We met Christophe Fourtet, co-founder and CTO of Sigfox, to discuss the short-term challenges and opportunities of IoT technology. Christophe shared with us his perspective on multiple topics such as IoT security, IoT combined with virtual technology, smart cities and sustainability.
IoT Business News: Why has the importance of security over IoT hacking increased over the past 12 months?
Christophe Fourtet: Security has been a big factor in the IoT landscape since the very first devices appeared on the market. However, with the growth in adoption of IoT devices, we now have more entry points for potential attackers. It is no longer just mobiles or PCs that are vulnerable, but light bulbs, stoves, video cameras, etc. “Innocent” are vectors of attack.
You may remember the light bulbs that were the entry point for the attacks. They used Wi-Fi which served as a relay or bridge for attacks. The market then learned that access to devices should be kept to a minimum.
There are bound to be threats that we cannot even imagine yet, but today most of them are relatively well known. The priority is to fully understand what a device does. Some institutions of the European Organization for Standardization, for example ETSI, have specific security forums, which explore limiting the possibility of entry.
Manufacturers focused on security mechanisms and techniques, and these involved, for example, complex algorithms. These are of limited use if there is an obvious backdoor in the device. Protecting IoT devices is a matter of common sense and simple rules.
IoT Business News: What are the economic benefits of combining IoT with virtual and augmented reality technologies?
Christophe Fourtet: There are two distinct areas in IoT, one for mass market and industrial IoT, in which Sigfox is involved. In this sector, IoT is synonymous with statistics, manipulation and analysis of data. In a landscape of machines, systems and processes, users can extract very simple data and, through data manipulation, obtain metadata that provides a new virtual landscape of your situation.
By using multiple low-throughput devices, statistics are used to create virtual landscapes. This is important because this is where the income will be generated. The ROI from the master data exists, but it is limited compared to what can be built from the metadata. We also collect metadata in our network to create a kind of augmented virtual reality. The Sigfox network could be thought of as a huge browser radio sensor. This is why we use cognitive radio because each base station detects and measures the spectrum. It’s a kind of radar, combining data from sensors to create a radio landscape.
For example, in our premises in Toulouse, we can detect new buildings, which are being built near us. By looking at the Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) statistics over the weeks, we can see the changes captured by low-throughput industrial IoT devices.
I can imagine tech giants like Amazon will build a lot of metadata, combined to create a form of virtual reality. The number of devices is a key success factor. With many more devices than conventional phones and connectivity devices in the future, it will be possible to collect more statistics.
IoT Business News: How has the use of IoT by smart cities become a key ingredient to improve sustainability and quality of life? Can you provide examples?
Christophe Fourtet: The start was slow, as market conditions are unique for each city. With the deployment of smart cities, energy consumption and living conditions can be dramatically improved. However, some cities do not know where to start.
We have a client who âconnectsâ streetlights to find out about the state of the street. While this use case is technically simple, it is complex from a use case perspective. The city wants to know the state of the LED, the consumption, and the remote control. The device also builds a profile of the street. For example, in times of heavy foot traffic, the light intensity may be increased. The aim is to make people feel safer on the streets. The city can ensure that at 4 a.m. the lights come on if people are detected. The intensity of the light can be changed according to the number of cars and people detected. Of course, data privacy is respected at all times, so no camera captures detailed images of people and cars, and is rather based on movement.
Counting is part of smart cities. While meters were deployed many years ago, they will be renewed, improved and simplified over the next few years to bring more benefits. Many applications are currently undertaking PoCs. For example, sensors in the walls identify the energy flow, the temperature gradient, and the data can be used to improve heating systems and create smart buildings. With 1,000 sensors in building walls at $ 2 per sensor, building owners construct building maps, to help improve living and working conditions in the building. As we get more data about buildings, we can make them more environmentally friendly.
Specific smart city use cases, including air quality monitoring in the Fira de Barcelona, ââwhich installed Cellnex temperature and humidity sensors to improve visitor comfort. Also, the eco-startup GreenCityZen connected 5,000 drains (entry points into the river network) to the Marseille sewerage network.
The IoT also accumulates data and statistics through simple devices, which provide the essential metadata for improvements. Whereas in antiquity information about buildings was transmitted orally, we lose this type of experience. Instead, we are running out of time and have to rely on technology to share our knowledge. This in-depth understanding of buildings can be delivered through the IoT.
IoT Business News: Are there any new sustainability and renewable energy measures that you can tell us about that have been fully realized through IoT?
Christophe Fourtet: The IoT is used for the measurement and management of CO2. For example, some companies are trying to re-store CO2 in the ground and can only do so with IoT. Harvested from industrial processes, it is transformed into liquid CO2. Once in this form, it is important to understand through IoT intelligence, where to put it, for example, potentially in the ground where oil existed before to create more of it.
For sustainability, there are several simpler applications, such as controlling renewable energies such as solar panels. Currently, most panels are not connected, but with radio sensors, energy companies are able to monitor panels to increase efficiency, identify when they are dirty, if they are functioning well and more. The IoT measures sustainable energy sources, even if they are scattered in different places. Large-scale introduction of IoT is possible, but only after a full analysis of existing devices, requirements, and goals is completed.
IoT Business News: Why has Sigfox switched from an IoT network operator to an IoT cloud provider and what is the rationale for this change?
Christophe Fourtet: We are not just an IoT network operator or an IoT cloud provider. Sigfox is an IoT communication service provider offering a very low cost, ultra low power consumption solution for asset tracking and monitoring. We are supported by an entire ecosystem, our Sigfox operators, device manufacturers, channel partners and solution providers to deliver our solution.
Sigfox created network technology, while Sigfox network operators build and operate the network, while maintaining and selling connectivity to customers. As Sigfox Corporate, we maintain and improve the technical aspects of the network and respond to requests from our operators. Our network is complex and it will evolve further to deliver new properties, based on the data we collect.
IoT Business News: Can you give us a full update on Sigfox’s achievements and figures: workforce, number of connected objects?
Christophe Fourtet: Sigfox is present in 75 countries, with 19.1 million connected devices using our network to deliver 76.5 million messages per day. We have 275 employees worldwide (2,000 including Sigfox operators).