Market Insight

Sigfox clarifies network connections, amid speculation about the company’s future prospects

May 13, 2018  | Subscribers Only

Lee Ratliff Lee Ratliff Senior Principal Analyst, Connectivity & IoT

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In a blog post on May 7, 2018, Sigfox, a private startup internet of things (IoT) service provider, disclosed it had more than 3 million nodes connected to its network. This disclosure, along with a February press release announcing 2.5 million connected nodes, seems to signal a new level of transparency from the company. Sigfox had previously implied the total number of connections could be as high as 10 million nodes.

The past year has been a rocky one for Sigfox, as questions about missed revenue and network deployment goals, high executive attrition, and uncertain financing have plagued the company. Sigfox has also encountered challenges deploying its key North American network, missing its goal of covering 40 percent of the population in 2017.

While the company leverages the network infrastructure of service provider partners in most countries where it deploys coverage, it is attempting to build its North American network without help from partners. Sigfox has found it time consuming and complex to negotiate leases for base station locations in its target deployment areas.

Executive attrition at Sigfox has also been high, beginning with the resignation of its deputy CEO, Xavier Drilhon, in March 2017 and continuing into 2018, culminating with the latest casualty, Cloud Director Philippe Imoucha, who was in charge of the company’s operational support systems (OSS). In total, more than a dozen executives have resigned or been fired over the past fourteen months.

Among the most critical questions raised by observers of Sigfox have to do with the company’s financing. Sigfox was once celebrated as a French “unicorn,” raising in excess of $300 million in venture capital funding for its IoT networking business. However, the last round of funding occurred in late 2016, and it’s not clear there has been any influx of new capital since then. Meanwhile, Sigfox has presumably been spending heavily to deploy an ambitious North American network and to develop the OSS needed to cope with the data and billing at scale.

In a series of articles published over the past six months, networking trade publication “Light Reading” cites a source close to Sigfox who claims the company could run out of funding by June 2018. Most companies deploying IoT applications are seeking a minimum of 10 years of operation on the chosen network, if not longer. The articles also scrutinize the company’s access to capital, and its cash burn rate, to determine long-term viability. Any perceived instability will be judged harshly by the market.

Considering the challenges lying ahead, along with the company’s newly disclosed connection numbers, it’s difficult to see how Sigfox will compete at the same level as similar low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) standards, such as LoRa and narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT). In fact for every Sigfox node connected in 2017, more than 32 LoRa nodes were connected. NB-IoT did not add as many connections as LoRa in 2017, but the standard has achieved incredible momentum in a very short amount of time. More than 16 million NB-IoT nodes were connected in 2017, during its first year of deployment.

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