SIGFOX – A new technology for IoT comms?
It’s quite likely you’ve never heard of SIGFOX, or if you have it has been sketchy at best on details. So what is it, and why should you care?
SIGFOX has been designed from the ground up as a low throughput data transmission technology, including a back-end managed data service, and is specifically intended to avoid many of the drawbacks of many current wireless technologies.
The key advantages for a SIGFOX solution are:
- Low cost of both devices and operating charges, making high volume deployment feasible
- Low power consumption to increase battery life and lower maintenance requirements
- Long range, to reduce number of base stations needed to reach deployed devices
- Deep wireless penetration allowing access to devices underground or inside buildings
- Ease of deployment and use, both in regards to device design but also for device management
The technology used by SIGFOX allows a very efficient, low throughput communications network, as well as excellent penetration, reaching inside buildings much more effectively than other low power radio technologies.
Collecting and Accessing Your Device Data
Once devices are deployed the messages they send are collected and aggregated by the SIGFOX network. As a device owner the data transmitted is then available through standard Web Services APIs provided by SIGFOX servers. Your application(s) can be built on top of these services and once this is set up then whenever a message is received from one of your connected devices it will be passed to your application for processing.
There are a wide variety of possible use cases, a number centring around alarm or monitoring devices where the system needs do nothing other than continually check for a particular event or condition, and only send a notification or alarm if that event is detected. Examples here might be smoke detectors or air quality monitors. Because the network is powered down most of the time, the power consumption is very low and the device will last many times longer than similar devices using different wireless technologies.
So how real is it?
Well, as it originated in France, it will come as no surprise that the country is fairly well covered already. Other European nations are following suit and the UK is scheduled to have good coverage in major cities by the end of 2015. The US is coming along too, although on a slightly different frequency band, so don’t just assume the same equipment will just work if you want to roll out in the US.
Silicon is also available from a number of vendors, ranging from the entire SIGFOX stack on a single chip to complete modules. For high volume, low cost solutions it would clearly be more cost effective to design a bespoke device from scratch, but for lower volumes where the requirements are reasonably straightforward then a solution based on one of these modules would be perfectly acceptable.
Are there downsides?
Naturally, as with any new technology, there are issues to consider when it comes to designing your system.
- The SIGFOX technology is patented and the IP is proprietary, although it is readily available on a royalty free basis to members of the SIGFOX consortium.
- The bandwidth availability is very low and is only suitable for certain applications.
- Finally there is obviously vendor lock-in on the subscriber side as you can’t switch from one provider to another in the way you can with GSM mobile networks.
SIGFOX is very much still at the early adopter stage, and as with any new technology there are bound to be teething troubles. However there are already many thousands of connected devices in France and the technology has the potential to provide a very cost effective solution in a variety of markets and industries.
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Abelon Systems are a world-class provider of embedded systems, specialising in networking and communications solutions. For more information, or to discuss your SIGFOX requirements, please get in touch with us with your details and we will be glad to discuss your needs.