Telefonica-Sigfox deal is a big win for diverse IoT networks

The Spanish international mobile carrier plans mass deployments across Europe and Latin America

The global partnership announced Wednesday between Telefonica and IoT specialist Sigfox could ensure the latter’s long-term success while accelerating the overall growth of LPWANs (low-power, wide-area networks).

Telefonica said it will integrate Sigfox’s energy-sipping, low-data-rate radios into millions of devices used for things like smart metering and asset tracking. The Spain-based mobile carrier operates in 21 countries across Europe and Latin America, so the deal should significantly expand Sigfox’s footprint. It’s talking with customers about possible large-scale rollouts across both regions, including Spain, Germany, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil.

Wins like this one, announced a week before the wireless industry gathers at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, are important for emerging LPWANs that come from outside the traditional cellular industry built around 2G, 3G, and LTE. While there are now many low-power network choices for companies exploring IoT, not all will survive for the decade or more that IoT deployments are expected to last, Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall says.

International or global reach is a key factor for the viability of these fledgling networks. In recent weeks, Nokia, Inmarsat, and others have announced platforms to tie together LPWANs in different countries.

But rather than an exclusive win for Sigfox, this partnership is part of a broader LPWAN (low-power, wide-area network) initiative by Telefonica. The carrier plans to also deploy LTE-M and NB-IoT, two emerging networks based on LTE, and even integrate Sigfox with those other LPWANs in some devices.

Telefonica expects the technologies to complement one another for security, backup, troubleshooting, and prevention of jamming. It will be able to build its own services for Sigfox networks by integrating the Sigfox cloud into its managed connectivity platform.

Other carriers also are taking multipronged approaches to low-power networks. South Korea’s SK Telecom plans to offer both LoRaWAN and LTE-M.

Just as there’s a universe of different IoT devices, there is a range of LPWANs to serve different applications. Sigfox offers some of the lowest data rates, measured in hundreds of bits per second, but promises a longer life for tiny batteries. It usually sends occasional, brief messages that don’t need to be acknowledged.

By contrast, LTE-M and NB-IoT have higher data rates and run over licensed spectrum, which can offer more protection from interference.

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