A wireless network for gadgets set to arrive in San Francisco

French-based firm deploying first U.S. Internet of Things-specific network from San Francisco to San Jose

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Home sensors, for instance, have wireless radios but are short-range and connect with hub and router and a power source. If the power goes out, the sensing capability may be lost. But Sigfox claims batteries can last for years in these devices and continue to connect to a network, making data available.

Sigfox's technology also means that wearable tech can be connected without a smartphone or proximity to a WiFi network.

For instance, a GPS-enabled watch may keep track of your running, but the data isn't mapped until a user connects it to a mobile device or PC. But a GPS watch with a Sigfox radio included will be able to send location data via a network so someone can track your run from home.

"The IoT definitely needs these types of networks because they provide a balance of features that isn't matched by current wide area networks like cellular," said Nick Jones, a Gartner analyst.

Jones see Sigfox technology as a competitor to some other long-range wireless technologies, such as U.K.-based Nuel's Weightless technology, and the Japanese-developed Wide Area Ubiquitous Network (WAUN).

"These sorts of networks are filling a technology gap and will be an essential element of the future IoT," said Jones. The downside, though, is the risk of vendor lock-in, he added..

The bottom line is that this type of technology will be a part of the future IoT, but it's not certain which technology will be the long-term winner, said Jones. "We need standards and a broad ecosystem of vendors to emerge to make it more attractive," he said.

Luke D'Arcy, who heads U.S. operations for Sigfox and was the first U.S. hire of the approximately five-year-old firm, said the company wants to make its protocol an open standard, and are putting it through a European standards body. "We're committed to making it a standard," he said.

D'Arcy said that that an open standard will drive volume, and while it may bring competitors using the same technology, users want the security of supply by having a couple of different vendors. Creating an open standard is "strategically quite a good things for us," he said.

D'Arcy says there will be some IoT applications that need higher data rates, but a majority of connections will be low bandwidth, including things like sensors that check air quality and smart meters. The hardware required to enable Sigfox capability cost less than $2, he said.

In its various markets, Sigfox seeks out a cellular provider and uses its sites and towers and backhaul, which connects it to the network, but Sigfox specific radios and antennas are needed. Its frequency band works in parallel with existing networks. Each base station can handle one million connections, and by adding an antenna they can double capacity, said D'Arcy.

Forrester's Ried believes Sigfox could become "a very interesting and big company," but its success in the U.S. will depend in finding good equipment makers who leverage its network, especially wearable computing. "This is the ideal use case because that's a device that quickly goes into the millions," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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