Loud about IoT: LoRa takes over Sigfox’ noise says Bouygues
Early October, Sigfox was announcing its planned expansion in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), opening an office in Dubai to manage its network rollout in the region. This was following up on a partnership announcement, a week before, with EI Towers and Nettotter to claim the Italian territory. Prior to that, several Sigfox-based IoT network roll outs had been announced in major European countries but also in the US and Russia, securing high points for its gateways and business partnerships to promote its connectivity services.
The French startup boasts its IoT connectivity solution is currently deployed in nine countries (Italy will be the tenth) and registering 5 million devices for which it manages the data through a dedicated cloud service.
It has announced that its network will be installed in 10 major U.S. cities by Q1 2016, including San Francisco, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and San Jose. Back in February, the startup has raised 100 million euros to fulfil its global expansion plans.
Meanwhile, issuing LoRa Technology land grab statements at pretty much the same frequency, Camarillo headquartered Californian company Semtech (which acquired LoRa Technology through its acquisition of French startup Cycleo SAS) is rallying telecom operators around the Lora Alliance, officially announced at Mobile World Congress early this year.
Lately, Semtech boasted that international telecom operator Orange will use its LoRa RF technology for a low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) scheduled to deploy in the first quarter of 2016 for "smart city" applications across France. This was after a pilot testing with more than 30 partners in Grenoble, France.
The company also struck a partnership with Russian network operator The Lace Company to deploy a LoRa RF technology-enabled IoT network covering more than a dozen major cities in Russia including Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and addressing more than 30 million people across 9,000 square kilometres.
Back in September Semtech also announced French mobile network operator Bouygues Telecom as an early supporter of its technology to be deployed in a large low-power, wide-area network in partnership with leading communications company Sagemcom. Based on Semtech’s open LoRaWAN standard, the network will support tens of millions of connected LoRa-based sensors spread across French urban and rural areas, by the first half of 2016.
Earlier, Semtech had struck a deal with network as a service (NaaS) provider Senet to cover the USA, with aggressive deployment goals.
Semtech sells chips that operate on an open protocol, Sigfox license its IP to chip makers but manages the data, and both companies make noise to market their competing long range IoT networks.
Discarding all technical and marketing claims, and assuming the company had tested both, eeNews Europe asked Bouygues Telecom what made it tick for LoRa versus Sigfox.
"Very early on, we got interested in these low data rate IoT networks" admitted Franck Moine, IoT Marketing Services Manager at Bouygues Telecom. "We’ve been offering M2M connectivity to our customers for a long time, based on SIM card-enabled GSM modules. But for many of our customers, the form factor and power consumption of GSM modules were limiting factors or would simply not match their market needs for very low power very low data rates IoT communications. Hence, many applications were simply not addressable with our GSM solutions. So back in 2012/2013, we set out to map alternative technologies and evaluate them", he recalls.
"We’ve looked at contenders such as LoRa, Sigfox, Neul, all from a theoretical and from a practical point of view. LoRa and Sigfox looked the most market-ready, so we tried them both in the field, first equipping our antenna high spots in Paris’ 15th arrondissement".
"We did our own tests and measurements through Bouygues Telecom’s recently setup iLab (Innovation Lab) and from the very first tests, we noticed a better service continuity using LoRa. Especially when entering Haussmannian buildings, we had better signal penetration with LoRa, whilst we would lose Sigfox connectivity. Outdoor, penetration would be pretty much equal for both technologies, but indoor, LoRa really made the difference and this was really important for the types of services we wanted to address".
"Another important feature for us was bidirectional data communication and geolocation, Sigfox doesn’t support it", added Moine. "We need to ensure that, for example if a water meter detects leakage and sends an alert, its message is acknowledged so we can act upon it fast, and it won’t have to resend the same message periodically."
"Another aspect of Sigfox’ business that really bothered us and potentially also some of our customers is the fact that all the data is managed by Sigfox, centralized on its own cloud servers. In some cases, that means the data has to move out of the country where the services are taking place, and there can be legal issues around that. It is like having a sword of Damocles hanging over your head, you’re never quite sure if or when the company could be acquired and what would happen to your data" commented Moine.
"On the other hand, Semtech is like the Qualcomm of IoT, with several foundries offering LoRa chips under license, this makes our customers more serene. They can choose a trusted third party to manage AES128-level encryption keys for their devices and enable different accesses. There can be a key for the network operator to transmit the data, but also a separate key to decipher the payload at the application level, only for the company running the application" explained Moine.
By the end of 2013 and following these first in-situ tests, Bouygues Telecom decided to experiment further with LoRa, this time in Grenoble.
The engineers found out different noise conditions than in Paris, but the LoRa technology allowed them to circumvent interference issues by selecting dynamically the best receiving channels while adapting data rate to make the best use of available channel quality.
Since then, the company, which is a founding member of the Lora Alliance, has been actively promoting LoRa among other telecom operators so as not to be completely on its own and in the hope to leverage future synergies. According to Moine, KPN, Swisscom, Belgacom and Fastnet are also in the process of deploying LoRa networks or carrying out large-scale trials.
Asked about Sigfox’ strategy and services, Moine shares his opinion bluntly.
"Sigfox is in a race to attract investors, possibly heading for an IPO or even to be bought. But you’re going to see a lot of changes within the next six months as we deploy operational networks", he said, hinting that venture capitalists and a few hundred millions of investments are not enough to secure a market with real customers.
Visit Sigfox at www.SIGFOX.com
Visit the Lora Alliance at www.lora-alliance.org