We'll hit THAT 95% Sigfox coverage target using telly aerials, says WND-UK

Well, rooftop yagis hooked up to 12v Intel PCs

A TV aerial. Pic: Shutterstock
A typical yagi-style TV antenna (Pic: Shutterstock)

WND‑UK – the “who they?” firm that boasted it will deliver more Sigfox Internet of Things network coverage than there is 4G coverage across the UK mainland – says it will achieve this by putting IoT aerials on people’s homes.

Neal Forse, managing director of WND‑UK, spoke to El Reg at length earlier this month to explain exactly how the biz is going to beat established mobile network operators (MNOs) when it comes to meeting Sigfox’s laughably optimistic 95 per cent coverage target.

“You can do that because the base stations are no longer 2U racks that need air conditioning and power,” explained Forse. “These are ruggedised, passively cooled base stations based on laptop Intel processors. We’ve embarked on this journey by redefining the base station.”

WND’s approach, based on its Latin American experience of rolling out Sigfox connectivity across various South American countries, is to discard the “traditional” approach of deploying large footprint mobile base stations and instead cut everything down to the bare minimum.

“Do you know how many people and how many numbers and how many contributors you have to get signoff for to go onto a tower? And then how much the cost is to integrate an RJ45 to connect to their network? Those charges are prohibitive, those charges are enormous, those charges are based on a network rollout that is inherently traditional,” said Forse.

“We can build a system on a pole as a base station with a 60cm antenna,” he continued. The WND Sigfox antenna will look, for all intents and purposes, like a domestic TV aerial, complete with the same rooftop wind load characteristics, according to Forse. The system at the base of the pole is a small PC built around an Intel Core i3 chip powered by a 12v feed taken from the host building.

'Prime IoT connectivity'

Forse also reckons that “it has the same planning permissions as a yagi antenna” – aka a domestic telly aerial – and that current UK legislation means domestic households can have up to two roof-mounted antennas without needing planning permission. This, he said, “enables that building owner to have prime IoT connectivity with very little overhead.”

Though WND‑UK has access to Arqiva's fleet of 129 mobile network base stations, this small number “isn’t going to cut it.” Forse thinks they will need around 2,000 base stations “to get over 90 per cent coverage” – and his hope is to meet Sigfox’s 95 per cent (by population, rather than land mass) coverage target by April, 2019.

IoT base station sites under consideration range from the usual tower blocks and so on to commercial properties – Forse mentioned transport infrastructure companies – and even ham radio repeater sites, which tend to be dotted around in areas which traditionally have poorer coverage.

So far Forse says WND‑UK has rolled out 49 base stations since it started operating in early March this year.

While the WND‑UK deal is doubtless a great feather in Sigfox’s cap, it is a poke in the eye for Vodafone, whose competing IoT connectivity standard (Narrowband Internet of Things; NB‑IoT) appears to be stillborn as far as the UK is concerned. In spite of much marketing bombast about how NB‑IoT would sweep all before it, Voda’s Western European deployments of it are limited to test laboratories dotted around the Netherlands and Spain.

Deutsche Telekom warned its NB‑IoT customers earlier this year that they would have to “change some of their parameters” before charging into IoT connectivity deployments.

Informed sources whisper to The Register that part of the NB‑IoT rollout delay has been caused by the huge demand for LTE‑M chipset modules in the US, which ate up available manufacturing capacity.

Until that is resolved, it looks like unlicensed spectrum IoT connectivity standards such as Sigfox and LoRaWAN will have a free run of it in Blighty. ®

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