Home5GCitymesh snaps up Belgian Sigfox operator, as Sigfox seeks buyers in France and US

Citymesh snaps up Belgian Sigfox operator, as Sigfox seeks buyers in France and US

Busy Belgian private network provider and industrial connectivity specialist Citymesh has acquired local Sigfox operator ENGIE M2M. The firm said the addition of ultra-narrowband (UNB) low-power IoT connectivity rounds-out its wireless portfolio for enterprises, which includes localised LTE and 5G connectivity in its own spectrum, plus roaming onto public cellular via an MVNO deal with carrier Proximus.

The move is significant for Sigfox, which, after more than a decade of costly network building, is looking finally to industrialise its low-power wide-area (LPWA) technology to deliver on the high-volume promise of ‘massive IoT’. The French outfit’s move from infrastructure expansion to infrastructure loading – based on “profitable growth”, it says – includes some minor reorganisation of its network operations, which stretch to 72 countries.

Most notably, its networks in France and the US – the last Sigfox-owned infrastructure, legacies of the company’s first venture to build an IoT network at home, and its most ambitious to cover the US – are up for sale. The French operation will likely go to an existing Sigfox operator, it told Enterprise IoT Insights last week (a writeup should go live next week; the US network is likely to go the way of the German one, with involvement from an infrastructure fund.

Sigfox sold its German operation, the other outlier among its licensed global network estate, late last year to Swiss Sigfox operator Heliot Europe, which was acquired as part of the deal by Luxembourg-based venture capital firm Cube Infrastructure Managers. The move to consolidate its last company-owned network outposts signalled its switch to a new ‘connectivity’ phase, as it puts it, to load licensed global infrastructure with ‘massive IoT’ traffic.

It was about the last roll of the dice for Sigfox co-founder Ludovic Le Moan, perceived in some quarters as a controversial figure, who handed ‘the keys to the lorry’ (translated from the French) over to Jeremy Prince, the company’s USA boss, in February. Speaking last week with Enterprise IoT Insights, Prince explained away Le Moan’s exit as a logical step for a long-time entrepreneur less interested in the corporate process of industrialisation.

An arrangement with Google to outsource the company’s entire IoT infrastructure to Google Cloud, away from its local data centre at its headquarters in Toulouse, was announced the week prior to Le Moan’s departure, but represents another shift for Sigfox towards an industrial-scale IoT offer, it reckons. The point is the IoT market is ready, at last – after pioneers like Sigfox have put in the donkey work, it argues – to break-big, and be ‘massive’.

And to handle massive scale, the argument goes, Sigfox can no longer just rely on itself, as it had to do during the salad days of IoT, when network and cloud infrastructure was less available. On the networking front, the sale of the German operation, the for-sale signs in France and the US, and the interest from industrial specialists like Citymesh, riding a different 5G wave in the same IoT break, are all symptoms of Sigfox’s move into the mainstream, it argues.

Sigfox claims its UNB technology, in 72 networks, connects 18 million ‘things’ and covers 1.3 billion people. Traffic volumes jumped 145 percent in 2020, it said. For its part, Citymesh adhered to the Sigfox line about 0G in its press statement. It said: “The Sigfox network is ideally suited for IoT projects that use ultra-low bandwidth and need long battery life. The global roaming capabilities will allow Citymesh to support both national and international customers.”

Citymesh signed an MVNO deal with Proximus in November to run localised enterprise traffic from its private LTE and 5G setups in its own spectrum into wider-area coverage under its own brand on the Proximus network. Citymesh is offering a single-SIM solution in Belgium to provide coverage in private and public networks. The company has expanded its own spectrum holding in Belgium to 100MHz of the 3.5 GHz band in the North Sea.

It said the ENGIE M2M acquisition will be used for “digital water meters, track and trace applications, and challenging locations such as concrete or underground structures”. The existing Sigfox network in Belgium connects 250,000-odd IoT devices, it is claimed. The investment, undisclosed, has been helped with new funds from Belgium based IT provider Cegeka, which took a majority stake in Citymesh in December.

The deal covers the existing customers and projects, as well as the ENGIE M2M team.

Mitch De Geest, chief executive at Citymesh, said: “Citymesh now owns a national IoT network in addition to its 4G and 5G licences. This 0G technology is perfect for IoT thanks to its lower power consumption and low bandwidth. The acquisition of a national IoT network further shapes our ambition as the fourth telecom operator in the B2B market. With this network, we can support customers’ IoT projects, using a single contract, anywhere in the world.”

He added: “Citymesh will focus on installing, monitoring and connecting sensors. Cegeka can work on the normalization, consolidation, and visualization of data to optimize business processes. Our customers, ranging from cities to enterprises, can rely on us for all-in-one solutions, completely tailored to their budget and needs… For every connectivity question, we have an appropriate solution.”

Stijn Bijnens, chief executive at Cegeka, commented: “The expansion of the wireless portfolio with 0G connectivity creates added value for Cegeka. It offers additional possibilities for our IT solutions. We can collect data from our customers via the Sigfox IoT network. Our specialists in the field of data science and data intelligence can subsequently help our customers to use that data in a smart way to make better decisions.”

Jeremy Prince, chief executive at Sigfox, said: “ENGIE M2M has done a great job deploying the network and accelerating the adoption of Sigfox in Belgium. We are very excited to see them move to the next phase with Citymesh. 0G is a perfect addition to other technologies and that most often we ‘complete’ rather than ‘compete’. We warmly congratulate all parties and look forward to continuing working together as massive IoT is becoming a reality.”

Dirk Indigne, chief executive of ENGIE’s M2M business, said: “The operational and commercial synergies are clear. The ambition to be trusted IoT advisors for our customers and partners was always there. Through this acquisition, our customers will have access to a wide range of technologies and in doing so we extend the value proposition.”

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