International cable group Altice has unveiled plans to use the network technology developed by Sigfox to support a range of Internet of Things (IoT) services in France and other markets.
The strategic alliance promises to pit Altice against French rivals Orange (NYSE: FTE) and Bouygues Telecom in France's fast-developing IoT sector. (See Orange Hails LoRa Breakthrough as Bouygues Ups IoT Game.)
Both Orange and Bouygues have announced IoT plans based around the use of LoRa, a rival to Sigfox in the market for so-called low-power, wide-area (or LPWA) network technologies.
Owned by French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, Altice controls Numericable-SFR , France's second-biggest operator, as well as Portugal Telecom SGPS SA (NYSE: PT), US cable operator Suddenlink Communications and businesses in several smaller markets. It is also trying to finalize a $10 billion takeover of Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), another US cable company.
Altice initially appears to be focused on IoT opportunities in France, where Sigfox already claims to cover about 92% of the population with its network, but says it will ultimately bring Sigfox services to all of its markets, including Portugal, the US and Israel.
Boasting that its 4G network was available to 64% of the French population at the end of 2015, Numericable-SFR is positioning Sigfox as a low-bandwidth "complement" to connectivity services based on 4G and WiFi technologies.
Like LoRa, Sigfox is designed to support IoT services that require small amounts of bandwidth and more energy-efficient solutions. Market leader Orange claims that LoRa is about 15 times as energy-efficient as cellular technologies and that special LoRa lamps it has developed for use inside buildings are able to carry signals over a distance of one kilometer in rural settings. (See LoRa May Not Be for Long Haul at Orange.)
News of the partnership between Altice and Sigfox will clearly increase the IoT pressure on Orange and Bouygues, each of which is in the process of deploying a LoRa network.
Orange is building a LoRa network in 17 of France's biggest cities this year and says the service will gradually be extended nationwide thereafter.
Number-three mobile operator Bouygues, meanwhile, already claims to have completed a LoRa network rollout in 15 French cities. It aims to cover 50% of the French population by mid-2016 and the entire country by the end of the year.
A merger between the two operators -- with Orange currently trying to complete a €10 billion ($11.2 billion) takeover of Bouygues -- might help them to reach targets more quickly and cost-effectively, although this would depend on the timing of regulatory approvals.
Orange says it was attracted to LoRa because it is an "open" standard, unlike the proprietary Sigfox.
Both technologies, however, rely on the use of unlicensed airwaves, and the French incumbent appears keen on migrating to licensed spectrum alternatives in future.
"We are already working with the 3GPP [a specifications body] so that all of the LoRa enablers and features -- low consumption and cost and wide area coverage -- are integrated natively in 2G and 4G," said Luc Bretones, the head of Orange's Technocentre-named product and design facilities, during a conversation with Light Reading in Paris last week. "By the end of 2017, we will be able to do the same with native operator networks."
Sigfox has previously claimed its technology is far more cost-effective than cellular alternatives, but it may struggle to maintain such an advantage as LPWA-like features make their way into 3GPP-defined standards.
Headquartered in Toulouse, the company has been rolling out its technology globally in partnership with other players. It now claims to have deployed networks supporting more than 7 million devices in 14 countries and aims to have a presence in more than 30 countries by the end of this year.
Other network partners include Sweden's Tele2 AB (Nasdaq: TLTO), which has teamed up with Sigfox in the Netherlands, VT Networks in Ireland and SimpleCell Networks in the Czech Republic, where it is also working with Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) subsidiary T-Mobile Czech Republic a.s. .
Elsewhere, Sigfox has partnered with utility companies and local authorities. In the US, it aims to cover the ten biggest cities with its wireless network by the end of this month.
"We are convinced that the IoT market is an opportunity to seize now, with a global vision," said Michel Combes, the chief operating officer of Altice, in a company statement. "The availability of the Sigfox network allows us to bring new IoT solutions to our B2B clients."
Altice has also indicated it will draw on the support of its industrial clients to grow the portfolio of devices that are compatible with the Sigfox network.
Sigfox says its technology is currently compatible with more than 100 connected devices.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading