SIGFOX Maker Tour Lisbon

Hello everyone! 🙂

As some of you have read in a previous blog post, on the 11th of February of 2016 I went to the Sigfox Maker Tour in Lisbon and in this post I’ll tell you what happened at the event. 🙂

Since I arrived at about 10AM I found myself alone in Lisbon with nothing to do until 2PM, when the Sigfox event would start, I used that free time to visit an awesome makerspace: MILL: Makers in Little Lisbon. Check out my post about the visit here.

A little before 2PM I arrived at Startup Lisboa and went to get my participants badge (one more to my badge collection 🙂 ) and soon after that the event was starting in a very crowded room. I didn’t knew any of the other attendees, except for Hugo Silva, maker of the Bitalino biosignals prototyping board, and also one of the Lisbon Maker Faire (2014 and 2015) curators.

sigfox maker tour badge

Once everybody had found their own place to sit, Sigfox developer and maker evangelist Nicholas Lesconnec started his presentation where he explained what is Sigfox and several details about it.

So, for all of you who haven’t been able to attend the event here’s a short description of what was covered.

First of all, if you have no idea of what is Sigfox I recommend you to check my previous post: Sigfox Maker Tour Lisbon (event announcement).

The talk

Sigfox Maker Tour Lisbon

He started by presenting Sigfox, which is a french company, funded in 2009, is currently operating in +12 countries (as of February, 2016) and employs 170 people (around 80 in February 2015). Before explaining what they do, they were very clear at explaining what they don’t do: they don’t sell chips and they don’t build connected solutions. They invented a radio protocol and operate a global network. Why did they invent a new radio protocol since there are so many communications protocols already? Because they think gateway-based solutions are not suited for independent things and they wanted to make something really designed for IoT, not tweak some other existing technology to address it. According to the speaker, their solution allows for a direct connection to the Internet, for years of lifetime on a battery, with no configuration and as simple as possible: detect, send and receive. By using Sigfox there is the possibility of establishing cheaper connections and with extended battery life, enabling totally new IoT applications.

After presenting the company the speaker proceeded to show how simple it is to communicate using Sigfox:

  1. Detect something to send;
  2. Power on the communication module;
  3. Send (AT command: AT$SF=CAFECAFE);
  4. Message is picked up by the network;
  5. Data is received on the user’s server or email (HTTP Request. Method, Content-Type & Body are customisable).

Then Nicholas proceeded to address some specifications:

  • Energy efficiency:
    • Protocol designed to maximize energy efficiency in order not to impact product lifecycle;
    • During transmission the current consumption is in the range fo 20-35mA during a few seconds;
    • In idle mode, the current consumption is only a few µA.
    • 99.x% of the time a connected device is in idle mode.
  • Configuration:
    • No configuration, pairing or signalisation;
    • A network of base stations are monitoring the radio spectrum and detect the messages sent by the devices;
    • Validation and de-duplication of messages are handled by the network.
  • Long Range:
    • Best case scenario: +100Km between transmitter and receiver (base station);
    • Real life: a few Kms in urban environment and tens of Kms in the countryside, depending on topography and land typology;
    • Attenuation of 20dB when indoor.
  • Two-way communication:
    • Devices can request updates to be sent from the application server.
  • Small messages, a few times per hour:
    • Useful payload: 12 bytes, 140 times per day (6 per hour);
    • Data rate: 100 bits/s.
    • No multimedia, XML, JSON, full text. “Old-school” binary and optimisation techniques required (12 bytes * 96 bits = 2^96 available values)
    • The 140 messages per day are not a technology limit. It is for compliance with the ETSI 300-220 regulation (1% duty cycle).
    • Examples of payloads: GPS coordinates (lat x long): 6 bytes; Temperature (2 bytes); State reporting (1 byte).
  • Security:
    • Each message is signed with a key unique to the device;
    • Messages can be encrypted or scrambled, with no keys being exchanged over the network;
    • With each message, a hash is calculated & sent, using: Device ID, secret key, payload and internal increment;
    • The Ultra Narrow Band modulation provides some resistance to interference, jamming and interception;
  • Coverage:
    • Sigfox is a global network, not a solution to build private networks;
    • Roaming is included in the standard service;
    • Nationwide coverage in France, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain and local coverage in some cities around the world. Countries like Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mauritius, United Kingdom and United States are under roll out;
    • Check current coverage here.

After covering all of these topics, Nicholas made a demonstration with a device he brought along. It worked, with the signal being picked by two base stations and being one of them in the other side of the Tejo river. 🙂 Then he followed on showing some applications where Sigfox communications are currently being used, like connected water consumption meters, parking sensors, GPS trackers, health monitoring devices, predictive maintenance alerts, soil and crops monitoring systems, cattle tracking, etc.. He also mentioned that Sigfox foundation provides free network coverage for non-profit applications (tracking of endangered animal species, as an example).

After describing the specs of the service and typical applications, the speaker proceeded to talk about hardware solutions available from multiple vendors.

Finally, we were getting to the workshop part and he made a short description of the Sigfox Backend, where each developer can see the messages sent by the modules and configure the callbacks.

Before continuing the workshop part, here’s the powerpoint presentation by Nicholas Lesconnec:

The workshop

Finally, the moment that everyone was waiting for had come and they started handing out the Akeru boards for the participants to make some experiments. At start it was a little messy for everyone to get their boards PAC identifiers (unique for each module and required for registration on the Sigfox backend) but after a while everyone was sending messages to the Sigfox backend using sample code provided by the speaker. I also tried the downlink request but there was a bug in the sample code and I couldn’t get it to make the downlink request. However, after the workshop I went to talk to Nicholas Lesconnec and he found the bug right away and fixed it. I wish the workshop part had lasted longer to complete all the basic tests right away but it was time enough to get started and to learn where to look for more information and sample code. 

Sigfox Snootlab Akeru Board

Concluding remarks

First, I’d like to thank NarrowNet for the invitation. I really enjoyed attending the event and I think that everything was very clear and easy to understand. I came back home with a lot of ideas and a big desire to make several tests in several places. Until now I have made some tests in several parts of Lisbon, Faro, Vila Real de Santo António and even took it in a car drive to Huelva, in Spain. It worked ok most of the times. Regarding the callbacks, already made all the functional tests I wanted (Payload parsing, Email callback, HTTP POST callback, direct Downlink, HTTP POST downlink) and only had some problems with the downlinks but I managed to solve all the problems and everything’s working now. Basically, I’m now ready to develop some cool applications using my Akeru board and the Sigfox network 🙂 Do you have any suggestions?

Oh, and eLab Hackerspace got a cool new Sigfox sticker on its door! 🙂

Sigfox eLab Hackerspace

Keep following this blog so you don’t miss new posts with Internet of Things tutorials/projects using Sigfox. 🙂

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