Headquartered in southwest France, Sigfox is a global IoT service provider. It operates LP-WANs (Low Power Wide Access Networks) to connect objects such as electricity meters and smartwatches, which need to be continuously on and emitting small amounts of data.
Part of the firm’s strategy was an accelerated global roll-out to gain first mover advantage over competing technologies such as the LoRa Alliance. Sigfox identified Japan as an important market for this, but knew it needed a strong local partner to build, market and operate a physical LPWAN network.
Through introductions from its major investor, NTT Docomo, Sigfox held early discussions with a number of potential Japanese partners. But, recognising the need for its own local presence, it asked us to assess the options, identify the most interesting targets, and help it navigate the path to deal closure.
We effectively became Sigfox Japan – with the company’s name on our Tokyo office door - and appointed a bilingual team from our telecoms practice who operated with Sigfox business cards and email addresses.
First up was a trip to Labege, a small town outside Toulouse, for total immersion. It was an intense week, but we came out tooled up and ready to go!
We then identified Sigfox’s potential partners (including companies the firm was already talking to), researching the decision makers and securing meetings to understand interest levels and get market feedback. The presence of NTT Docomo as an investor helped open some doors, but in other ways meant extra effort to convince non-NTT companies to come to the table.
Rolling out a new nationwide telecoms network is a big deal. So, once we’d established there was enough interest, we had to speak to many people within each potential partner to understand how serious they really were. Departments in big Japanese companies are sometimes blissfully unaware of what the guys next door are doing, so shepherding all relevant parties in the same direction was a project in itself.
Having held detailed discussions with a large number of companies, we finally narrowed it down to two candidates: Kyocera Communication Systems (KCCS) and a major Japanese industrial conglomerate.
We then oversaw large-scale trials and PoCs with both candidates, which meant delivering training and obtaining regulatory clearance for the Japanese corporations, and managing daily communication between them and Sigfox. We were the conduit for all these interactions, helping not only to bridge the language barriers but to make sure all the right people knew what was going on and expectations were managed at all times.
With trials and initial commercial discussions completed, Kyocera emerged as the leading candidate – so now it was time for serious negotiation. This was an intense and rocky time – drawn out over what felt like a very long six months!
One of the hardest parts of the process was making sure both sides remained motivated and optimistic about the partnership throughout. We often encountered potential deal-breaking situations but, through regular (and sometimes filtered) communication, we were able to maintain the trust of both sides and find solutions to keep discussions moving.
We ultimately helped Sigfox finalise a partnership with KCCS – a huge deal that made the front page of the Nikkei, one of Japan’s largest newspapers. We stayed on-hand to support press events and ensure a smooth transition to Sigfox’s own Japan team, which we’d helped to recruit and train.
Today, with KCCS as its well-established domestic operator, Sigfox’s network in Japan boasts 95% population coverage and is used by several top corporations including NEC, Daikin, Osaka Gas and Optex.