All of the apps, movies, and games consumed on tablets and phones are only available because cellular networks deployed wireless technology to connect people to the Internet wherever they are. French startup SigFox thinks it can help usher in a second mobile Internet boom—by building cellular networks to serve not people but, well, things.
SigFox is focused on connecting cheap sensors and “dumb” home appliances to the Internet. The goal is to make all kinds of appliances and infrastructure, from power grids to microwave ovens, smarter by letting them share data. The general concept, known as “the Internet of Things,” has been discussed in academic circles for years, but it has yet to come to life.
The networks that serve humans are based on technology that isn’t suitable for sensors, says Thomas Nicholls, chief of business development and Internet of Things evangelism at SigFox. “If you compare with a GSM [cell-phone] network, then our solution is much cheaper, provides much lower energy consumption, and operates over a much longer range,” he says.
SigFox builds its networks in the same way as a cellular provider, using a system of connected antennas that each cover a particular area and link back to the operator’s central network. But the antennas use a different radio technology, developed by SigFox, known as ultra narrow band. This technology would not be of much use for streaming video to an iPhone, but it allows devices connecting to the network to consume very little energy, says Nicholls, and it allows for very long-range connections.
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