The Haven application turns any Android phone into a motion, sound, vibration and light detector.

Haven, developed through a collaboration between Freedom of the Press Foundation and Guardian Project, turns any Android phone into a motion, sound, vibration and light detector.
Haven is designed for investigative journalists, human rights defenders, and people at risk of forced disappearance to create a new kind of herd immunity. By combining the array of sensors found in any smartphone, with the world’s most secure communications technologies, like Signal and Tor, Haven prevents the worst kind of people from silencing citizens without getting caught in the act.


Wishes for 2018: does anyone really wish for Sigfox to fail?

Lightreading’s article, titled “Sigfox in Peril as Senior Execs Exit” published last month shed light on issues Sigfox has been facing over the past year, stemming from its teething pains in growing from a start-up of 60 people to a substantial middle-sized company of almost 400 employees worldwide following its record round of fund-raising which gave it 150 million euros of cash to play with in 2016.

The recent article published by the seriously renowned French business media Les Echos Business shows that Lightreading’s exposure of figures and executive departures has had an impact on Sigfox’s current leadership team who are expressing irritation towards traction the article has gained and what they term as “Sigfox bashing” at large, leading people to inquire on the company’s health and future perspectives.

Yes, heads have been rolling at Sigfox, but does anyone really want Sigfox to fail?

Founded in September 2009 from the encounter between the former radiofrequency engineer from Motorola, Christophe Fourtet, and the entrepreneur, Ludovic Le Moan, Sigfox was born from the vision of the latter to turn the knowledge of the former into a worldwide low-power- wide-area network telecommunications operator focused on the upcoming market of the Internet of Things.

Ludovic had just sold his first company, Anyware, an M2M solutions provider, to Wavecom and had a clear view of what had been holding the M2M market back from mass deployments: cost and energy. Meeting Christophe Fourtet who showed him how ultra-narrow band radio technology dating back to submarines in the First World War (not the Second) could combine low energy with long-distance low-bandwidth telecommunications at low cost on ISM bands, was a revelation to Ludovic’s quest to bring M2M deployments to another level.

Whether it started in a garage, or in their first premises at Incubateur Midi-Pyrénées is of little importance: a business vision born from hands-on market experience combined with sound technical mastery is a good start for any company.

While Sigfox was portrayed as disruptive, its innovative character needs to be put into the perspective of several initiatives in the same LPWAN field, especially in France where Cycleo was bought by Semtech in 2012 for what can be considered now as a measly 5 million $ to turn it into what is now known as LoRa.

Using the recently founded start-up village called TIC Valley in Labège near Toulouse as a launchpad, Christophe and Ludovic turned the 3-person enterprise into one of France’s most exposed start-ups, culminating in 2013 with Anne Lauvergeon, former chairwoman of the nuclear giant Areva, accepting to preside over Sigfox’s growth following her encounter with Ludovic as part of the presidential delegation of the USA tour with François Hollande.

2014 saw Sigfox’s first major executive departure with Jaap Groot, then VP Global Sales, leaving in November to become a Board member of the LoRa Alliance.

Anne Lauvergeon’s political left-wing influence and stature as a World-class industry leader opened the doors to enable Sigfox to raise the then record-breaking amount for a French start-up of 100 million euros in February 2015.

Sigfox had then to abide by the investors’ demands to grow into a World company and deliver on the promise of being the worldwide IoT telecommunications operator that had led them to invest such an amount.

TIC Valley became IoT Valley with Sigfox as its mother ship.

The arrival of Xavier Drilhon in June 2015, formerly CEO of Oberthur Technologies, came as an announcement that Sigfox was to take on the profiles required to attain the level to achieve its global ambitions in a well-structured, no-nonsense manner. Further to structring the company, the duo set their sights on raising what was announced in the same Les Echos to be 500 million €.

A year later, after successfully taking up the challenge of recruiting the extra 200-strong workforce to bring it up to 300 people, Jacques Husser who had been COO of Sigfox since October 2013 left the company.

In November 2016, Sigfox announced it had raised not the 500 million announced in February that same year, but 150 million €. Even this amount has been put into question by some, but as Sigfox has not published its figures for 2016, no one outside of the company can say for sure what the company’s financial situation really is.

Should we see in the haemorrhage of high-level executives leaving the company in 2017 a sign that not reaching the 500 million € goal went down as a huge disappointment? Is it due to disagreement with its CEO on the way the company should be managed? Or is the company purely cutting costs?

With the announcement of the November 2016 fund raising, many expressed surprise at the announcements to the press and at events by Ludovic that “Sigfox could change the world by bringing the virtual and physical worlds together through a new paradigm based on the fundamental principles of astrophysics. Today, we have created the equivalent of the world’s largest radio telescope for IoT.” While it may be put down to the French being typically philosophical poets, it was even mocked by some French media with titles such as “Sigfox closer to astrophysics than to telecoms”.

Sigfox has often been hailed as an example to follow in communication tactics. This leaves me personally perplexed as to the reasons for the departure of their EVP of Communications last August.

It’s interesting to see between the article in Les Echos of November 2016 and the latest rant in the same paper in December 2017, that the number of devices declared by Sigfox to be registered on their platform has fallen from 10 million to 2 million. What are we to believe? Whether the revenue for 2016 is 30 million or 60 million €, I think what investors are looking at is how much is from the sale of Sigfox base stations to its international operator partners and how much is from recurring connectivity subscriptions.

The introduction onto a stock market first forecast for 2018 in now set for 2019.

Also, while we could read in a number of media that Sigfox was to cover over 100 cities in the USA by the end of 2016, their coverage map today, a year beyond the announced deadline, shows that goal has not been reached. Should we deduce that the CEO of Sigfox USA will soon be thanked and asked to leave?

On looking at the history of Sigfox, one word comes to mind: confusion.

Among the misinformation, hype and now what is termed as “fake news”, it’s difficult to get a clear view of where Sigfox stands exactly and how it is really faring.

Uncertainty is never good for business as, when in doubt, people prefer to simply stay away and wait to see how things turn out before making strategic decisions that commit a company’s resources to a given technology. This is the fundamental hold-back in IoT and is epitomized in Sigfox’s communication: it’s difficult to know what to believe.

Sigfox made a huge bet back in 2009, when it decided to launch the first stage of a worldwide operated IoT telecommunications network and had France and Spain fairly well covered by 2014. Indeed, contrary to LoRa which, whatever happens, generates revenue for Semtech through the sale of chips either for private base stations or for connected devices, Sigfox placed all its tokens on the ambition of delivering an operated global network. In leveraging on the political and mediatic influence of some of its Board members and managing to raise substantial amounts of capital risk, Sigfox showed the IoT market that investors were ready to place a few hundred million euros on this bet, thereby forming the bridgehead of the LPWAN and IoT market.

Credit has to be given to Sigfox for achieving this position as a locomotive of the LPWAN industry, developing a substantial ecosystem of hardware, software and service providers all focused on making IoT happen.

So, does anyone really want Sigfox to die?

I would say that anyone wishing this would be neglecting the effect such a failure would have on the IoT market. People may be irritated by its CEO’s self-proclaimed stance as a business guru, infuriated by the conflicting figures and ambitions asserted as achievements, but Sigfox is a major player in the IoT landscape and certainly made life easier for the likes of other LPWAN players such as Actility, the LoRa Alliance, Ingenu and Weightless P in ramping up their networks and service offerings for the upcoming IoT market.

The Sigfox competitors I have spoken to all agree: they rub their hands every time Sigfox announces having raised new funds and want the traction generated to keep pulling the market forward.

As I used to say to prospective customers who would ask me what would happen if Sigfox failed, my answer is: it won’t. The future may show that Sigfox does not live up to expectations, but it has succeeded in developing an international network of Sigfox operator partners all pushing for adoption of Sigfox connectivity in the countries where they are looking to get the return on investment in the costly purchase of Sigfox base stations, their deployment and operation. Even if Sigfox, as a company, failed, the network would remain.

What is certain is that its confusing communication and time and resources wasted in high-level staff turnover has weakened Sigfox.

Will it be bought up by one of its partner operators? One French analyst’s forecast last year proposed that Sigfox may be acquired by Amazon. This hardly seems likely.

Its political ties through its chairwoman and unwillingness of France’s President to see a flagship start-up fail mean the likeliness of such an outcome is low.

My feeling is that, given the ever-present competition from players for who even 250 million € is a fraction of their annual revenue, Sigfox must move from being a start-up-minded company driven by hazardous communication into a true industrial player driven by business.

Let’s wish Sigfox all the best for 2018 and hope the promises made will indeed become achievements benefiting the IoT market the world over.

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