IoT: The French Connection

An engineer explaining to journalists how Airbus is using augmented reality in the assembly of the A350 cockpit

THERE is a lot happening in Southeast Asia in the world of the internet of things (IoT), the new buzzword of today, but did you know that a lot of this internet “science” comes with French Connections?

It started with French company SigFox, the world’s leading provider of connectivity for IoT with a strategic link-up in the age of the digital economy. This is where Khazanah Nasional Bhd acquired a minority stake and this is the Malaysian connection to this “internet revolution” that will sweep through the region soon.

The amount Khazanah, the Malaysia’s strategic investment fund, invested in Sigfox remains unknown, but for the French company, it is a significant move by Khazanah as this investment allowed it to penetrate new markets.

It was clever of Khazanah altogether to invest in the French company since it tied the Malaysian strategic state investor in yet another IT based powerhouse, but this one is of particular importance for our future.

That is because Sigfox is involved in a business that has seen massive demand in the past few years — though it is new to Malaysians — and the increase in demand for IoT has helped the French entity to gain ground internationally.

Sigfox is already in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, and its immediate objective is to cover 60 nations with 2018 on the horizon.

What does Sigfox do?

I came to know more about this giant on a media trip to Paris, where a group of Malaysian journalists met with a host of IT-related companies including Sigfox.

One of the aims of the visit was to discover France as a “start-up nation”, a creative powerhouse and an innovation hub in the era of the digital economy.

Sigfox, founded in 2009, builds wireless networks that enable devices to connect and to talk to each other.  With its global LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) network, Sigfox has reinvented connectivity for the IoT.

But the main important element for Sigfox is that it drastically brought down cost and energy consumption required for securely connecting physical devices to the Cloud.

With its technology, 660 million people, mostly in Europe are now enjoying IoT. This covers 2.6 million km2 in 36 countries.

Its mission is to offer a consistent level of connectivity quality and service anywhere in the world. And it also has a humanitarian angle, where the company spends its expertise and money in Africa to help track endangered animals.

Sigfox executive vice president Operator Business Unit Rodolphe Baronnet-Frugès transmitted his excitement over the company’s achievements, explaining that the company is ready to jump into the Malaysian market following the deal with Khazanah.

Airbus the IoT cruncher

IoT is not only about traffic lights automatically adapting to changing traffic conditions, or air quality monitoring and smart waste disposal, and so on.

It is also used in manufacturing, as witnessed in Toulouse, where Airbus created its own IoT tech using a smartwatch connected to a smartphone and a component of the aircraft.

These IoT devices allowed engineers working on different segments involved in the process of building an aircraft to locate which wires are connected and which are not connected.

The multibillion-dollar European aircraft maker, which controls half the world’s commercial aeroplane market, is applying IoT in a wide range of processes, beginning with its assembly lines, for example.

IoT is essentially helping Airbus to not only improve on its products but also to reduce cost and improve production capability, said an expert.

The company has been using IoT for years. It started by using RFID (radio-frequency identification) to track parts (to locate where they are stored etc), but now it has moved a notch higher towards IoT devices which are aiding engineers to track tools in the factory, for example, to know where their key tools are located.

With IoT, these devices can tell engineers if the equipment they are using in the production line needs maintenance, or the tools can be telling them if the torque is correct for implementation and so on.

IoT is also helping Airbus with the tools its workers use in the manufacturing process, doing such things as driving-in thousands upon thousands of bolts and deciding which bolt to use in the various segments of an aircraft body.

With IoT wearables, data analytics and green tech as the current buzzwords in Malaysia, French-based IT companies are bound to play a bigger role in the country’s smart city vision.

And that is an interesting element for us here in Kuala Lumpur, as we are so not used to IoT, yet!

Kazi is the business editor of the Malay Mail