Q&A: Sigfox – the global 0G network powering the IoT

Author : Christophe Fourtet | CSO (Chief Scientific Officer) & co-founder | Sigfox

01 July 2020

Sigfox_Connected World_580x280
Sigfox_Connected World_580x280

Sigfox is the initiator of “0G”, the world’s largest dedicated wireless network purpose-built for connecting devices & systems using low-power to the internet – making it one of the leading service providers for the Internet of Things (IoT).

This article was originally featured in EPDT's H2 2020 IoT & Industry 4.0 supplement, included in the July 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Its global 0G network enables IoT device, system and service providers to connect the physical world with the digital universe, powering industry transformation. EPDT finds out more in this Q&A with Christophe Fourtet, CSO (Chief Scientific Officer) & co-founder of Sigfox

Enabling businesses to gain visibility of their devices and generate transformational data at the lowest total cost of production, Sigfox’s 0G network now covers all five continents and is present in 71 countries. It currently covers over five million km2 and one billion people use it to send 26 million+ messages every single day. And since January 2020, another 10,000 devices have been connected to Sigfox’s 0G network – bringing the total to almost 16 million globally. Learn more in this Q&A…

Q: Is 0G the same as unlicensed spectrum, or does the term point to other advantages in this portion of the spectra?

A: Sigfox operates in the ISM band which, while unlicensed, is fully regulated. 0G is a proposed standard dedicated to the transfer of small messages in order to give us all access to a minimum communication service which would complement other communication protocols, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Satellite, 3G, 4G, 5G, ADSL, fibre and so on. There are many advantages of having a back-up channel in case the main communication links fail – or in cases where a network goes down, for instance, after a natural disaster or malicious act.

Q: Does Sigfox see its capabilities as focused on network provisioning, equipment/IoT reference design maker or something else – and why?

Christophe Fourtet, CSO & cofounder of Sigfox_580x280
Christophe Fourtet, CSO & cofounder of Sigfox_580x280

A: The growth of the IoT industry has historically been constrained by cost and energy issues. Small, inexpensive objects simply do not have enough power to communicate with large mobile networks. Sigfox has, through its global 0G network and rich ecosystem of expert partners, pioneered low power device-to-cloud connectivity to complement high bandwidth solutions and allow solution providers to deliver out-of-the box, two-way, secured communication services to unlock the true potential of the IoT. We are the IoT enabler for chipset and device manufacturers, solution providers and customers.

Q: Various IoT programmes have been rolled out, to varying degrees of success, so where does Sigfox see the industry today and what can we expect in the next decade?

A: There are many interesting and innovative projects currently being deployed that will fundamentally change the way humans interact with their environment. We are experiencing a huge demand for supply and logistics optimisation (tracking of assets) that, until now, have not been cost effective to track. Going forward, we will see alignment with simplicity, low cost and ease of provisioning of solutions that will add value across a vast range of use cases in multiple verticals. I believe we will see exponential growth over the next five years, and I expect to see tracking and tracing of assets ranging from containers, crates and pallets to parcels, packages and goods that will provide an unprecedented level of visibility. IoT solutions will also monitor, maintain and alert to prevent unexpected failures and accidents from occurring.

Q: While the IoT is growing, its industrial cousin – the IIoT (or industrial IoT) – is already transforming manufacturing and bringing higher degrees of safety and security to automated manufacturing. Is Sigfox a player in the IIoT too?

A: Sigfox is very much involved in the IIoT. We are providing the digital backbone for supply chain applications to dissolve traditional silos, provide end-to-end visibility of the complete chain and enable manufacturers to move from a linear to an integrated supply chain. Inbound and outbound logistics can now be fully integrated to improve decision making power and focus on operational efficiency. Supply and demand signals at every point of the network will now be available in real time, a key enabler for JIT (just-in-time) manufacturing. Digital transformation is at the heart of Sigfox’s strategy.

Sigfox_Supply chain elipse_580x280
Sigfox_Supply chain elipse_580x280

Q: Security is always a concern within radio frequency, whether a device is transmitting/receiving in lower or higher frequencies using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular networks or some other protocol. What security protocols does Sigfox work with, and does it provide device-level or network-level security?

A: Customers face three main types of security threat in IoT: an unauthorised party taking control of devices; service disruption; and theft of information. Sigfox has applied security by design principles in all the definition steps of its protocol, and in the development of its infrastructure, as well as all the components it offers to Sigfox users, Sigfox operators, device manufacturers and end-customers. Devices are not directly connected to the internet and do not communicate using the Internet Protocol (IP).

Whenever data is transmitted from a device, the message is picked up by several access stations, conveyed to the Sigfox Support System and delivered to a predefined destination. If the device requires a response, the IoT application has the opportunity, during a limited time window, to deliver the response to the device through the Sigfox Support System and base stations. This design means that devices never have the ability to send data to unknown entities via the internet. They are therefore shielded from the internet by a very strict firewall. Message authentication and encryption, plus replay avoidance measures, are also applied to ensure that devices cannot be taken control of or messages intercepted.

Q: Will 5G become a viable ‘pipe’ for high bandwidth access for its primary target mobile uses, and fixed applications too, or will Sigfox and other networks provide competition?

A: There is no single wireless technology for IoT devices. Each has its strengths and weakness and, in many cases, can complement one another. Sigfox is firmly positioned to address the challenges of low cost, simplicity and long battery life, which addresses 80% of the market, but there are other use cases where higher bandwidth may be required. This is where 5G can benefit from hybrid connectivity: for example, battery life extension on devices that only need to send small status messages until an event happens that triggers a 5G connection to transmit a higher volume of data, such as video. Sigfox can also provide cellular anti-jamming protection for fixed devices, or act as a backup, providing secondary (0G) connectivity in the event that the primary fails. It’s about collaboration, not competition.

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