Sigfox insolvency: mobile radio as a possible alternative for IoT networking

The French company Sigfox has filed for insolvency in Toulouse. The operation of the energy-saving IoT networks is to continue for the time being, but long-term security is still unclear. During the insolvency proceedings, a buyer is being sought to continue operating the networks permanently. An alternative transmission technology to Sigfox could be mobile radio.  

Sigfox insolvent: This is what happened

French Sigfox SA filed for insolvency and creditor protection in Toulouse on 26 January 2022. Sigfox is a company specialising in the provision of low-power IoT networks. The operation of the networks is to continue for the time being. In the course of the insolvency proceedings, Sigfox wants to look for a buyer in order to have a long-term perspective. The proceedings are initially scheduled to last six months. Among other things, Sigfox cites insufficient sales of its own products and a Corona-related shortage of semiconductor components, which has led to slower growth in the IoT industry, as the reasons for its difficulties.

Low-Power Wide-Area Network: What exactly does Sigfox do?

The Sigfox Group has specialised in the development of a global radio network for IoT devices that uses a licence-free frequency band and transmits very little data. As a result, the power consumption is low despite the long range, which improves the runtime. Such networks are also called low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) or low-energy wide-area networks. These also include, for example, NB-IoT, LoRaWAN and LTE-M, which can be used as an alternative to Sigfox depending on the application.

At Sigfox, partner companies build networks in the respective countries, and the central company Sigfox SA in France controls them. In some countries, including France and temporarily Germany (until August 2020), Sigfox itself acts as network operator. According to its own information, Sigfox operates its network in 75 countries and uses the capacity of 75 carriers, through which about 20 million IoT devices exchange up to 80 million messages daily.

What alternatives are there to Sigfox?

Sigfox's network is a so-called LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Network) and is thus designed to transmit data in an energy-saving way even over longer distances, thus enabling long battery runtimes. LPWA radio modules are extremely energy-efficient and run for several years on standard batteries. At the same time, they are powerful enough to transmit and receive data even from rather difficult-to-access or well-shielded areas, e.g. underground garages, basements or large-scale production halls. By using repetitions when sending data packets, penetration is further increased.

In addition to Sigfox, various LPWA network technologies have come onto the market in recent years. Even though they are similar in essence, there are differences in terms of availability, security, standardisation and efficiency. The most widespread on the market are LTE-M, NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT, LTE Cat-NB), Sigfox and LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network).

Sigfox
NB-IoT
LoRaWAN
Technology

proprietary

open standard

proprietary

Maximum data rate (gross)

0.1 kbit/s

27 kbit/s

5.47 kbit/s (SF7)

While Sigfox and LoRaWAN were developed by individual companies, NB-IoT and LTE-M are each an open LTE-based standard. They are therefore supported by many large network operators, network equipment, device and chip manufacturers. Unlike Sigfox and LoRaWAN, NB-IoT is basically operated by mobile network providers. For this reason, global coverage is also greater and more reliable than with proprietary network technologies. Since LTE-M and NB-IoT will also be implemented in the new 5G networks, LPWAN technologies are particularly future-proof. In principle, mobile radio in general can also be an alternative to using Sigfox. Which transmission technology is used ultimately depends on the individual application.

What does the Sigfox insolvency mean for users of the network?

As the network will continue to operate during the ongoing insolvency proceedings and the search for a buyer, the insolvency proceedings are not expected to have a direct impact on the operation of IoT devices via the Sigfox network in the next six months. It may also be that partner companies in some countries will step in for Sigfox. Heliot Group, for example, has already announced that it will continue to operate the infrastructure regardless of Sigfox SA's insolvency. Heliot is the operator for the Sigfox network in the DACH region, Switzerland and Liechtenstein as well as Slovenia and, according to its own statement, the largest Sigfox operator in Europe. Similar to Heliot, other operators - as long as they are economically, radio network-wise and legally independent of Sigfox SA like Helio - can continue to operate the network. However, this is not a guarantee for the continued operation of all Sigfox networks.

Those who have been relying on Sigfox for networking their IoT devices will therefore still have some time to consider any necessary alternatives if Sigfox cannot be operated permanently. Those who have planned a project based on the Sigfox network can - if possible - perhaps wait a little longer before implementing it, to see how the insolvency proceedings develop and until it is clearer what the long-term future holds for Sigfox. Those who cannot wait or for whom the situation is too uncertain overall have other technologies that can be used as alternatives to Sigfox. One of these, for example, is mobile telephony. If you are interested in M2M SIM cards to network your IoT devices, our team will be happy to answer any questions on this.

Update: UnaBiz takes over Sigfox

UnaBiz from Singapore has won the auction for Sigfox in the insolvency proceedings. The Commercial Court of Toulouse has announced that out of a total of nine bidders, UnaBiz submitted the best offer and has thus been awarded the contract for Sigfox. For a smooth transition of activities, the administrators, Sigfox management and employee representatives will meet with UnaBiz in the coming days. The top priority is continuity of business activities. UnaBiz plans to make Sigfox an open standard and build bridges between Sigfox and LoRa.

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