Arqiva partners with SIGFOX to build dedicated Internet of Things network in UK

Aim is to provide a low cost, low power network suited to relaying small amounts of information from sensors; the investment will also connect the UK to SIGFOX’s global IoT network

Arqiva partners with SIGFOX to build dedicated Internet of Things network in UK

Arqiva, the communications infrastructure and media services company, and SIGFOX, a pioneer in cost-effective, energy-efficient Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, today (16 May 2014) announced that Arqiva will build and run a national IoT network, starting with 10 of the UK’s largest cities.

The new network, which will use SIGFOX technology and connect the UK to the SIGFOX global IoT network, will unlock substantial economic benefits and support innovative new services for smarter homes and cities, according to Arqiva.

SIGFOX’s ultra-narrowband technology is particularly suited to connecting objects over long distances where a long battery life and low cost are required. By becoming the SIGFOX network operator in the UK, Arqiva said it has strengthened its position as a leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity services.

Wendy McMillan, managing director of smart metering and machine-to-machine solutions at Arqiva, said: “Arqiva has the unique breadth of capabilities needed to meet evolving machine-to-machine connectivity requirements across the UK.

“We already run satellite, Wi-Fi, and long-range radio networks, providing full managed services where required. Our smart metering communications service, connecting 10 million homes using long-range radio technology, will be one of the UK’s largest machine-to-machine deployments.”

She continued: “Our partnership with SIGFOX, and the new dedicated Internet of Things network we are building, will provide nationwide low-power connectivity for the first time. Low-power consumption allows batteries and equipment to last longer, avoiding the cost and inconvenience of replacing devices. This massively expands the range of devices that can be connected, increasing the benefits to consumers and businesses alike.”

International roaming

Hundreds of on-going SIGFOX partner projects are able to take advantage of the network’s integrated global distribution channel, allowing the same device to operate in any country where SIGFOX is deployed. SIGFOX networks are currently deployed in France, the Netherlands and Spain, as well as in several cities in other countries, including Moscow, and Munich. Many major international businesses are already customers.

Rodolphe Baronnet-Frugès, VP network and business development of SIGFOX, commented: “The UK has an active, fast-growing Internet of Things market, and our partnership with Arqiva is a significant part of SIGFOX’s plan to establish a global cellular network dedicated to the IoT.

“According to some forecasts, there will be 50 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020, but for this to become a reality, both cost and energy use will have to come down. That’s the solution SIGFOX offers, and we’re proud that Arqiva is bringing it to the UK.”

Traditional network architecture

Speaking to Wireless, McMillan explained that the network architecture is similar to a traditional cellular network requiring masts, base stations, antennas and a backhaul capability.

Arqiva, which already owns many mast sites in the UK, will deploy the network using SIGFOX base stations. The sensors attached to M2M devices will contain a radio chip set developed by SIGFOX.

McMillan said: “These thumbnail size chip sets and modules are small enough and low cost enough to be attached to things like soap dispensers and so will open up a wider range of things to be connected and expand the IoT market further. In France, SIGFOX has installed its devices in things like smoke alarms and under parking spots to communicate whether the space is free or not.

“We are using low power, so you can install the device and then pretty much forget about it for 15 to 20 years as the battery will go on that long. This is a key differentiator between what we are offering and what the typical use case is with GPRS or 3G networks. The trade off is the amount of data you can transmit with this system is considerably less,’ noted McMillan

Unlicensed band

“We are using the 868MHz unlicensed band, which means you don’t have to pay the license cost of 2G or 3G. There are a number of parameters around the band concerning how you use it, so certain applications are not entirely suited to it.”

McMillan explained that the solution is really ideal for one-way traffic whereby the M2M device relays a small amount of sensor data to a collection point. “You probably wouldn’t choose to use this technology where you need to manipulate or control the device a lot, where you need to be able to send information back to the device. This solution is really just for sending small amounts of information one way.’ 

Arqiva intends to roll out the network covering the UK’s main cities in 12 months. The cities covered will be: Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield. The network will then be extended to cover the rest of the UK in another year or so.

The company is looking to target a number of significant sectors, including the intelligent building sector, smart cities, logistics, manufacturing and consumer electronics.

Targeting the IoT long tail

McMillan added: “We will build the network and scale up to meet demand through partnership with others. System integrators could potentially use us rather than a mobile operator. What we can do is offer the right technology to meet their need, because we are not just wedded to a single technology and so we can match what the customer wants.

“We also want to provide connectivity for the IoT long tail, which doesn’t want anything complex or expensive, so we are aiming to create an easy plug and play solution.”

Concluding, McMillan said: “The key thing here is we are making a decision to build out this network because we see a need for something to sit side by side with traditional cellular networks. We are putting significant capital behind it and backing a technology with SIGFOX, which is starting to show some success in Europe already.”

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