IoT connectivity specialist SIGFOX launches foundation to tackle global challenges
Structured around an endowment fund, the Paris-based foundation will support programs that are designed to protect people and the environment, improve health care and social ties, with the contribution of the company’s network and the best-associated resources.
The announcement coincides with the news that SIGFOX has deployed its network at the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station. The network in the world’s harshest climate was deployed to ensure the safety and security of the crew and its equipment during research operations at the Belgian government’s 2015-16 BELARE expedition.
This is the first time that IoT network coverage has been deployed on the continent, where electronic communication has been limited to short-range radio and satellite communication.
“The BELARE expedition is just one example of the many, many ways that SIGFOX can support programs that protect people and the environment, improve health care and establish social ties, with its network and the best associated resources from partnering with startups and device-makers,” said Le Moan, SIGFOX CEO.
Le Moan and Fourtet are focused intensively on the future – the future of the Internet of Things. The vision of building a global standard of connectivity guides the activities of the foundation, which will pursue the same goal to address major issues at large scale.
“We don’t want to save only one tree, but all trees in a connected forest. We are confident we will bring a high value because of our technology and skills,” he says.
“We still aspire to change the world through the awesome potential of the Internet of Things, but we can’t do this on our own,” adds Fourtet, the company’s chief science officer. “The SIGFOX Foundation will work with the best partners – NGOs, industrials, startups – to bring real solutions that save forests, not just trees, with millions of connected objects communicating as needed with very little energy.”
Sharing that passion and focused on growing SIGFOX, the two men do not have much time to look back.
In 2015 alone, the company added 6 countries to the now generally used low power wide area network (LPWA) that it created. It also built the SIGFOX ecosystem to more than 1,000 partners, ranging from network operators to component manufacturers, integrators and platform developers. In the process, at extended coverage to more than 1.2 million square kilometers (460,000 square miles) and contracted with customers to connect 7 million objects and devices.
And while that kind of growth is the company’s overriding focus, Le Moan, 52, occasionally remembers the past five years, and the beginning of the journey.
“I just had the best meeting in my life,” he recalls thinking in 2010, after he met Fourtet for the first time. “I ran into a great engineer, and we’re going to change the world!”
Le Moan calls Fourtet the “Mozart of radio”. It is a reference to Fourtet’s earlier career developing radio technologies at leading technology and semiconductor companies, in particular RF technology and embedded systems, semiconductors and SOCs. Excitedly laying plans to realize their new, shared vision in the weeks that followed that meeting, Le Moan and Fourtet launched SIGFOX, the pioneer in dedicated, LPWA IoT connectivity.
“The challenge for this startup from Labège was huge,” Le Moan says. “We set out to install a worldwide standard for connecting the physical world to the virtual world, thanks to a system dedicated to small messages that require minimal energy. But we knew that the IoT, currently projected to connect 50 billion objects by 2020, would require low-bandwidth, low-power connectivity to achieve its potential. And we knew back then that it would allow companies, smart cities and consumers to see the world, the environment, even human interactions in a brand new light.”
Le Moan and Fourtet say the physical world will be redefined, understood in a different way, because of the vast amount of information provided by the Internet of Things and the SIGFOX network. That will bring multiple benefits around the world, including, for example, the ability to prevent environmental damage, to predict natural disasters and to improve everyday life for people in every culture.
After the company’s launch in 2011, the dream caught on with what Le Moan jokingly refers to as “only a couple of engineers, cable men and other geniuses” employed by the company at the time. “They were all passionate about allowing tiny devices to send small radio signals as far as possible, as it was done in the submarines mobilized during WW II,” he says. “SIGFOX traces the origins of its ultra-narrow band (UNB) technology to back then.”
Adds Fourtet: “By creating this sustainable and very long-range network, I knew SIGFOX could provide a highly useful solution to signal changes in machines, factories and homes and to anticipate imminent danger and send alerts about problems and potential problems at the right time – before they became big problems.”
While the initial world-changing vision is ambitious even today, when the IoT has become one of the hottest topics and trends in technology, it still drives the imaginations of Le Moan and Fourtet and many of their colleagues at SIGFOX, which now has more than 190 employees and offices in Paris, Boston, San Francisco, Singapore, Madrid and Dubai.
The dream now encompasses ways to extend the benefits of the Internet of Things to organizations that are working to solve global problems, but that don’t have the technological means or the money to access it themselves. That is why Le Moan and Fourtet created the SIGFOX Foundation.
“Forest fires, earthquakes, climate change, threatened animal populations in the wild, early signals of an imminent epileptic seizure with a wearable device, even anglers in danger: there are so many challenges that can be addressed by the Internet of Things,” Le Moan says. “The IoT must be seen as part of the solution, because detecting and reporting signals that are unknown to us, or before a disaster occurs, will allow us to respond sooner and give us opportunities to solve crises.
“The ‘Power of Low’ refers to the unique ability to send small messages, low-power signals, from connected and long-lasting sensors, to improve life in many ways,” he says. “The Power Of Low is also a new paradigm, where the impact comes from the very little, the very small.”
Marion Moreau, a former journalist who specialized in new technologies, heads the foundation.
Besides Le Moan and Fourtet, the foundation board includes Géraldine Le Meur, a serial entrepreneur based in San Francisco, and co-founder of LeWeb Conference.
“As an entrepreneur, one of my passions is finding out how innovation can help during crises, or prevent them from occurring,” Le Meur said. “The SIGFOX Foundation has the ambition to establish connections and solutions that will make a real difference in this area. I am very happy to accompany Ludovic, Christophe and Marion in this ambitious adventure.”
The foundation will work with several "ambassadors" from the wider society: entrepreneurs, artists, sociologists, representatives of NGOs and associations and schools who will be invited to contribute directly or indirectly to its mission. This could include helping it choose projects to support, and postings in online media about the SIGFOX Foundation.