Sigfox Slams 'Proprietary' LoRa, Costly LTE

Sigfox has hit back at recent criticism of its Internet of Things (IoT) technology, arguing that LoRa, a low power, wide area (LPWA) rival, is not really open and that cellular technology will fail to address its IoT shortcomings. (See The Wolf at Sigfox's Door.)

The French company is currently deploying IoT networks in a total of 17 countries and recently announced a major partnership with Altice , which maintains extensive cable and mobile-phone networks in France and the US. (See Altice, Sigfox Join Forces in French IoT Battle.)

Relying on unlicensed spectrum, LPWA technologies are reckoned to be more cost- and energy-efficient than cellular and much better at transmitting signals over long distances. That makes them ideal in IoT scenarios where very small amounts of bandwidth need sending frequently and where equipment may be in use for many years, proponents say.

Sigfox is widely regarded as a proprietary system, however, and proprietary has quickly become a dirty word in the technology business. During a recent tradeshow in London, William Webb, the CEO of the Weightless Special Interest Group -- which is developing a rival LPWA technology -- predicted that only one LPWA technology would ultimately survive and that it would be a fully "open" system. Webb also claimed Weightless is the only LPWA technology that currently fits the bill. (See IoT Will Have iPhone Moment – Weightless CEO.)

It's a claim Sigfox now disputes. In comments emailed to Light Reading, a Sigfox spokesperson insists that, by providing its protocol entirely free of charge, the company is "enabling a truly open system."

"Partner equipment and solutions are validated to assure optimal performance through the Sigfox Ready certification program," says the spokesperson. "Sigfox Ready device makers can choose from a wide range of chipmakers, including Texas Instruments, Atmel, AXSEM and Silicon Labs."

The spokesperson also takes aim at LoRa, yet another LPWA technology that has attracted support from French telecom incumbent Orange (NYSE: FTE) as one that is purportedly open. (See Orange Hails LoRa Breakthrough as Bouygues Ups IoT Game.)

"The LoRa solution is entirely proprietary and is owned by Semtech, so it cannot truly be considered an 'open' approach," he says. "The users of LoRa networks would have to be tied in with Semtech, which will dramatically reduce the addressable market and limit the flexibility needed to innovate and propose competitive pricing."

Semtech Corp. (Nasdaq: SMTC) is a semiconductor company based in California, whose integrated circuits are used in various IoT applications. It is one of a number of "sponsor members" listed on the website of the LoRa Alliance , the organization behind LoRa technology.

But Sigfox also claims that its position as a communications service provider in its own right gives it a huge advantage over LoRa. "Where Sigfox offers customers… a single contract to access global coverage without fragmentation, clear pricing and a committed SLA [service level agreement], LoRa users have to create solutions targeted towards each and every installed network and there is no suggested solution for avoiding this fragmentation," says the Sigfox spokesperson.

Light Reading approached the LoRa Alliance for a response to Sigfox's criticisms but had yet to hear back at the time this story was published.

Want to know more about the Internet of Things? Check out our dedicated IoT content channel here on Light Reading.

Noting the downside of using unlicensed spectrum, Orange has hinted that its strategy is to use LoRa as a kind of IoT stopgap until LPWA-like capabilities are introduced into cellular standards. (See LoRa May Not Be for Long Haul at Orange.)

Release 13 of the LTE standard is set to include support for technologies such as EC-GSM, LTE-M and NB-IoT that are intended to meet this need.

If other operators are similarly planning to switch from LPWA to cellular, Sigfox may come under serious threat in the next few years.

But the company boldly asserts that LTE will struggle to ever match up in the IoT sector. "LTE remains a technology that will not address the business model for worldwide mass-market IoT," says the spokesperson, insisting that Sigfox's device, network and maintenance costs will continue to remain lower.

In France, the company claims to have already covered about 92% of the country's population with as few as 1,500 base stations.

According to French authority Agence Nationale des Fréquences, Orange had 8,612 LTE base stations in operation in France last month.

Sigfox further argues that cellular players will struggle to provide "a single subscription-based contract [offering]… global connectivity."

"Single contract [with] global connectivity is the business model shift that Sigfox has pioneered," says the company's spokesperson.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

BrianRayLinkLabs 4/20/2016 | 8:56:03 AM
Re: LoRa Alliance update I suppose this comes down to what constitutes "open." LoRa is closed chipsets, but open ecosystem of vendors supporting it. Sigfox is open chipsets, closed network. The risk of LoRa is that Semtech controls the supply and price of chips and the risk of Sigfox is that they control the supply and price of the network. Pick your poison I suppose. Semtech has licensed IP to several companies for endpoint chips (not yet available), but not basestation chips.
iainmorris 4/20/2016 | 6:45:26 AM
LoRa Alliance update The LoRa Alliance has been in touch with Light Reading to vehemently reject Sigfox's various charges, including that it is not open. A full story update will be forthcoming.
DayTelensa 4/20/2016 | 5:14:51 AM
LPWA standardisation is happening... For completeness, it's also worth mentioning that Sigfox (and Telensa) have played a leading role in the ETSI Low Throughput Networks (LTN) standardization group over the past couple of years. It doesn't make the headlines but it is important work that will have long term benefits for LPWA adoption, and is being driven by companies with proven deployments at scale.
iainmorris 4/19/2016 | 12:03:27 PM
Still nothing from LoRa Alliance The LoRa Alliance has failed to respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.
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