Europe has lost the mobile terminal battle, but could the Internet of Things herald a new era in which the ‘Old Continent’, and France in particular, still have every opportunity to thrive?

France Looking Well-Placed to Grasp IoT Potential

Forecasts as to the number of connected objects that will be in existence by 2020 vary between 50 and 80 billion. These were the figures aired at the 17th annual meeting of the G9+ Institute, a French association representing over 50,000 professionals working in digital businesses, which forges links between decision-makers, spheres of influence and France’s most prestigious higher education institutes. The meeting, held in Paris on 26 November, took as its theme ‘Les nouveaux eldorados de l’économie connectée’ (The New Eldorados of the Connected Economy).  “This new age will really begin when there are more connected objects than people,” Pascal Cagni, former Head of Apple Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, and noted Business Angel, told the gathering. And it may well not be long in coming. Bluetooth low energy technology, the ‘nanoisation’ of components, lower unit cost and increased power of components,  coupled with the widespread use of the IPv6 protocol, which allows up to nine connections per person, will all boost our tendency to use connected objects. So everything seems to be in place for a new economy to emerge, valued at an estimated $1.9 trillion as of 2020. There is an opportunity here for the whole of Europe, but France appears to be especially well-placed to grasp it with both hands, G9+ speakers pointed out.

Room for everyone

Although Google Glass, Google Car and Galaxy Gear have opened the doors to a mass market in connected objects, this is only the tip of the iceberg. During the G9+ session it became clear that most of the market potential is yet to emerge and that the Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazons of this world will not be the only ones to benefit from the Internet of Things. In fact France has some genuine advantages when it comes to producing world champions. Its graduate engineering and mathematics schools are a real hotbed of talent ready to hatch projects in the IoT field, while the 60,000 French expatriates working in Silicon Valley are well-placed to serve as links to entrepreneurs back in France. Moreover France and the wider Europe already have leaders that may well see their potential vastly increase, along the lines of  ST Microelectronics, ARM and CSR. However, entrepreneurs will need funding, especially in the early stages from Business Angels. While the seed-funding phenomenon is still a rather low-key ecosystem in France, state-funded assistance and financial support organisation BPI France has pioneered a number of initiatives and investment is beginning to take off. In addition, co-operation will be needed at European level if European players are to make the most of this new opportunity. London and Paris are the two centres currently seen as most dynamic, but Berlin, with such pioneers as audio platform Soundcloud in the vanguard, is also a promising IoT hub that other Europeans should learn to work with.

Four promising segments

Another takeaway from the event: the market is moving forward along four main paths. The first is wearable devices. Smartphones owners look at their mobiles over 150 times a day and 72% of these ‘checks’ could be replaced by wearable devices. While connected watches and glasses are the most talked-about items, there are also weighing scales, and the connected T-shirts such as those made by OMsignal, which will all be part of a world where there will be “more computers in our washing-machines” than all those we currently possess, G9+ speakers predicted. Secondly, transport will also be a prime beneficiary of the Internet of Things. The insurance sector could for example change its bonus/malus practice to reflect observable driving behaviour. Ticketing and multimodal information will also be subject to disruptive change. Thirdly, the connected home will be a major area in terms of IoT market share. Valued at an estimated $72 billion by 2017, this segment will see new methods of video surveillance, personalisation of room ambiance, and air quality adjustment inside buildings. Last but not least, m-Health is today without doubt the most developed connected objects segment. Managing your elderly relatives’ medication and controlling the risk of diabetes or infection will be just some of the functions of the 170 million m-Health connected objects sold over the next four years.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo