Inside the internet of things: Interview with Actility’s Olivier Hersent

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) - Actility's partnership with Foxconn helps the firm to penetrate the Taiwanese market.

“Three years ago, we started off with only three people. Today, around 350 companies have become members of alliance.” Olivier Hersent, founder and chief technology officer of the French internet of things (IoT) firm Actility, was referring to the LoRa Alliance — an open, non-profit community of IoT solution providers around the world.

The alliance describes its mission as standardising Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) that are being deployed around the world and enabling IoT, machine-to-machine (M2M), smart city and industrial applications.

As LoRaWan connectivity widely expands, alliance members strive to make sure different applications are connected into the same network infrastructure, on the basis that interoperability will lead to mobility — making IoT more attractive to customers and end users.

“The ecosystem is essential. Every new member is making the network stronger, adding to its capacity. This may be our biggest achievement yet — managing to align more than 350 companies. It is now the fastest growing alliance, faster than Bluetooth in its beginning.”

A day following Actility strategic partner Hon Hai Group’s press conference for the launch of Taiwan’s first IoT alliance, Hersent sat down with The China Post for an interview Wednesday morning, sharing some of Actility’s achievements so far, as well as his vision of growth for the firm.

Q: What are the long-term goals for Actility? How does the partnership with Foxconn, or better known as Hon Hai in Taiwan, play into your firm’s global strategy?

A: It’s hard to say in 10 years, but for the next two years, we expect to sustain the present growth rate — figures have tripled year-on-year. We expect to gain around US$20 million this year. Sales will be handled by our partners, so we focus on the technology and the software.

Foxconn is helping us a lot in Taiwan, as you can see from yesterday’s presentation. We expect to do the same in China, but it is difficult for us, or even Foxconn, to visit every Chinese company.

Our current strategy is to visit major device manufacturers and propose LoRa modules, LoRa base stations, the LoRa network as OEM for them to rebrand under their brands. So we have planned to use a lot of indirect solutions.

Q: How many partners do you currently have in Taiwan?

A: Around 15 companies. We provide networks — level three support — to firms cooperating with Foxconn and Finet. Their next goal is to lift the number to 50 by the end of the year.

Q: What is your view of rival technologies on the market? Are you concerned about Sigfox for example?

A: Sigfox is more of a competitor for our customers since Sigfox’s model is to be an operator. Our model is to supply technology to operators, so the positioning is a little bit different.

 I must say that we don’t hear that much about Sigfox, though I’m proud in a way because the two subjects in question are two French companies. But service providers, our customers, don’t buy from other service providers. For example, we do not see Asia Pacific Telecom or Chunghwa Telecom buying from other service providers.

So Sigfox is not really our competition. For us, what is much more important is to understand our customers and to understand our positioning within IoT.

IoT remains a huge task. It involves the whole Earth. I think we take a very modest approach where we simply supply the technology to bigger companies like Foxconn or Cisco. And we see a multiplication effect of many companies working together.

Our approach is very much like Android. I think Sigfox is taking a more Apple approach, which is good, but you need to raise an enormous amount of money to be successful. We think that would be risky and took a more collaborative approach.

The competition between Sigfox and LoRa exists in the public network space. But in my opinion, the main market would be private networks — hundreds of thousands of smart buildings. But Sigfox is not present in the latter market, their technology was not designed for this.