Startups seek foothold in N. America IoT market

May 04, 2016, 3:38 PM EDT
(Source: Gregory P. Smith/flickr)
(Source: Gregory P. Smith/flickr)

Amid questions about how the billions of devices in the internet of things (IoT) will connect to each other, startups around the world are building out networks that will address that issue. The technology industry is gearing up for IoT in many ways, and figuring out how to adequately ensure connectivity from device-to-device and device-to-user is a long-haul project, in part because standards for IoT are not yet solidified. In the meantime, French startup SIGFOX is broadening its reach into the U.S. with dedicated cellular networks designed for the internet of things. The company aims to establish service in 100 cities, partner with “multiple site owners” and operate out of 230,000 sites.

A dedicated service means that SIGFOX’s technology is different from, say, a telecom company’s network, which could be advanced enough to connect devices on the internet of things as well, but a telco’s network has other responsibilities such as connecting actual cell phones and providing internet. Even though telcos are heavily targeting advancing their networks into 5G and other high-speed capabilities in order to be able to provide network coverage for the internet of things, SIGFOX’s dedicated network will have an advantage in that its sole design is to support IoT, so its capabilities could be more reliable, faster, and cost less.

It is important to keep in mind that the connectivity we speak of here is cellular. SIGFOX is expanding its low-power, wide-area network. The jury is still very much out on what type of framework, or standard of protocol, will ensure that individual devices on such an IoT network can communicate to each other.

Allen Proithis, president of SIGFOX North America, commented that ensuring IoT connectivity in North America will be vital for the "smart cities, utilities, shipping and agriculture” sectors.

This U.S. expansion comes on the heels of the company’s recent headway in Brazil. Last week, SIGFOX announced it will be extending its networks throughout Brazil starting with Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo — a smart move considering that Brazil is ripe for the onset of the internet of things market. 

SIGFOX’s efforts in both North and South Americas highlight how important startups will be in both creating devices in the internet of things, and creating the capabilities for those devices to connect. The International Data Corporation forecasts that North America will have the world’s third-largest installed base of IoT units (7.5 billion) by 2020 and will be the third-largest market for IoT-generated revenue ($1.9 trillion). The Consumer Electronics Show each year is full of smaller innovative companies that have brought IoT devices to table, but making sure they have networks to communicate through is a different story — one that doesn’t necessarily collect flashy attention at trade shows. But SIGFOX is clearly setting the stage for IoT connectivity as more networks lay the groundwork for the billions of devices connecting the homes, cars, and people of the future.