Powering smart cities is one of the most ambitious use cases for the internet of things (IoT), combining a wide variety of IoT technologies to create coherent systems that span not just individual buildings or campuses but entire metropolises. As such, smart cities offer a window into the evolution of enterprise IoT technologies and implementations on the largest scale.
And that’s why I connected with Christophe Fourtet, CSO and co-founder of Sigfox, a French global network operator, to learn more about using wireless networks to connect large numbers of low-power objects, ranging from smartwatches to electricity meters. (And I have to admit I was intrigued by the 0G network moniker, which conjured visions of weightless IoT devices floating in space, or maybe OG-style old-school authenticity. That’s not at all what it’s about, of course.)
According to Fourtet, “Sigfox’s global 0G network specializes in inexpensively conveying small amounts of data over long ranges—without sacrificing quality. Whereas other networks aim to collect and transmit as much data as possible, as quickly as possible, we deliver small packets of information at regular intervals, giving customers only the critical information they need.”
The software-based wireless 0G network listens to devices without the need to establish and maintain network connection, eliminating signaling overhead. With network and computing complexity managed in the cloud, energy consumption and costs of connected devices are dramatically reduced, the company says. Just as important, the low power requirements can also dramatically cut battery requirements for IoT devices.
Around the world, customers like Michelin, General Motors, and Airbus use the 0G networks to connect IoT devices, and the network is supported by more than 660 partner organizations, including device makers and service providers such as Urbansense and Bosch. Sigfox cited 0G-connected IoT devices enabling Danish cities to monitor quality of life data, from detecting defects in buildings to tracking garbage collection.
0G applications beyond smart cities
In addition to smart cities applications, Sigfox serves several industry verticals, including manufacturing, agriculture, and retail. Common use cases include supply-chain management and asset tracking, both within factory/warehouse environments and between locations as containers/shipments move through the supply chain around the globe. The network is uniquely equipped for supply chain use cases due to its cost-efficiency, long-lasting batteries with totally predictable autonomy, and wide-range reach.
In facilities management, the 0G network can connect IoT devices that track ambient factors such temperature, humidity, and occupancy. Doing so helps managers leverage occupancy data to adjust the amount of space a company needs to rent, reducing overhead costs. It can also help farmers optimize the planting, care, and harvesting of crops.
Operating as a backup solution to ensure connectivity during a broadband network outage, 0G networking built into a cable box or router could allow service providers to access hardware even when the primary network is down, Fourtet said.
“The 0G network does not promise a continuation of these services,” Fourtet noted, “but it can provide access to the necessary information to solve challenges associated with outages.”
In a more dire example in the home and commercial building security market, sophisticated burglars could use cellular and Wi-Fi jammers to block a security system’s access to a network so even though alarms were issued, the service might never receive them, Fourtet said. But the 0G network can send an alert to the alarm system provider even if it has been jammed or blocked, he said.
How 0G networks are used today
Current 0G implementations include helping Louis Vuitton track luggage for its traveling customers. Using a luggage tracker powered by bySigfox’s Monarch service, a suitcase can stay connected to the 0G network throughout a trip, automatically recognizing and adapting to local radio frequency standards. The idea is for travelers to track the location of their bags at major airports in multiple countries, Fourtet said, while low energy consumption promises a six-month battery life with a very small battery.
At the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, iWire, LITE-ON and Sigfox worked together to create a tracking solution designed to help safeguard 10,000 athletes and delegates. Sensors connected to the Sigfox 0G network and outfitted with Wi-Fi capabilities were equipped with tiny batteries designed to provide uninterrupted service throughout the weeklong event. The devices “periodically transmitted messages that helped to identify the location of athletes and delegates in case they went off course,” Fourtet said, while LITE-ON incorporated a panic button for use in case of emergencies. In fact, during the event, the system was used to locate a lost athlete and return them to the Games without incident, he said.
French car manufacturer Groupe PSA uses the 0G network to optimize shipping container routes between suppliers and assembly plants. Track&Trace works with IBM’s cloud-based IoT technologies to track container locations and alert Groupe PSA when issues crop up, Fourtet said.
0G is still growing
“It takes time to build a new network,” Fourtet said. So while Sigfox has delivered 0G network coverage in 60 countries across five continents, covering 1 billion people (including 51 U.S. metropolitan areas covering 30% of the population), Fourtet acknowledged, “[We] still have a ways to go to build our global network.” In the meantime, the company is expanding its Connectivity-as-a-Service (CaaS) solutions to enable coverage in areas where the 0G network does not yet exist.