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Sigfox claims unique position among IoT operators to introduce battery-less devices

Sigfox reckons is the only network technology in position to support battery-less devices for low-power wide-area (LPWA) IoT solutions, at least in early prototype mode today.

Speaking with Enterprise IoT Insights, Bertrand Ramé, senior vice president of international operations at Sigfox, said the French IoT firm is actively trialling passive IoT devices with its partners.

“Sigfox is more efficient than any other cellular network out there. Our vision is to move towards battery-less devices. We already have prototypes that work without batteries – just by harvesting energy from the wind, body temperature, electromagnetic waves, and so forth,” he said.

“To do this, they need a very efficient communication scheme, which only Sigfox provides, so far as I know.”

The firm has already tested prototypes for tracking dogs, he said, where the dog’s body temperature was sufficient to trigger enough energy to send LPWA messages on its network.

“We are at the prototype stage. We have already tracked a dog in the Nordics countries, where dog’s body temperature was enough to send one message per day, without a battery,” said Ramé.

It is not the first time Sigfox has showcased the technology. At its 2017 Sigfox Connect in Prague, in the Czech Republic, it showed that, just by opening an envelope, enough energy could be harnessed to trigger an embedded device to issue a message that the envelope was opened.

Ramé remarked: “All of a sudden, it opens up ideas and use cases that were not available or even thinkable before.”

He added: “It is work in progress – the IoT sector is market in creation, after all, and the more innovation we can kick in to the process, the better it will be. This is what we are working on.”

At its Sigfox Connect event in Berlin October, the firm unveiled a passive LPWA module, a transmitter, that takes power from an an electromagnetic wave as it comes into contact with Sigfox devices.

The so-called ‘Bubble’ transmitter can be tuned to track assets at a range of up to 100 metres. When a Sigfox unit comes in range, it sends its ID to the cloud, along with its own identification.

Sigfox highlighted the solution’s use case for the travel industry, for example tracking luggage in airports, and also for tracing children or pets.

It works like an RFID tag, and can be attached to an RFI tag. In a blog post, Maxime Schacht, a business operations manager at Sigfox, said the Sigfox version offers certain benefits over RFID, including its lower cost, as little as two cents, and its longer range and higher capacity.

“It will take about three years for Sigfox to industrialise its passive tags and transform its base stations into power sources. The power sources could also be separate units from base stations, whose primary function is to receive / read information, wrote Schacht.

He said it will complement its existing modules. “Sigfox has first enabled unpowered asset tracking with modules starting from $2, then 20 cents modules for simple and disposable tracking use cases requiring no sensors. It finally goes back to inventory management with this 2 cents one.”

Speaking with Enterprise IoT Insights, Ramé said Sigfox’s R&D efforts were greatly amplified by its partners. “We don’t have size or power, alone, to make such a huge difference. But with partners, that’s where innovation will come from,” he said.

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