000 connections with Sigfox’ and you will be able to deliver those anywhere in the world. We operate a clearinghouse that manages the roaming in a transparent way. … With Sigfox we have simplified everything. As soon as you sign up with Sigfox you get the data delivered into your own cloud. There is no peering, no sim card.”
He said that Sigfox devices were already costing less than $1 but hoped to get the price down as low as 20 cents. “We are working with WNC in Taiwan [Wistron NeWeb Corporation], They are providing a very low cost Sigfox solution.”
What’s in the name?
Le Moan also explained the derivation of the name Sigfox. “Sig as in signal and fox because the fox is a smart animal, and we believe the signal of Sigfox is so smart it can go everywhere.”
Sigfox uses unlicensed spectrum the frequency of which differs from country to country but Le Moan said this did not mean that Sigfox had to produce different modules for different markets. “We can change the spectrum used by software, so even if the device moves from France to Australia we can change the frequency seamlessly for you.”
Sigfox technology has come in for criticism from rivals, notably Ingenu – whose RPMA technology is being rolled out in Australia and Asia by IoTOz. Ingenu has produced a RPMA E-book that compares Ingenu’s RPMA technology favourably against Sigfox, LoRaWAN and others.
Le Moan dismissed such criticisms, saying that no rival technology had achieved the level of uptake of Sigfox. “Many competitors try to bash us, but we have seven million objects connected in 17 countries. Those guys claim they can do something better, but they don’t have the rollouts we have.”
A number of telcos, most notably Orange, the incumbent in Sigfox’s home country, France are rolling out large scale networks based on LoRaWAN, a rival technology to Sigfox. Le Moan said they had chosen LoRaWAN as being closer to their existing business model, in which they provide additional managed cloud services.
“IoT must be approached from the beginning with a new paradigm. … Our cloud is only to store the data. That’s why the partnership with Microsoft is key for us. … We want to feed the applications with data coming from the objects we don’t want to spend a lot of time and cash doing what they have already done.”
(Sigfox announced in March plans to integrate the Sigfox Cloud with Microsoft Azure IoT Hub — Microsoft’s platform in its Azure cloud for connecting and managing IoT devices — enabling customers to use data gathered over Sigfox networks for real-time analytics under Azure.)