Australian Sigfox network operator, Thinxtra, has scored a contract from Australia tank monitoring company, Silicon Controls, to provide connectivity on Sigfox networks around the world that could see up to one million gas tanks and cylinders monitored over the next three years.
Silicon Controls presently monitors about 134,000 LPG tanks and cylinders around the world using its proprietary Gaslog technology, which operates over cellular networks. It is now also moving into the monitoring of industrial gas storage tanks.
Silicon Controls’ CEO, Mike Neuman, told IoTAustralia that the company expected the Sigfox technology to dovetail with cellular “Where there is Sigfox that would be the preferable network. Sigfox is really the only truly global IoT offering. So this deal gives us the ability to execute in all the countries where Sigfox is deployed and will deploy.”
He said that, in addition to coverage, the company saw the main advantages of Sigfox a being lower capex cost for devices, longer battery life and network longevity.
Capex, battery life and longevity
“Sigfox hardware will be substantially cheaper, perhaps 30 -50 percent,” he said. “In most of the applications we deal in today the communications costs could come down, but the reductions won’t be massive. This is really about a combination of reduced initial capex and longer battery life.”
He added: “It’s very hard to tell what communications costs will be with Sigfox. They are very volume dependent. If you commit to very large volumes you can achieve extremely low rates.”
On the question of longevity, Neuman said. “We have seen the 2G Network sunset in Australia and I suspect 3G will not be that far behind. It is not a particularly popular technology with operators today compared to LTE. And when you have tanks that are in place for 10 to 15 years you are looking for a network that lasts 10 to 15 years. Whether any cellular operator will commit to hold a 3G network for 10 to 15 years is anybody’s guess.”
Neuman said the company considered the cellular alternatives to LPWAN to be too immature. “We feel that NB-IoT is probably at least a couple of years away, and there is still a bit of bun fight between it and CAT-M1, and there are not so many module suppliers that have committed to one or the other as yet.”
Co-development with Thinxtra
Thinxtra said its agreement with Silicon Controls included “development of the IoT monitoring equipment, leveraging Sigfox technology and know-how, network expansion, development of joint go-to market solutions and SLA based operational support to customers.”
Neuman said Silicon Controls expected to start field trials around the world in early 2017 and to be deploying commercial systems in late 2017.
This is Thinxtra’s first announced major contract since it launched services on its network in April. However Renald Gallis, Thinxtra’s VP ecosystem and marketing, told IoTAustralia said other deals in the pipeline would see Thinxtra providing connectivity for up to 10 million devices over the next few years with most of these being on its own networks in Australia and New Zealand.
With the Silicon Controls contract, he said devices on overseas networks would be identified as Thinxtra devices and Thinxtra would earn roaming revenue from their usage. All devices will be accessible from Australia via the Sigfox Cloud.