Can France Catch Up With Internet of Things World Leader China?

Infographics of connected life in Asia by 2017 - Public Domain

Infographics of connected life in Asia by 2017 – Public Domain

Most links send to french-language articles. 

Like online social networks, the Internet of Things is permanently and fundamentally revolutionizing our consumption habits.

First, what is The Internet of Things ? In layman's terms, it is the connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and covers a variety of applications. For instance, the Internet of Things is involved in utilizing sensors to assist in environmental protection by monitoring air or water quality. Below is a TED video unpacking the concept :

In this field, China, having successfully united stakeholders to provide the sector with a regulatory framework, stands out as the undisputed world leader in this field.

Despite the rise of the Chinese giant, however, France can still expect to play a meaningful role in the market if its stakeholders work together to find ways to finance their projects.

According to a recent report by the GSMA, an association which represents 850 mobile telephone operators across 218 countries, China is the world leader in the adoption of M2M technology. 

China occupied 27 percent of the world market in 2013, with more than 50 million M2M connections. Alex Sinclair, the chief technology officer at the GSMA, said:

China is a rapidly developing country that is investing in communications technologies that will make its cities smarter and provide a better quality of life for its citizens

While the development of a new generation of interconnected devices is clearly something that mobile manufacturers are aiming for, other Chinese stakeholders are also getting involved. In October 2013, 40 companies and research bodies (including China Telecom and Tsinghua University) joined together under the sponsorship of the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation to form an industry alliance for the Internet of Things.

Répertoire d'un fonds d'archives visualisé sous la forme d'un réseau. CC BY-SA 3.0

Visual representation of an archives directory as a network. CC BY-SA 3.0

In order to provide a regulatory framework to this new technology, 200 national and industry standards for the Internet of Things have been implemented by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. These regulatory efforts have led Alex Sinclair to remark:

Proactive government support has benefited China and its mobile operators, whereas in many global markets, regulatory uncertainty has held back the deployment of M2M solutions.

A new generation of start-ups is emerging thanks to American, Australian and – notably – Chinese crowdfunding platforms. DemoHour, for example, was created in 2011 and has helped fund 2,000 projects, including a number of projects directed towards the development of interconnected accessories and devices.

A saucer which transforms your smartphone into a universal remote, a shirt-button which ensures that its wearer keeps their back held straight, an interconnected glucometer that operates using test strips, a cup that tracks its user’s daily water consumption and encourages them to drink the right amount water according to their size and weight – these are all examples of devices that DemoHour has funded.

While these devices might seem like weird gizmos that do not really have anything to do with quality living, some have actually proved to be very useful tools especially in the health sector.

China has also set itself apart in the energy sector, especially in gas, through its use of smart meters. Recent reforms have permitted the widespread introduction of AMR (automatic meter-reading modules) and smart meters throughout the country, which currently operates 180 million such meters in total.

So what kind of odds does France have when faced with the Chinese giant? Well, while France might be far from the Middle Kingdom, it prospects are still pretty good. When it comes to the Internet of Things, France presents an important emerging market. Valued at €150 million in 2013, it is expected to come up to about €500 million by 2016.

France offers many advantages and has every chance of bringing leaders into the world market. However, it has not yet managed to organize concerted dialogue between all stakeholders operating in the sector. It is also facing funding problems as the sector’s investment needs are quite big. As a result, small and medium businesses are struggling to move from innovation and development into widespread production.

Yves Clisson, the CEO of Telelogos who since 1982 has specialised in data synchronization, mobile device management and M2M has said: 

Nous avons montré qu’il y a beaucoup d’intelligence et de talents au top niveau en France pour les machines communicantes. Il suffit de voir ce qui se fait en aéronautique. Mais la descente vers le consommateur lui-même n’est pas du tout au niveau de ce que l’on peut trouver dans certains pays asiatiques ou aux États-Unis.  Nous avons du mal à aller vers l’usage quotidien et le grand volume… 

We have shown that there is lot of high-level intelligence and talent in France when it comes to interconnected devices– just look at what’s happening in the aeronautic sector. But this is not being brought down to individual consumers at the rate which we see in some Asian countries or in the United States. We are finding it hard to move towards day-to-day usage and large volume…

>Even so, the rollout of Linky smart meters – pillars of France’s energy transition – is imminent. Minister for Ecology Ségolène Royal has stated that she wanted to “accelerate the goal” and, by 2020, 35 million boxes should be fitted with a smart meter that should citizens to optimize their energy consumption.

Indeed, there is already a sign that the era of interconnected devices is becoming a reality in France: a dedicated store, the first of its kind, just opened in Paris. The store is an initiative of the technology company Innov8 and its founder, Stéphane Bohbot. The products that it sells are likely to appeal, beyond the geek community, to the 75 percent of French people who have heard of the interconnectivity concept. That 75 percent, in turn, will lead the others to discover the possibilities that interconnected devices can offer in everyday life.

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