If it feels like just about everything these days connects to the Internet of
Things (IoT), or will soon be IoT capable, you’re not wrong. Last year, two
separate reports, one from
and one from
Juniper Research , looked at the IoT, and the message was clear: things are only going to get
As of early 2020, the total number of IoT connections worldwide had already
reached 30 billion. IDC and Juniper both expect that number to exceed 80
billion within the next four to five years. To put that into context, IDC
predicts that, by 2025, there will be more than 152,200 devices connecting to
the IoT every 60 seconds.
A Different Kind of Connection
Many of these new IoT connections will take advantage of the latest 5G
capabilities to support cutting-edge use cases like self-driving cars,
virtual-reality headsets, high-resolution security systems and autonomous
But there will also be dramatic growth in IoT connections that don’t need the
kind of advanced performance available with 5G. Small, battery-powered devices
deal in very small amounts of data and need only an intermittent connection
to the cloud—such as sensors, which collect and transmit readings for use in
manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, utility grids and urban
infrastructures and asset tags which track and report their whereabouts in the supply chain.
Moreover, sensors and asset tags are often deployed in places beyond the reach
of Wi-Fi, such as pipelines and agricultural fields and they often require
mobility, for use cases like fleet management, shipping and supply-chain
To service this segment of the IoT, device-to-cloud connections tend to make
use of low-power wide area network (LPWAN), a wireless technology that offers
low-bandwidth, energy-efficient connectivity and low bit rates over long
The Sigfox 0G network is available in 72 countries and regions worldwide.
With LPWAN, the endpoints typically connect directly to common central access
points, similar to the way that Wi-Fi is configured. The specific LPWAN
protocol chosen depends largely on the use case, but the most popular options
are LTE-M, NB-IoT, LoRa and Sigfox. Each comes with its own set of benefits
LTE-M and NB-IoT
LTE-M (which stands for LTE-Machine Type Communication) and NB-IoT (for
Narrowband IoT) are cellular standards defined by the 3GPP. LTE-M offers
latency in the range of 100 to 150 ms, making it a good choice for
connected vehicles, wearables, trackers and alarm panels. NB-IoT consumes
minimal power and can connect more than 100,000 devices per cell.
As cellular technologies, LTE-M and NB-IoT offer worldwide coverage and
run on networks recognized for their security features. They also use OFDM
modulation, to strengthen the signal and increase the link budget, but the
complexity of ODFM modules can make the integration effort harder. Also,
LTE-M and NB-IoT require a subscription from a mobile network operator,
which can add cost if mobile devices are subject to roaming charges or if
the operating area requires more than one provider for full coverage.
LoRa (an abbreviation for Long Range) is a proprietary, non-cellular
modulation technique. It’s based on chirp spread spectrum (CSS)
modulation, which spreads signals over different frequency channels and
data rates. LoRa offers a combination of long battery life and very long
range, making it a good choice for things like livestock tracking,
pipeline monitoring and city-wide networks of trash containers,
streetlights and other infrastructure items.
Technically speaking, LoRa is the physical layer (PHY) only, and is only
available in Semtech radio chipsets. Most deployments run LoRa on LoRaWAN,
a protocol defined by the LoRa Alliance. LoRaWAN defines the media access
layer (MAC), the communication protocol and the network architecture. The
tightly held, proprietary details of LoRa radio chipsets can be a
deterrent, since a proprietary solution can raise issues with sourcing and
can present challenges for the development roadmap.
like LoRa, began life as a proprietary technology and was created by the
French company of the same name. The Sigfox specification is now in the
public domain, however, which means developers and manufacturers have a
larger, more diverse ecosystem to work with.
The Sigfox protocol uses ultra narrowband (UNB) technology to save energy
and employs shift-keying techniques in the uplink and downlink to reduce
interference. The range is about 1,000 meters.
One thing that makes Sigfox stand out is that it restricts both the size
and frequency of data signals. Within a 24-hour period, there can be no
more than 140 uplink messages, at 12 bytes per message and no more than
four downlink messages, at 8 bytes per message, all traveling at low data
rates. Restricting transmission to once every 10 minutes or so, and
limiting the size of messages, minimizes power consumption and extends
Sigfox devices connect to 0G, which is the company’s subscription-based,
low-data-rate cellular network. The network offers near global coverage
and connects directly to the Sigfox cloud.
Sigfox Is Tailor-Made for Sensors and Asset Tags
The connectivity requirements for sensors and tags are minimal, and the Sigfox
protocol, with its intermittent transmission of short messages, is a good fit
for several reasons.
The silicon modules are both cost-effective and simple to use, for easier
integration, and are compatible with 2G/3G/4G cellular and Wi-Fi. Working
within the Sigfox network means there’s no need for pairing or
configuration, because all Sigfox devices use the same simple, dedicated
link for cloud connectivity.
The Sigfox 0G network is now available in more than 70 countries and
regions, covering populations of more than 1 billion people and an area of
almost 6 million square km. The company is building out their terrestrial
network and launching a satellite network. To support supply-chain
applications, coverage includes hundreds of ports and airports worldwide.
The network is fully managed and offers a high quality of service (QoS)
rating. Also, there’s a single, low-cost subscription for global network
usage, resulting in no roaming charges and no need to negotiate multiple
contracts when operating in different regions.
Sensors and asset tags need to defend against hacking, which can include
attempts to take over control, steal information or disrupt service.
Within the device, Sigfox modules use a tamper-resistant secure element to
prevent device cloning and to physically protect the encryption keys used
to safeguard transmissions. At the base station, and between the base
station and the cloud, Sigfox uses payload encryption for logical security
and to prevent data theft. Additional added protection includes Sigfox base stations
only accepting uplinks from Sigfox devices.
The spread-spectrum format of Sigfox signaling helps reduce interference
and prevent attempts to jam transmissions. Spatial diversity means each
message emitted by a device is received by multiple base stations, so any
attempt to jam the base station, in order to prevent transmission,
requires jamming all relevant base stations at once. The inexpensive
handheld jammers typically used to jam 2G/3G/4G signals offer nowhere near
the power needed for simultaneous jamming, and as a result fail to disrupt
Sigfox for Industrial and Supply Chain Applications
Sensors and asset trackers that use Sigfox for connectivity are compelling
options for a wide range of applications, with relevant use cases in industry,
transport, logistics, utilities, energy, healthcare and agriculture.
The secure Sigfox setup offers simplicity, flexibility and reliability.
In the supply chain, Sigfox can be used as an extension of any local radio frequency identification
(RFID) networks that are used to identify, monitor and track assets. Sigfox adds mobility, so assets with RFID tags can still be
tracked while in transit, and Sigfox base stations can be mounted in partner
facilities, such as distribution centers, where there may not be an RFID
infrastructure. Participation in the supply chain is one of the reasons why
seaports and airports have been a priority for Sigfox as they expand their
Where NXP Fits In
NXP plays a vital role in LPWAN technologies and offers highly integrated
Sigfox options. The NXP OL2385 is a system-on-chip Sigfox solution that
combines hardware and software to deliver excellent radio frequency (RF)
performance with a low bill of materials (BoM) cost. The OL2385 is pre-loaded
with Sigfox modem software and is part of a Sigfox-approved reference design.
The OL2385 is also supported by NXP’s IoT Development Platform, which makes it
easy to explore Sigfox functionality next to Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy®
(BLE), Wi-Fi, global positioning system (GPS), and more. Developers can
quickly create a proof-of-concept design before committing to a specific
hardware configuration and can gain insights into Sigfox communication before
investing in a full-on deployment.
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