Sigfox president on building a one-stop-shop for IoT cloud communications

QnA: Sigfox USA president Christian Olivier talks IoT device service strategy and how it will continue to push its low-power IoT network across the U.S.

Credit: Sigfox

Sigfox, the France-based wireless networking company that is trying to push IoT communications technology into the mainstream with its low-power WAN service, provided through partnerships with mobile carriers who weave its technology into their base stations, just celebrated its third year of doing business in North America.

In an interview with Network World, Sigfox USA president Christian Olivier was eager to characterize his company as  an operator or a carrier for the IoT, not an infrastructure provider.

Sigfox’s model – using small, easily deployed base stations that can be placed in a wide array of locations – means that it can offer low-power WAN coverage to large parts of the U.S. without the need for businesses to deploy their own IoT-centric networks for a given deployment.

“Our job is … actually to enable US businesses and industries to connect their devices with our device-to-cloud service, and for this, we deploy ourselves an infrastructure in the U.S.,” he said.

Olivier thinks that the U.S. is likely to see faster and more widespread IoT adoption than Europe, saying that U.S. companies are more likely to be eager early adopters of new technology. Sigfox’s unlicensed, ISM-band network is aimed squarely at short-messaging, low-data-rate usage – so it’s easier to partner up with U.S. carriers and create a large coverage footprint without a lot of fuss, since the network and underlying technology are relatively undemanding, compared to networks designed to carry traffic like high-definition video or delay-sensitive machine data.

What’s your key competitive advantage in the U.S. market? Why should the end-user customer be clamoring for access to Sigfox’s network?

“First of all, I think we have a very end-to-end offering, meaning that we offer a service where it’s … essentially a one-stop shop for device-to-cloud service. Essentially, a customer can read the data from their devices within a few minutes on the cloud using our API, so it’s very efficient as a service. The other side of it is of course that we have a fantastic track record in terms of battery consumption, so because the network is so power-efficient, you can expect the device to stay with the same battery for years, typically. As well, we believe we are competitive [in terms of] subscription pricing.”

Aren’t there more competitors in the U.S. as far as LPWAN options go?

“There are competitors in every geography, really. It’s just a matter of how consistent you are with your strategy, and I think, on this side, basically we’ve been pretty consistent over the past three years at building our network progressively and I can tell you that, in three years, we’ve deployed [in] 24 major metros and we’re covering 30% of the population.”

The other thing that we are very consistent with is developing an ecosystem … we’ve been developing a U.S.-based ecosystem of device and solutions manufacturers because it’s a clear vector to adoption.”

It seems like IoT architecture preferences are starting to change a little bit (e.g., edge and fog and so on.) How does that play into Sigfox’s position in the American market?

So, we’ve developed partnerships with a lot of platforms … which reduces the burden on the customer side, because they don’t have to reinvent a platform to gather and analyze device data. It’s pretty important.

Sounds like you guys are trying to be the default network for wide-area IoT.

We have technology and a network that’s really suited to IoT. It’s not like trying to adapt an existing network, so I think that’s a competitive advantage for us.

What about new capabilities for the future? What should Sigfox customers be looking forward to?

First of all, we’re going to keep on expanding our coverage in the U.S., definitely. We have, for instance, covered 40 of the busiest airports, and we’ll keep on expanding our coverage in respect to population in the U.S. There are some innovations coming with this network, innovations related to combining messages with localization, for instance.

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