Sigfox offers an alternative to 5G IoT implementations

In this Guest Post, Ana Maria Giménez, Global Business Development, Sales & Channel Acceleration at Sigfox, outlines why 5G is overkill for many IoT use cases which, she says, are better suited to the characteristics of 0G connectivity. She also gives us some examples of the kind of use cases that are taking off on 0G.

The case for connectivity hardly needs to be made, but with thousands of column inches being written about 5G, IIoT kickstarting Industry 4.0, and the question of supply chain visibility becoming an issue for consumers and businesses alike, connectivity and visibility have become the underlying business trends for the decade ahead.
While Gartner’s assessment of 20.4 billion IoT devices connected by the end of 2020 represents a significant downgrade from IBM’s prediction of 1 trillion IoT-connected devices by 2020, the blue touch paper has been lit. Sigfox alone has almost 16 million registered devices connected to its network in the 70 countries it operates in.
There is more to the connectivity business than raw numbers, however. There are plenty of radio technologies that can deliver fantastic results for IoT designers, but often the onus is on the product manufacturer to build out their own network, which is no small feat – especially on a global basis. This is an ever-expanding benefit of the Sigfox network, which is already available in 70 countries and is about to be extended even further with satellite coverage provided via a partnership with Eutelsat, which will see four satellites launched in 2020-21 and 25 by 2022.
The Sigfox business model is to license regional rights for the technology to independent businesses in the region. One such company is WND UK, part of the WND Group, which is the UK operator for Sigfox technology. WND UK installs, operates, maintains, supports and sells subscriptions for device use on the UK network. In the last 18 months, it has deployed the majority of the public network to cover over 90% of the UK’s population, working through channel partners who buy subscriptions to connect devices to the UK 0G network. Plans are in place for enhanced coverage and further network expansion.
A factor that often gets lost in the noise around the latest and best technology is a simple one – the use case. It is here that many new technologies (not just in the world of IoT) run into difficulties, becoming a solution in search of a problem. Not all IoT applications are the same and for many a good radio range, long battery life and lower cost per unit are essential to make them viable.
This is where Sigfox really comes into its own. Back in 2010, Sigfox founders Ludovic Le Moan and Christophe Fourtet set out to deliver a low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) that supports small, low-cost devices that can transfer tiny amounts of data at regular intervals. This 0G technology is what powers the Sigfox network. It significantly conserves battery life and makes the network ideal for tracking objects on a global scale without the problems of cost and battery longevity frequently encountered with GSM/4G and GPS solutions.
There are already many live Sigfox use cases that are delivering value now and into the future. One of the most powerful is in logistics, where supply chain visibility is increasingly desirable but still not pervasive. By attaching Sigfox IoT sensors to the valuable elements in the network, a holistic view of the supplier network is created which, in turn, means all parties can obtain accurate and ‘live’ information about shipment location, route and arrival time. This information can also be interrogated and collated over longer periods, in order to deliver powerful insights that significantly drive internal efficiencies, as well as highlighting external factors that are directly impacting on business profitability.
Even modest internal efficiencies can add up to significant sums in the world of logistics, as Sigfox discovered in a recent partnership with leading logistics company Deutsche Post DHL Group. DHL delivers about five million shipments in Germany each working day, which requires the use of thousands of roll cages to contain and transport the parcels through Deutsche Post DHL Group’s network of 35 parcel centres. Ensuring that the correct number of roll cages are available at each location is mission-critical, so the firm is in the process of fitting 250,000 roll cages with Sigfox smart trackers to provide exact information about their locations and movements.
Similarly, An Post, the Irish leading mails, parcels and e-commerce logistics company, has contracted VT-IoT, the operator of Ireland’s Sigfox 0G network to provide visibility throughout their supply chain, tracking roll cages and containers in which parcels are transported and ensuring the hardware is in the correct depots and in suitable volume to deal with each day’s workload. (see An Post adopts Sigfox solution for parcel process and distribution)
Another more niche example within logistics is the transport of perishable goods – especially meat products in the EU and US – which require the temperature to be monitored and logged for consistency. SafeCube, a collaboration between Sigfox, Argon Consulting and Michelin, takes this a step further – monitoring humidity and shocks to fragile loads.
With the global logistics market set to reach $15.5 trillion in the next five years, there’s clearly considerable opportunity left in this burgeoning sector.
To demonstrate the flexibility of the 0G network, it’s supporting an entirely different industry in Japan, where 850,000 gas meters are being retrofitted with ‘smart’ capabilities during 2020. The ingenious retrofit involves adding a ‘SPACE HOTARU’ reader to the existing gas meters that collect gas consumption data and transmit it back to the utility provider via Sigfox’s Japan-wide 0G wireless network.
The device not only tracks usage, but auto-closes the gas valve if an earthquake is detected, adding a valuable safety feature. The units are also designed to operate for more than 10 years on internal batteries. The SPACE HOTARU was made possible thanks to the strong collaboration between NICIGAS, SORACOM, UnaBiz, Sigfox, and Kyocera Communication Systems.
Here we have highlighted just a few of the possible, and increasingly diverse, range of applications that benefit from 0G IoT technology; but the best news for the industry as a whole is that the wider enterprise market is actively seeking solutions that provide visibility throughout the supply chain. While technologies and platforms offer different solutions for market niches and varying levels of maturity, the overall trends remain consistent – connectivity and visibility, which will remain key requirements both now and for the foreseeable future.