HomeCarriersUnaBiz ‘in pole position’ to rescue Sigfox ‘for operators’ – Semtech, Actility in contention

UnaBiz ‘in pole position’ to rescue Sigfox ‘for operators’ – Semtech, Actility in contention

Singapore-based UnaBiz is in “pole position” to pick up the tech assets of troubled IoT firm Sigfox, in receivership, as a number of other groups and organisations also prepare bids before the auction process closes on February 25. Others in the frame include US semiconductor maker Semtech and French network vendor Actility, Enterprise IoT Insights understands. A bid from a second consortium-pairing of Sigfox operators is also under consideration.

Going into the final fortnight, before the Sigfox fire sale concludes, a number of interested parties are preparing offers for Sigfox to its court-appointed receivers, Lou Flechard and Jean Baron at Toulouse-based CBF Associés. The picture is complicated by the implicit requirement for bidders to gain prior approval, effectively, from the global 0GUN (0G – or Zero-G – United Nations) alliance of Sigfox operators, to ensure their strategies for a new Sigfox are welcomed in the event they win.

A source in the 0GUN alliance commented: “There are a number of people looking at this, and most are starting to talk to 0GUN. Because no matter who buys this thing, nothing is going to fly without the operators. In this business, all the money comes from them. So if the operators are given terms that they don’t like, there won’t be any money flowing back the other way – which means there is no business to buy.”

The 0GUN collective was convened in 2019 by around 45 Sigfox network operators without any direct involvement from Sigfox itself. As it stands, it is ‘meeting’ at least twice a week, to review the runners and riders in the Sigfox auction, as it reaches fever pitch, and to make sure the interests of Sigfox operators, in charge of all commercial Sigfox-based connectivity contracts with customers, are satisfied in the process.

A number of 0GUN members – including UnaBiz potentially, but not certainly – will make a decision in the coming days about whether to combine in a consortium effort to bid for Sigfox. UnaBiz confirmed to Enterprise IoT Insights it is preparing its own bid, and also considering joining with others in the process. Semtech and Actility, both from the opposite LoRa/LoRaWAN camp, were unavailable for comment.

But a source said that talk of Semtech’s pending involvement is rife among 0GUN members – and that it’s interest in Sigfox is also logical, and well known – and confirmed that Actility has already engaged. Reports in the French-language tech publication Journal du Net also quoted interest from local IoT provider Groupe Zekat, also approached for comment by Enterprise IoT Insights (also without response).

Others thought to be in the running – whether as lead buyers or support acts – include Japanese electronics manufacturer Alps Alpine, investment bank BPI France, tower company Cellnex, venture firm Cube Infrastructure, Swiss security outfit Securitas Direct (Verisure), and various Sigfox operators – notably Heliot Europe, iWire, and WND, in charge of key Sigfox operations in Western Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America, respectively.

As well, “at least one financial group” and a number of cloud providers (“also supporting the LoRa community”) have been engaged variously with 0GUN members. A spokesperson for Sigfox commented: “We have many actors interested in Sigfox and its technology, from the whole IoT value chain.” But UnaBiz is the one to watch, it appears, going into the final fortnight.

The 0GUN source said: “UnaBiz is in pole position at this point. It is the only one that really understands the idiosyncrasies – with Sigfox operators, with French employment law, with Sigfox itself. As a result, it can stitch together a deal that keeps everybody in check. Whereas the LoRa gang, say, finds itself having to drink from a fire hose in order to figure out what the hell’s going on inside the Sigfox world… And the enemy here, for everyone, is time.”

It might be noted, UnaBiz hosted the rooftop (operator-only) barbecue in Singapore in 2019 where the 0GUN members first came together in a formalised collective, borrowing from the vibrant ecosystem model established by the LoRa Alliance, but with an agenda to drive change in Sigfox itself. “0GUN was discussing a master reset with Sigfox already. This [receivership and auction] just offers a way, now, to get it done more quickly.”

The source added: “The reason we created 0GUN was because we anticipated something like this. There was always going to be either a reset, or this. So it’s not a surprise; we’ve reversed engineered almost everything, and have service continuity plans in place. The surprise is just the timing. Because we never had enough visibility [from Sigfox]. But it’s never the right time, so you better bite the bullet and get it done.”

Despite the rapid-fire sale, there is little doubt Semtech, which owns and licences the rival LoRa technology, is also circling. “It is looking at it. People think there’s no discussion between the sides, but there always has been, since way before this. The thing that slowed [a closer relationship] down was Sigfox, and no one else. Most Sigfox operators want to sell both, and think an LPWA consolidation in the unlicensed band would be good for everyone.”

Importantly, CBF Associés is running parallel bidding heats for the Sigfox tech business (Sigfox SA) and for the French network (Sigfox France SAS). Interest is focused on the former, and bidders are from four distinct groups: financial institutions, cloud providers, chip vendors, and Sigfox operators. BPI France has stakes in both Sigfox and Actility, and has advocated historically for a merger of the twin Sigfox and LoRaWAN technologies.

Its involvement is likely to go via Actility. Of the other contenders – separate from the leading pack (UnaBiz, Semtech, Actility) – most are likely to get involved in the process with others, it seems. Alps Alpine and Securitas Direct, for example, have been essential contributors in the Sigfox story so far; the first as a prominent vendor of Sigfox hardware, and the second as the single biggest user of the Sigfox technology.

Both have vested interests, from opposite ends of the supply line, to see the business is maintained, and are engaged with 0GUN primarily on discussions about continuity of service, Enterprise IoT Insights understands. At the same time, both could enter the fray as part of an operator-led consortium bid, as well. It is the same with others, probably.

Cellnex, which owns Sigfox infrastructure in Spain and Portugal (supporting most of the Securitas Direct traffic), and Cube Infrastructure, which bought Heliot Europe as part of the latter’s deal to buy Sigfox’s network in Germany, both appear more interested in infrastructure than in a cloud-based connectivity technology.

Sigfox, it should be noted, moved hard early last year to migrate its core network infrastructure and data services onto Google Cloud, in a late bid to modernise and decentralise. There is not much left in the Sigfox (SA / Corp) IP for infrastructure businesses, the story goes – except to make sure it does not disappear. Which would explain any consortium-style participation also from the likes of Cellnex and Cube Infrastructure, in cooperation with an operator.

Notably, Heliot Europe – in charge of Sigfox networks in Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, plus Germany – is considered an elite candidate to pursue an operator-led takeover, likely in tandem with others. Its parentage, with Cube Infrastructure, could yet push its interest either way, whether to enable a lead bid with ready backing or to disable it on account of the fact Sigfox has been rendered as a somewhat modern-looking software business.

By turn, operator iWire is conspicuous in speculation about potential bidders on the grounds it is new on the scene, with Sigfox licences in India, and Saudi Arabia, as well as with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with apparently good access to capital. WND, the other Sigfox operator that is mentioned, is an influential voice at the Sigfox table, and is considered more likely to throw its weight behind a consortium bid.

The operator source said: “There is most likely going to be another joint-operator bid, unless the operators decide to merge it all together at the end. Right now, everyone is working on their own, keeping in touch. The issue is it becomes crunch time next week, when people have to decide whether to go it alone, or whether to team up with others, and who brings the bid to the table.

“There may be separate bids, but it doesn’t look like any of the bids that have a chance of winning are in violent conflict with each other. The winners and losers, in the end, will likely be working on the same thing – to bring interesting evolutions of the Sigfox model. Semtech, say, wants more harmonious relations, and so do we. So if it wins, it will be driving it; if it loses, it will still be involved. Because it is in all our collective interests.”

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