This last monday I had the chance to meet the two Sigfox founders Ludovic Le-Moan and Christophe Fourtet during a really nice day at Labege (SigFox headquarter) with other Sigfox ambassadors.
From the meeting we had with the founders I retained some of the Sigfox strategical guide line:
Scalability – this is the major point raised during our discussions : the network must be able to scale and all what has been designed in the radio protocol & technology, as in the cloud architecture was for scalability.
Thanks to this initial design no big change are expected in the radio solution in the coming years. It has already been designed for future.
In regard to this scalability strategy we have also meet the team operating the network. I’ve seen a really nice Network Operation Center, well equiped and with about 40 people involved. It has been fun for me as in my daily job I’m managing internal inter-application communication of a large company. The volume of data we are proceeding every day is quite similar as of now but Sigfox is well more equiped than I am and better prepared for scaling 😉
Reliability – The ISM band will continue to have more and more noise on it coming from all the coming radio device using it. Sigfox design has been made to ensure a long term capacity to support this evolution. Ultra narrow band is actually the best and secure way to continue to communicate over noisy environment also protecting this common good by limiting the spectral usage.
Simplicity – Sigfox has been made to be simple to use with no parameters to tune the radio or the protocol. Everything is defined to ensure a good quality in the communications. This spirit will be kept in the future but potentially we will have the capability to tweak some of the parameters. We could imagine to limit the repetition time for frame with lower criticality. This will save power or send more frame per hour. We could imagine to get higher speed. Why not having more downlink ? Larger payload ?
This is a regular discussion I have with prospect or with different business oriented people about producing electronics in developed countries and costs of devices. When you talk about electronic products in many minds it is equivalent to talk about Chinese production & design. It’s like when you talk about software in a couple of years ago it was a kind of synonym with back-office Indian development.
Business model is in my point of view a big blocker for IoT tsunami : when IoT is service and service is monthly fee, IoT is also objects and objects business model is based on push the box and get 30% standard business model.
These two approaches are really different and distribution must change its business model to correctly fit with IoT and extract the right level of value. Taking 30% one shot is quick & easy but getting a regular revenue based on service delivery is more profitable.
The blocking point seem to simply be process, people and software: actually distribution is not organized and equipped with the right IT for managing recurrent revenue, for this reason the distribution have no major interest is service oriented product and prefer all inclusive device where service is included in the initial price.
The problem of this model is that it is not profitable for IoT industry : IoT have a making cost to produce the object but year after year each object generate a service cost. In most of the existing business case, new object sell are funding the service for old objects. This can work when the company is growing and make scale effect reduction on service cost. The problem start as soon as the market is decreasing and the cost of running service is higher than the margin made on new object sell. This problem is a killer as soon as your service cost is high like when you have to support a recurrent communication fee (like for what I consider real connected object, I mean objects able to communicate with no local infrastructure dependencies). The only way is to make money on data collected from the object and be payed on client privacy. This equation is really dangerous for the client, even for the IoT industry as much as privacy regulation law are growing and data market not really predictable.
I’m quite sure that this situation will soon change as distribution can make much more money based on service than based on box pushing and as soon as they will be organized to manage it, as the business is better, they will make a lot of available space for service business model based object, enabling the IoT tsunami.
Basically SNOC SFM10R1 aka BRKWS01 Sigfox devkit is an easy way to get start on low cost sigfox hardware thanks to the low cost module from wisol based on the low cost chip from On Semi Ax8052. Presented like this it looks like stack on a stack on a stack.
But in my point of view the solution is really more than this. As a maker I know how difficult it is to kickstart a Sigfox project : you have to deal with expensive devkit where you sometime need a Kbis, then you have to deal with sigfox to get an access and at ends if you want to transform you POC in a product you need to change you technologies for cheaper or simper solutions. (here I’m not pointing anyone but basically I had to made my own devkit to start on sigfox) Most of these problems have already been solved thanks to sigfox making account creation so simple for devkit and the arrival of devkit like snootlab, airboard or smart-everything. All these solutions are nice but provides a full stack solution MCU + communication for a price around $100. This is where the SNOC module is proposing an alternative : get an easy access to the sigfox network with a low cost solution you can plug to the MCU of your choice… Arduino, Rpi, Nucleo, Pic it’s up to you !