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Small bursts of data at infrequent intervals are sufficient for many Internet of Things (IoT) applications. That’s as true in the agricultural technology sector as it is for urban uses, such as meter reading or environmental monitoring. AgTech, though, brings its own challenges and advantages to the party. On the one hand, there are fewer obstructions to block or attenuate wireless signals and spectrum tends to be less crowded. On the other, electrical power is often scarce and the realities of farming mean that anything you put in the ground often has to be temporary – fields are constantly being plowed up and replanted.
SigFox, a France-based company, is starting to expand its North American low power, wide area IoT network into rural areas. As with LoRa Alliance, which has a similar business model and technology, Sigfox is using unlicensed frequencies in the 900 MHz industrial (ISM) band to deliver very small data payloads – 12 bytes – to and from low power devices that can run off of batteries, in some cases for years. It claims to be operating in 24 countries – four of those with nationwide coverage – and supporting seven million devices.
Ramzi Alharayeri, SigFox’s San Francisco-based sales and business development director, talked about network build out plans and some of the agricultural applications they’re supporting at the Salinas AgTech meet up earlier this month. Irrigation control, soil monitoring and livestock tracking are among the services that partner companies offer – SigFox is a network operator, not a direct IoT service provider or equipment manufacturer itself.
So far, SigFox has a limited footprint in California. It’s built a network in San Francisco and surrounding areas, and has done some pilot projects in the north bay area. It hasn’t done a full scale rural deployment in the U.S. yet, but it’s looking at options for doing so.