Sigfox adds satellite connectivity to its low power IoT offering

  • Eutelsat is planning to launch 25 nano satellites to serve Sigfox’s generic  internet of things (IoT) applications
  • A first application for Sigfox equipped lifejackets has just been announced
  • The company thinks there are plenty more ‘asset tracking’ applications where that came from

Low powered IoT network operator, Sigfox, has announced a partnership with Plastimo, a boating equipment specialist, to equip its life jackets so that they’re trackable across large swathes of ocean, and not just, as currently, a few tens kilometres from shore. The magic bullet is Sigfox’s relationship with Eutelsat which is hoisting an ELO nanosatellite constellation by 2020 which will support Sigfox's connectivity services, providing global coverage across all seas and oceans. 

Eutelsat is planning to launch 25 nano satellites to serve Sigfox’s generic internet of things (IoT) applications. The idea is that satellite coverage can act as an adjunct to Sigfox’s existing terrestrial network but will be especially good at providing extra coverage for Sigfox’s speciality, which is asset tracking. 

That’s because the big important assets (containers, trucks etc) are typically outdoors, so the satellites will be able to exchange data with them wherever they roam. Satellites are no good at all at indoor tracking (as anyone with a satnav kept in a car kept in a garage knows - it’s not until you drive outside that the system knows where you are), but the uniform characteristics of Sigfox messaging means that data can be picked up by either the terrestrial network or the satellite on a transparent basis, no message acknowledgement is required and no integration of any kind is required either.

According to Kevin Maher, Sigfox Country Director for UK and Ireland, the company will spend €1 million per satellite starting with four satellites in 2020-21 and aiming for the total of 25 by 2022.  “Our coverage footprint today is roughly 70 countries, or roughly 1 billion people, but adding on the LEO component offers a massive increase in the company’s footprint.”

So what about capacity? 

“The way these systems work is that a base station can handle x number of messages and then if you need more capacity you add another base station,” says Kevin. So, he says, it would be the same with a satellite. 

If more messages require processing, more satellites are required. So the key here is scheduling - the fewer the satellites the longer signalling devices must wait for a satellite to be overhead. More satellites mean smaller time intervals and greater capacity. “By the time you get to 20 plus satellite the latency gets down to about 20 or 30 minutes.”

So how far can this go? 

Satellite costs are coming down all the time, will it ever take over from the terrestrial?  

“It could from the point of view of tracking assets I suppose, in the very long run,” says Kevin. “The way all the associated costs are coming down the scope for disruption in the satellite industry is huge, but satellites probably couldn’t dislodge terrestrial because of the indoor problem, so no, I don’t think it will ever displace terrestrial.”

“The sweet spot for Sigfox is asset tracking,” he says. “We now have the ability to track anything anywhere right down to the individual packaging. The operational benefits of being able to track vast amounts of stock is invaluable.”

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.