For a keynote presentation at the IoT Crunch event organised by Business France at the Rembrandt Hotel in London on the 13th October the author of this article was asked to identify the key differences between the IoT market in the UK and France. It also naturally set me thinking of Charles Dickens, who himself compared France and the UK in A Tale of Two Cities. While it is yet to be seen whether IoT is a “far, far better thing that we do, than we have ever done” (to slightly adapt the quote), the exercise was certainly an interesting one, and worth recording for posterity in this article.
The first thing to note is that in terms of scale, IoT in France and the UK will be very similar. In 2020 the total IoT market is expected to be worth around EUR60 billion in 2020 in both countries, with a little over 400 million connected devices, of which around 10% will be cellular. Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) deployments will be slightly higher in the UK, largely courtesy of widespread deployment of connected street-lighting and the expected use of Sigfox by Arqiva for the UK smart meter roll out. This is despite the fact that France is the home to Sigfox, and in most ways the LPWA market in France is more mature than in the UK. In fact, the LPWA technology development in the UK and France offers some interesting contrasts. Both were home to early technology players in the field: the aforementioned Sigfox in the case of France, and Neul of the Weightless technology in the UK. These two took very different paths, with Sigfox ploughing ahead with licensing its technology to Sigfox Network Operators around the world, while Neul was sold to Huawei in 2014 and the technology has been adapted and integrated as part of the 3GPP evolution.
In both countries there has been notable public sector support, including the FIT IoT Lab in France and the Catapults in the UK, particularly the Digital Catapult and the Smart Cities Catapult. In both countries it is a priority for both telecoms regulators with ARCEP and Ofcom implementing programmes of work to ensure that the regulatory environment is supportive of the emerging needs of IoT.
There are also some other variations between the make-up of the IoT market associated with which types of companies are driving the IoT agenda. In France a lot of the development of IoT has been driven by the, more mature, manufacturing segment and large companies therein. In the UK, the focus has been much more ‘bottom-up’, associated with the ‘maker’ community and smaller-scale software development.
Turning to vertical sectors, while we note that the overall scale of IoT in the two countries is quite similar, there are some notable variations in terms of focus sectors. In part this is a simple reflection of regulation, e.g. with the UK pushing ahead with smart meter deployments, or the fact that neither country wishes to adopt the eCall standard in emergency crash notification. We can ascribe the greater UK adoption of ‘smart cities’ applications to the different approaches of public bodies. For instance, the prevalence of CCTV is the UK means that connected CCTV will be significantly larger. The UK has also been a rapid adopter of connected street-lighting.
Relative maturity of different IoT segments also a characteristic of the structure of the vertical sectors in the two countries. In France, for instance, the utilities and transportation sectors are highly concentrated, whereas in the UK those two are fragmented, with many suppliers. A fragmented environment tends to favour early testbed deployments as vendors seek to find differentiation in a competitive environment, e.g. with smart meter deployments or WiFi on trains. In the UK it is notable that the healthcare vertical has been relatively slow to materialise, due to the monolithic nature of the NHS. Of course this type of dynamic means that once the key stakeholder in a highly concentrated sector decides to adopt IoT in a meaningful way, the volumes will be very large. It is also notable that we are predicting higher adoption for connected cars in France, which reflects in part the greater significance of the automotive sector, as well as the legacy of consumer adoption of aftermarket connected car applications as exemplified by Coyote.
So the net result of the exercise was to show that there are many different paths to IoT, and it will be significantly shaped locally by particular socio-economic, business, regulatory and political factors. There is no single IoT, there are, and always will be, dozens that are all materially different.