Discovering the Internet of Things

Interview with Pascal Ancian, who leads the Orange Group’s Internet of Things program.

What do we mean by the “Internet of Things”?

We use this expression to refer to a transformation of how operators work: fixed and mobile telephony allowed individuals to communicate with one another, and the Internet has allowed them to connect with information, ideas, etc. Now, the IoT is being used to connect people with objects, or even for inter-object connectivity. We’re not only talking about everyday objects, but also about professional machines and applications: bracelets that monitor physical activity, electricity meters, bathroom scales, vehicles, home thermostats, to name just a few. This huge number of objects now use their microchips and connectivity to communicate data in real time – to a user’s smartphone applications, for example, or equally to other “objects” with a view to developing new uses through this interactivity with the “physical” world.

Where does the Orange Group fit into this phenomenon?

Pascal Ancian, Orange Group IoT Program Director
We have been working on this topic for a long time. Your Livebox and smartphone are already connected things. What is changing today is the number and variety of things that our technologies allow us to connect.
Pascal Ancian, Orange Group IoT Program Director

For Orange, it is more than another line of diversification. All of our business units are geared up to develop offers and services in this field. Throughout the value chain, we are present as a distributor in our online and smart stores, and as a service provider. I am thinking of Homelive for the general public, for example, or Datavenue for companies. Ultimately, we offer connectivity solutions: more than 12 million things around the world already communicate in M2M from machine to machine via our mobile networks. And to round out this offer, we have also chosen to deploy a network using LoRa® technology that is specifically adapted to things. It was launched in France in early 2016. It already covers 4,000 municipalities and industrial sites and will be extended in order to answer our enterprise customers’ needs with the aim of a national coverage by the end of 2017. Right from the start, we will also offer targeted LoRa® coverage in other countries. We are also planning to upgrade our 4G networks to LTE-M technology in Europe, which will enable one to connect to things by means of extended coverage and low power consumption.

Is the IoT changing how we approach our customers?

The IoT requires us to maintain close customer relationships. Customers need us to use connected objects to help them to make their lives easier (at home, in the car, when out and about, etc.), to reassure them (security, well-being), and to save them time and money (individuals want to manage their spending and energy consumption, while businesses want to improve their working methods and processes). Such close customer relationships require a vertical approach. We have identified six priorities to date: individuals, homes, connected cars, smart territories, health, and industry.

What relationships does the Group have with the key players in the IoT?

Orange is committed to an open innovation approach with all those involved in the Internet of Things in order to create an active and profitable ecosystem. This approach includes several measures and initiatives aimed at accelerating the availability of connected objects. Manufacturers, for example, can test how their object works, and measure its data throughput rate and energy consumption at the Open IoT Lab. This also gives them the chance to work with Orange’s technical experts, designers, and marketing specialists. Last but not least, we are providing them with support via the “Live Booster” program – a range of turnkey modules incorporating mobile connectivity – and the LoRa® Explorer Kit, an Orange-certified development board that allows easy and quick prototyping of IoT objects and services using LoRa® technology.

Does Orange consider creating new services as an aim in its own right?

We provide designers and developers with tools to help them create new services. We offer them connectivity kits for our networks (IoT, cellular), programming interfaces (APIs), and software development kits to manage their data and equipment, as well as additional services to synchronize, share, and protect exchanges of data. At the same time, we are establishing partnerships with start-ups and businesses with a view to co-innovating and creating new services. This is true of our partnership with Seb, which is built around a new connected cooking experience: Foodle, a culinary assistant that suggests personalized recipes based on the consumer’s profile (culinary preferences, available equipment, preparation time, etc.).

How do you spread and promote this ecosystem throughout Orange?

We organize challenges aimed at start-ups, independents, integrators and small businesses with partners (Air Liquide, EDF, Groupama, Schneider Electric, Sud-Ouest, etc.). These resolutely practical and concrete tasks pose these businesses a specific challenge over two days. This allows us to identify new uses for our services and to promote our APIs within the community. This is also why we attend all major IoT-related events – conferences, trade shows, and festivals – to exhibit our solutions.

Doesn’t the IoT also raise issues of security and confidentiality?

The IoT will form an infinite source of data about our lifestyles and about businesses. Security and confidentiality are at the heart of the commitments made to our customers. Orange is therefore actively working to develop the best possible security conditions for networks, service platforms, and objects in order to provide trusted services. To play an active role in structuring the IoT, Orange will be able to offer end-to-end customer support with a guarantee of trust. These will involve, on the one hand, the security of objects, connections, and data, and on the other hand, managing the confidentiality of the collected data.

In what way can the IoT be seen as a revolution?

The IoT is indeed a revolution in that it involves all markets and the general public, but also businesses, all countries, and all of the different trades and professions in the value chain. This is obviously just the first chapter of this story: 750 million connected objects worldwide by the end of 2016 will increase to more than 21 billion in 2020. The estimates vary, but they all point to an explosion in this sector, in particular because the size and cost of the sensors are diminishing while the autonomy of the objects increases. Current uses will improve at the same time as new services appear in a wealth of areas: health care, transport, security, agriculture, logistics, etc. At Orange, we also believe that these technologies can contribute to resolving major global issues (sustainable development) or sociological challenges (smart cities), which will, in turn, benefit our customers. By allowing us to manage energy consumption, natural resources, or access to essential services more intelligently and responsibly, the IoT represents a chance to accelerate progress. It is up to us to ensure that these solutions benefit as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. The Internet of Things is also developing with people as the start and end points of everything we do.