Sigfox is a French company founded in 2009 that builds wireless networks to connect low-power objects such as electricity meters and smartwatches,; which need to be continuously on and emitting small amounts of data.
It is based in Labège near Toulouse, France, and has over 190 employees. The firm also has offices in Madrid, San Francisco, Sydney and Paris.
Sigfox employs a proprietary technology that enables communication using the Industrial, Scientific and Medical ISM radio band which uses 868MHz in Europe and 902MHz in the US. It utilizes a wide-reaching signal that passes freely through solid objects, called “ultra narrowband” and requires little energy, being termed “Low-power Wide-area network (LPWAN)”. The network is based on one-hop star topology and requires a mobile operator to carry the generated traffic. The signal can also be used to easily cover large areas and to reach underground objects.
It has partnered with a number of firms in the LPWAN industry such as Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs and ON Semiconductor. The ISM radio bands support limited bidirectional communication. The existing standard for Sigfox communications supports up to 140 uplink messages a day, each of which can carry a payload of 12 Bytes (excluding message header and transmission information) and up to 4 downlink messages per day, each of which can carry a payload of 8 Bytes.
LoRa is a patented digital wireless data communication IoT technology developed by Cycleo of Grenoble,; France, and acquired by Semtech in 2012. it uses license-free sub-gigahertz radio frequency bands like 169 MHz, 433 MHz, 868 MHz (Europe) and 915 MHz (North America). It enables very-long-range transmissions (more than 10 km in rural areas) with low power consumption. The technology is presented in two parts — Lora, the physical layer and LoRaWAN, the upper layers.
LoRaWAN is a media access control (MAC) layer protocol for managing communication between LPWAN gateways and end-node devices, maintained by the LoRa Alliance. Version 1.0 of the LoRaWAN specification was released in June 2015.
LoRaWAN defines the communication protocol and system architecture for the network, while the LoRa physical layer enables the long-range communication link. LoRaWAN is also responsible for managing the communication frequencies, data rate, and power for all devices. Devices in the network are asynchronous and transmit when they have data available to send. Data transmitted by an end-node device is received by multiple gateways, which forward the data packets to a centralized network server. The network server filters duplicate packets, performs security checks, and manages the network. Data is then forwarded to application servers. The technology shows high reliability for the moderate load, however, it has some performance issues related to sending acknowledgements.
For years, Sigfox and LoRa were the major competitors in the LPWAN space. And while the business models and technologies behind the companies are quite different,; the end goals of both Sigfox and the LoRa Alliance are very similar: That mobile network operators adopt their technology for IoT deployments over both city and nationwide low power, wide-area networks (LPWANs).
In recent years, however, as new competitors have entered the market (namely Narrowband IoT, or NB-IOT and LTE-M), Sigfox seems to be struggling. From a technical standpoint, its network performance in the U.S. is not nearly as good as in Europe. (Sigfox is a French company.) That’s in part because the frequency band it uses in the U.S.—900 MHz—is susceptible to high levels of interference; it’s also due to the FCC’s time-on-air limits (400 ms), which weakens the link and limits the area the technology can cover in the U.S.Sigfox ^
It hasn’t helped that the IoT has been much slower to catch on than people thought it would just two or three years ago. Since Sigfox’s business model relies on royalties from network operator resales, revenue has been modest at best. On top of all that, Sigfox has experienced a lot of turnover lately, indicating that it has challenges to overcome in terms of retaining top talent.
On the other hand, it seems clear that LoRa will remain a niche connectivity technology,; particularly as other technologies like NB-IoT and LTE-M come to market. Based on the environment today, there’s almost no chance of a nationwide LORA network coming to fruition in the U.S.
For most people, Sigfox is not an option—the network is not available everywhere. LoRa, however, is an option for most people because, with this, you can set up and manage your own network. That aside, both are equivalent when it comes to use cases, with a few caveats to be aware of.
LoRa is likely the better option if you need true bidirectionality because of the symmetric link. So if you need command-and-control functionality—for, say, electric grid monitoring—LoRa is your best option.
With Sigfox, you could use bidirectional command-and-control functionality,; but to work appropriately, network density would need to be higher (due to the asymmetric link). Therefore, it is better for applications that send only small and infrequent bursts of data, like alarms and meters.
Other than these minor differences, Sigfox and LoRa serve similar markets. It’s worth noting that both technologies were originally designed for the European regulatory bands between 865 and 868 MHz,; and they’ve both faced challenges in coming over to the regulatory markets in the U.S. Progress is being made, and both technologies are working toward optimization for FCC use.