Sigfox's slow but thrifty IoT network is going Down Under

A partner will deploy the French company's low-power technology in Australia and New Zealand

The Sigfox low-power IoT network is due for an expansion that may not be game-changing in practical terms but will certainly look good on a map.

Sigfox announced a deal on Tuesday with a partner that will build a network across Australia and New Zealand using the French company's technology. That's a visible win for a vendor competing to connect small Internet of Things devices like sensors and meters around the world.

Several vendors and industry groups are pushing technologies for networking small, far-flung objects that may need to run on a single battery for years. These LPWANs (low-power wide-area networks) don't push a lot of data through the air but are more efficient than the cellular infrastructure that talks to smartphones.

Sigfox was an early mover, rolling out a network across France and then finding partners to build infrastructure in other countries. Enterprises, governments and utilities can buy service on the networks, and users can roam among Sigfox networks in different countries. 

Sigfox has a presence in 14 countries now. There are Sigfox networks deployed across France, the U.K., Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and Luxembourg, and more are in the works in several other countries, including the U.S. and Germany. The new deployment will be the first in the Asia-Pacific region, and Sigfox expects to be on every continent by the end of this year.

The Australia and New Zealand network is scheduled to cover 85 percent of the countries' populations within 18 months. Though Australia is the sixth-largest country by land area and a continent unto itself, its population of about 24 million is concentrated along its coastline. New Zealand has a population of about 4.5 million. 

Customers will use the network for tasks like asset tracking, utility metering, irrigation, crop monitoring and cattle tracking, plus some smart-city applications, according to Thixtra, the Australian company that launched last year with the aim of building a Sigfox network. 

With rapid IoT growth expected in the next few years, there's a scramble for share of devices among LPWAN providers. Rivals to Sigfox include Ingenu, which also uses its own technology; the LoRA Alliance industry group; and the Weightless Special Interest Group. Ingenu says it has contracts with partners in China, Australia and other countries. The 3GPP, which defines LTE, is also getting into the game with a narrowband version of that technology tuned for low power. 

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