The Internet of Things (IoT)—and in particular, the Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) piece of the market—represent a hypercompetitive space right now, but the president of Sigfox North America, Allen Proithis, thinks Ingenu is probably at the highest level of risk.
“These guys are doing everything as a one-off, completely custom integration,” all the way up the stack from the module to the end-device package, Proithis told FierceWirelessTech in a recent interview. “They’re laying spread eagle in the middle of the road with the Narrowband IoT truck coming,” he said. “They are precisely in the worst place in the market they could be.”
Naturally, John Horn, the CEO of Ingenu—which was named to the Fierce 15 list of interesting startups in 2016—does not share that sentiment. Horn says Ingenu’s main competition will be the cellular industry’s Narrowband IoT and when it comes to Ingenu’s Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) technology, he’s happy to compare it head-to-head with Sigfox any day. “We crush them in every measure,” including coverage, data rate and security, he told FierceWirelessTech.
Proithis argues that there’s not much efficiency in building a one-off network. He describes it as being almost like 15 years ago when everybody decided they wanted to build a data center until they realized that Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) did it better, faster and cheaper. “The people on the private network side are coming to the same conclusions very quickly,” he said.
But Horn, who previously led T-Mobile’s U.S. M2M business, said it’s not about customization. “We’ve done everything we can in this industry to make this as easy as possible,” he said. “Ingenu is simply genius and it’s simply working all over the world today,” in part due to deals with partners like uBlox. RPMA uses the globally available 2.4 GHz ISM band, while Sigfox uses 902 MHz to provide low-cost, slow-speed wireless services.
Another rival LPWAN technology that uses unlicensed spectrum, LoRa, was designed as a campus technology and that’s perfectly fine, according to Proithis, who joined Sigfox as its North America president over a year ago. “I think LoRa has a great role as a campus technology,” and it’s a model that people know. “They’ll probably find their niche, but we think Sigfox as a public, low power WAN technology is really a completely different thing.”
He said traditional cellular technologies are complementary to what Sigfox is doing. “While cellular and related technologies have an important role to play, the majority of the market is actually un-addressable by them,” the reason being a combination of cost, battery and user experience, he said. “We’re not trying to be all things to all people, there’s many things we cannot do. We’re optimized for what we do best,” which includes small messages and long battery life.
France-based Sigfox just celebrated a nearly $160 million Series E funding round that will help it expand its global network, attracting investors like Salesforce Ventures and energy giant Total, joining existing investors like Intel Capital. In the U.S., Sigfox expects to be in 100 cities by the end of this year, covering about 20% of the population and projects 40% population coverage by the end of 2017.
Horn lauded Sigfox’s ability to raise money and said it validates from a market perspective how much interest there is in alternative technologies to cellular. However, he added, “we’re focused on building networks with technology that actually works,” with networks now in more than 30 countries. And in a jab to Sigfox, he said Ingenu doesn't announce its markets until they're fully built out.
Just like people have more than one pair of shoes in their closet, different things require different types of data, according to Proithis. The problem with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is they require user intervention. “It doesn’t scale if you depend upon human intervention, and that’s the other good thing about us, it requires zero human intervention,” he said. When the device leaves the factory, it’s basically activated. “You don’t have to depend upon someone in the field” to be able to do configurations and then reconfigure when a router gets interrupted or a password gets changed.
As for Sigfox’s costs, it’s as little as a dollar a year for connectivity—and that’s no mistake, he said. The company recently announced it had simplified the requirements for new chipsets, enabling it to offer them at “a historical low.” The modules are available in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for $2 each, and in Asia and the Americas for $3 each.
Ingenu has made no secret of the fact it is aggressively going after the customers of the cellular carriers that are planning or are in the middle of shutting down their 2G networks. Horn said that strategy is going well. If someone is running a device on a 2G or 3G network today, the easiest way to keep it running is to move it to RPMA, which works identically to cellular; you just have to replace the 2G radio with an RPMA radio, the same as you would have to do if you were moving from 2G to 3G or 4G, he said. Going to another technology like Sigfox will require more reconfiguration and backhauling to France, and many countries like China do not want their data to cross international lines. “We’re not here to make it more complicated,” Horn said.