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Over the next few months, a new wireless network will go live in the Bay Area from San Francisco down to Silicon Valley. This network won’t be connecting calls to your mobile phone or your laptop to Wi-Fi. Instead it will connect the internet of things, communicating tiny bits of information to sensors, appliances and industrial machinery and even consumer gadgets like wearables.
The network is being built by Sigfox, a global ISP that specializes in the internet of things. It’s been building an ultra-narrowband wireless data network using the same 900 MHz band used by cellular phones and baby monitors in France, Spain and Russia. The network only transmits the smallest amount of information at a mere 100 bits per second, but it can support millions of connections. In comparison a cellular network can support a lot faster speeds, but far fewer connections.
A utility meter or a traffic sensor only needs to transmit intermittently and only a few of packets of data. Due to the networks sub-gigahertz frequencies it can space its towers much further apart than the typical cellular network, and the power it takes to transmit is a fraction of what cellular-connected radio could offer. The cost of cellular connectivity and equipment is high, so Sigfox is building an alternate network specifically optimized and priced for that kind of low-bandwidth communication.
Sigfox is starting out small in the U.S. Its SF network is being built by the company itself, but it hopes to expand to new cities with a carrier partner, said Thomas Nicholls, head of marketing and communications for Sigfox. It’s also expanding into in the U.K., announcing last week that it is working with Arqiva to build its network in that country’s 10 largest cities.
Nicholls said Sigfox is currently talking to several companies ranging from utilities about connected meters, municipal governments about smart applications and even consumer-facing device makers about linking internet-of-things gadgets directly to its network.
Sigfox is going to be very interesting company to watch as it dips its toes in the U.S. Technologies ranging from Bluetooth to cellular and Zigbee to Z-Wave are all angling to be the connectivity fabric that glues the internet of things together. Sigfox is proposing that the internet of things might just need its own dedicated internet.