L’Atelier: Are there shades of meaning between the expressions ‘connected objects’, the ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘M2M’?
Frédéric Salles: Yes, that’s right. People tend to use the expressions ‘M2M’, ‘machine to machine’, ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘connected objects’ interchangeably and yes, I have to say that these expressions serve as catch-all terms. However, we should take the term ‘connected objects’ as a generic expression, and can then identify four sub-categories. Objects connected via Bluetooth to your telephone comprise the first set. Then there are the items which are connected via WiFi using a box, and thirdly there are objects which work using a low frequency network such as Bluetooth Low Energy. The fourth means of connecting to the Internet is by using a SIM card. At that point we really are getting into an Internet of Things. Devices which use SIM cards in fact go through application servers to exchange data in real or delayed time – this is the real machine-to-machine or M2M.
What would you say are the real advantages of getting objects to communicate?
First of all we need to be clear that a SIM card doesn’t only work inside a telephone; it can be inserted into an electronic box in order to obtain entirely new types of services so far unknown. If we want to segment them, we can first talk about mass market services to households. The health and home appliance sectors for instance are set to undergo great changes. In fact the equipment that people have in their homes has already changed substantially. We used to have telephone sockets where services such as alarm systems could be installed. With the advent of ADSL, boxes have replaced socket-installation and are now the most popular gateway to the Internet for various types of services which, for security reasons, don’t use what we might call confidential information, such as health data. SIM cards can therefore be used for mobile communicating devices. We can also talk about data transmission in your car. There again, you need to be able to access mobile networks, both national and international. In fact, the market works on a global rather than a local basis.
And what about B2B?
If we’re talking about B2B, a good many applications are bound up with ‘Smart City’ projects. In Montpellier for example we’re testing them out in the transport sector. The most high-profile application is the electrical recharging points for cars. These recharging points communicate with application servers, which makes billing far easier. There’s no need to fill in a form each time you recharge or to pay by bank card. Later on, we will inevitably come up against the issue of Big Data, especially with the Smart City. In actual fact we already have all the communication data from the objects we’ve equipped, and we’re going to launch a programme to analyse this data. In addition, we’re working with local authorities to prevent flooding by placing sensors around cities and on riverbanks in order to detect rises in water levels. We’re working on different applications with each of our five hundred corporate clients. As an example of an application which is useful for everyone, I would cite the connected stylus. This allows a user to save and record what s/he writes. Suppose a person is filling in a form. With this sort of pen, the information can be sent directly to the server, without another person having to enter the data.
What can be done to avoid a situation where these objects communicate in rigid silos and ensure that we can draw maximum benefit from them?
Yes, this is a real issue. In fact there are two underlying problems. The first has to do with the different operators – the fact that every system works differently from the others. We see the same diversity among device manufacturers but to a far greater extent because there’s still no standard operating system. As in the world of the computer or mobile devices, we need to have one or two standardised operating systems so that everything can be handled seamlessly.
We often hear talk of IPv6 and HTML5 in the world of the Internet of Things…
Unlike the situation we have today, IPv6 will provide each object with a fixed IP address. However I’ve been hearing about this for years and so far I’ve never seen a connected object that uses IPv6. As regards HTML5, this is a transmission standard that serves to convey data. Even though the protocols are basically different, that won’t change anything. We need to understand that we’re just at the beginning of the Internet of Things. At the moment everyone is at the stage of developing services in his/her own corner and the process of homogenisation hasn’t yet begun.
How do you see private data security in this new paradigm?
There again, there are two levels: the server and the actual data transmission. Ensuring security at server level is essential since all the data will be held there. This is a step that we’ve already taken by adopting the [web vulnerability scanner] httpcs system. In simple terms, this system scans the application servers and tries out all known hacking techniques on a daily basis. For us this is a real revolution. Before this we used to rely on traditional security systems and we weren’t really sure just how effective they were. As far as data transmission is concerned, we should distinguish non-sensitive data such as alarm alerts – which can go via the Internet as they don’t require any special security – from data identified as sensitive. For this confidential data we can set up private communication networks. Using a SIM card you can in fact create a private network based on telephony so that you don’t have to transmit data over the Internet. This is more expensive as the data goes straight through the centre of the operator’s network, directly from point A to final point B.
In the short term, how do you see the Internet 3.0 landscape?
Well, the cards are going to be re-shuffled. The company that creates a standard operating system for electronic boxes will enjoy deployment potential infinitely greater than today’s Androïd and iOS. According to [telecom, Internet and media markets tracking think tank] IDATE, over 80 billion connected objects will be in circulation by 2020. So the homogeneity question is especially important for us. I don’t know whether we’ll manage to create a single operating system for connected objects, but we have already invented a system which allows seamless handling of SIM cards, regardless of which operator activates them. This makes connectivity far more straightforward for a customer, who then doesn’t have to worry about who his operator is in order to work with our system.