TT: How fast is the overall IoT business growing?
OO: I can give you one figure which is that today we are managing more than 9 million objects out there for customers -- which is a question of connectivty, data management, devices and so on -- and that's almost doubled in two years. The growth rate is pretty high. The group has announced that by 2018 as part of its Essentials2020 strategy it will reach €600 million [$655 million] from B2C and B2B IoT. We are obviously below that but it's a question of investing. There are two big ruptures that will happen. One is regarding the efficiency of networks for carrying data. With technologies like LoRa, we can divide by 15 the quantity of energy you need to carry small information to do with parking meters, whether a door is open or closed, whether there is a water leak. If you take a cellular network, when you are using a large battery and sending something like one SMS every day the object is going to cost something like €200 [$218] in three years, and after that you will have to change the battery. Networks are definitely part of the story and we want to make advances, whether in B2C or in B2B, to help every company take advantage of this evolution.
The second breakthrough is in algorithms. We are creating data lakes for our customers. When we perform indexation and prediction algorithms we can extract information from data lakes about the appetite for digital offerings and so on. Today we're creating a project for our retail customers where you input data from shops' loyalty cards -- you put that in the data lake and do real-time indexation and generate better customer statistics. We are using the algorithm from a company called Splunk to do this but we are configuring it for the customer and making it run on the platform we have in Europe, and mainly in France, to ensure the data is properly managed.
TT: You've given some reasons for using LoRa in preference to existing cellular technologies but why did you pick it over other LPWA technologies?
OO: Because it's open with an open ecosystem, and that's important because we are talking about a much wider variety of objects than with the cellular ecosystem. The LoRa ecosystem is pretty good and so on November 25 we announced the launch not only of Live Objects and Flexible Data but also of the first 17 cities in which we're deploying LoRa. We also announced the availability of a starter kit so that companies can start working on objects using LoRa technology. That means when it's ready and as our network expands they can go to market with our network and the other assets I've been describing.
TT: How important is LoRa to the overall Orange IoT business? Is there a role for cellular?
OO: It's a first step. Our whole strategy is to go to standardized technology within the mobile world. LoRa is an open alliance and it's an open environment. But our plan is to use the standardized technology and to get this through the 3GPP. A whole standardized ecosystem will eventually stop the fragmentation that could happen. LoRa is a first step -- it's not the one and only. We are also investing in standardization.
TT: Does that mean LoRa could eventually be replaced -- that it's a short-term solution?
OO: Short being long because when you start with projects like that you need the networks and solutions to work for at least five years, if not a decade. But at some point, yes -- there will be another technology and the new objects will use that. But in terms of the form factor, they will look like the ones we are developing with LoRa.
TT: What role will 5G play in the future?
OO: With 4G we are expecting optimized versions for objects that are less energy consuming. Most of the R&D efforts have been about increasing the bandwidth of networks and also managing mobility. When you come to IoT that is not the problem anymore -- you want to optimize energy consumption. Today we are working on the standard to make sure there is this kind of optimization. Once we have 5G, some optimization will come that will concern IoT and some will be for the standard mobile business.
TT: Other than through new access technologies, how will IoT force operators to adapt?
OO: When we deploy our LoRa network we will be using the sites we already have -- our mobile network capacity -- and when we go to more standardized technologies the rollout will not be that different from the way we are deploying networks now. But it's also a question of having the vertical use cases ready at hand, the IT skills and resources, the data management platform, the ecosystem devices and integration skills. We've been investing in IT skills through Orange Applications for Business, which is the result of several acquisitions over the past decade. We have more than 700 people working on IoT day-to-day at Orange and a good half of them on software development.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading, Editor-in-Chief, Telco Transformation