Interview with Christophe Fourtet, co-founder of Sigfox

Christophe Fourtet, SigfoxWe have met with Christophe Fourtet, co-founder and technical director of Sigfox, to discuss short-term challenges and opportunities for IoT technology. Christophe shared with us his views on multiple subjects like IoT security, IoT combined with virtual tech, smart cities and sustainability.

IoT Business News: Why has the importance of security grown in relation to IoT hacking over the last 12 months?

Christophe Fourtet: Security has been an important 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. No longer are only mobiles or PCs vulnerable, but “innocent” light bulbs, cookers, video cameras and more, are attack vectors.

You may remember light bulbs that were the point of entry for attacks. They were using Wi-Fi which served as a relay or bridge for attacks. The market learnt then that access to devices needs to be kept to a strict minimum.

There are bound to be threats that we can’t even imagine yet, but today most of them are relatively well known. The priority is to fully understand what a device is doing. Some institutions in the European standards organization, ETSI for example, have specific forums about security, which explore limiting the possibility of entry.

Manufacturers used to focus on security mechanisms and techniques, and these involved, for example, complex algorithms. These are of limited use if there is an obvious backdoor into the device. Protecting IoT devices is about 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 realms in IoT, one for the mass market and the industrial IoT, which Sigfox is involved with. In this sector, IoT equals statistics and data- manipulation and crunching. Against a landscape of machines, systems and processes users can extract very simple data, and via data manipulation, obtain metadata which provides a new virtual landscape of your situation.

By using multiple low data rate devices, statistics are used to build virtual landscapes. This is important as this is where revenue will be generated. ROI from basic data exists, but it is limited compared to what can be built through metadata. We are gathering metadata in our network too to build a kind of virtual, augmented reality. The Sigfox network could be regarded as a huge browser radio sensor. That’s why we use cognitive radio as each base station is sensing and measuring the spectrum. It’s a kind of radar, combining sensor data to create a radio landscape.

For example, in our premises in Toulouse, we can detect new buildings, which are being constructed near us. When looking at statistics from the Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) over the weeks, we can see the changes captured by low throughput industrial IoT devices.

I can imagine that technology giants like Amazon will build a lot of metadata, combined to create a form of virtual reality. A key driver for success is the number of devices. With many more devices than phones and classic connectivity devices in the future, there will be an opportunity to collect more statistics.

IoT Business News: How has smart cities’ use of IoT become a key ingredient in improving sustainability and quality of living? Can you provide any examples?

Christophe Fourtet: There has been a slow start as market conditions are unique for each city. With the rollout of smart cities, energy consumption and living conditions can be drastically improved. However, some cities don’t know where to start.

We have a customer “connecting” streetlights which are learning about the status of the street. Although this use case is simple from a technical standpoint, it is complex from a use case point of view. The city wants to know the state of the LED, consumption, and remote control. The device is also building a profile of the street. For example, at times of high foot traffic, intensity of the light can be heightened. The goal is to make people feel safer in the street. The city can ensure that at 4 am, lights switch on if people are detected. The intensity of the light can be changed depending on the number of cars and people detected. Of course, at all times data privacy is respected, so no cameras capture detailed images of the people and cars, and are rather based on motion.

Metering is part of smart cities. While meters were rolled out many years ago, they will be renewed, improved and simplified over the next few years to bring more benefits. Many applications are undertaking PoCs at the moment. For instance, sensors in the walls identify energy flow, temperature gradient, and 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 build a cartography of the building, to help improve living and working conditions in the building. As we gain more data from buildings, we can make them more environmentally friendly.

Specific smart city use cases including air quality monitoring in the Fira de Barcelona, which installed Cellnex temperature and humidity sensors to improve visitor comfort. Also, Eco-startup GreenCityZen connected 5,000 drains (entry points into the river network) on the Marseille sewerage network.

IoT is also accumulating data and statistics via simple devices, which provide the metadata essential for improvements. While in ancient times information about buildings was passed on orally, we are losing this type of experience. Instead, we are short of time and need to rely on technology to share knowledge. This in-depth understanding of buildings can be delivered via IoT.

IoT Business News: Are there any new sustainability and renewable energy measures you can tell us about that have come about entirely thanks to IoT?

Christophe Fourtet: IoT is being used for CO2 measurement and management. For instance, some companies are trying to restock CO2 in the soil/ground and can only do this with IoT. Gathered from industrial processes, it’s turned into liquid CO2. Once in this form, it is important to understand through IoT intelligence, where to put it, for example, potentially in soil where oil previously existed to create more.

For sustainability, there are several simpler applications, like controlling renewable energy such as solar panels. Currently, most panels are not connected, but with radio sensors, energy firms are able to monitor the panels to increase efficiency, identify when they are dirty, whether they are working well and more. IoT measures sustainable energy sources, even if they are scattered across different locations. Introducing IoT on a massive scale is possible, but only once a full analysis of existing devices, requirements and goals is completed.

IoT Business News: Why has Sigfox shifted from an IoT network operator to an IoT cloud provider and what is the rationale behind that move?

Christophe Fourtet: We are not just an IoT network operator or IoT cloud provider. Sigfox is an IoT communication service provider of an ultra-low cost, ultra-low power solution for asset tracking and monitoring. We are supported by an entire ecosystem, our Sigfox Operators, device makers, channel partners and solution providers to deliver our solution.

Sigfox created the network technology, while the Sigfox network operators build and operate the network, while maintaining and selling the connectivity to clients. As Sigfox Corporate, we maintain and improve 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: staff, number of connected devices?

Christophe Fourtet: Sigfox has a presence 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).

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