Sigfox Launches U.S. Network With San Francisco Pilot

The low-power, long-range IoT network covers the entire city, but applications that will leverage it have yet to be announced.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Following the initial one-year lease that San Francisco granted Sigfox to use government buildings as host locations for the antennas, the city can make seven consecutive yearlong extensions at its discretion.

Using an ultra-narrow-band radio frequency protocol—meaning it relies on very narrow slices of the unlicensed Industrial Scientific Medical (ISM) frequency band—the Sigfox network operates at 868 MHz in Europe, where it has already been deployed within 10 countries, and is currently handling the transmission of more than 5 million devices with embedded Sigfox radios. In the United States, the network uses the 902 MHz band. By the end of the first quarter of 2016, Sigfox plans to build out networks in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and San Jose as well.

Sigfox and vendors of similar low-power WANs say they provide a low-cost alternative to cellular-based IoT networks, and that they are a good fit for applications that do not require high bandwidth (the Sigfox radios transmit 12-byte packets of data). Plus, Sigfox radios require less power and, therefore, have a longer battery life compared with cellular-based radios.

Of course, the Sigfox network will not provide any benefits until the city or a business launches IoT devices to leverage it. John Heibel, the president of Bay Area smart-meter manufacturer Glen Canyon, says his company plans to integrate Sigfox communication radios, which cost around $1.50 apiece at volume, into its products. Heibel says he is conducting some testing of the newly established Sigfox network in San Francisco.

"Coverage in the city from inside buildings was around 2.5 miles," Heibel says, meaning that a Sigfox radio could transmit and receive data while inside a building located that distance from any of the Sigfox antennas. "In a more rural setting," he adds, "such as Los Gatos, the [distance] would likely be around 10 miles." Los Gatos is not exactly rural, but his point is that the lower density of buildings in that Silicon Valley town would be less likely to interfere with Sigfox radio signals, so fewer antennas would be needed to support a Sigfox network.

Earlier this month, Libelium, which provides sensor networks for smart-city applications, reported that it has added Sigfox wireless connectivity to its portfolio of Waspmote OEM and Waspmote Plug and Sense! sensor devices. Libelium's Waspmote hardware is also available with ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4), 868 MHz, 900 MHz, LoRa, Wi-Fi, 3G cellular and Bluetooth Low Energy radios. (Resellers and customers can select which radios they want included in their Waspmote devices.) And Radiocrafts AS, a manufacturer of RF modules and wireless devices, has indicated that it is now making a Sigfox radio module.

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