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The Internet of Things is forging ahead!

Michaël Trabbia, CEO Orange Belgium
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Michaël Trabbia

We rarely measure the speed at which the digital revolution is transforming our daily lives. Being connected all the time, wherever we are, finding information and knowledge in a click, sharing everything with everyone have become the norm. And we demand that it all happens instantaneously. In just a few short years, the smartphone has become ‘the remote control of our life’, to the point where we consult it over 150 times a day!

Companies and administrations are no exception. Workstations are becoming mobile, relations with customers and citizens are digitalised, processes are automated, data are proving valuable.

And another major trend is emerging. The Internet as we know it was designed by humans for humans: web pages, email, mobile apps, etc. Now, without us really being aware of it, the Internet of humans is being overtaken by the Internet of Things, IoT. In 2017, for the first time the number of connected things (8.4 billion) exceeded the number of people on Earth.

Connecting things is not in itself a new idea. The 2000s saw a boom in the precursor of the IoT: Machine-to-Machine (M2M). This involved connecting mobile payment terminals, locating fleets of vehicles or more generally monitoring assets such as shipments on lorries, for example. The challenge was to connect a large number of SIM cards with relatively low data consumption but for critical purposes. With a dedicated approach, extraordinary operating reliability and a methodology based on partnerships with its major customers, Orange Belgium (then known as Mobistar) was a pioneer in Europe in this field and has become an undisputed leader in Belgium and on the international scene. Incidentally, five M2M SIM cards out of six are used outside Belgium.  

With the launch of 4G, the 2010s were marked by the opening of new market segments such as High Definition camera surveillance or the possibility of offering Wi-Fi in means of transport. This led to the creation of ‘super SIM cards’, which use 200 to 600 GB per month, or even more! At this point, Machine-to-Machine was renamed the Internet of Things, covering a far wide range of potential applications. All these millions of devices that we use in our daily lives are now likely to be connected and to collect data automatically, as well as being activated from a distance manually or automatically. Just think of the potential of the Internet of Things for a capital city like Brussels and its ‘Digital Brussels’ plan and more generally for Smart Cities, with their issues relating to mobility and  energy consumption, e-health to monitor medical parameters in real time, assistance to help vulnerable people remain autonomous and in their own homes for longer, industry and agriculture to monitor the working of a piece of equipment, the level in a tank, humidity or sunlight, etc.

These new needs are creating new challenges for mobile operators. Battery life and hence energy consumption are becoming critical, as is coverage, including in the most remote places or in cellars, and of course, the cost price, which has to be compatible with very large volumes.

Orange Belgium played a pioneering role once again by rolling out especially adapted IoT connectivity (NB-IoT and LTE-M) in full at the end of 2017. In the longer term, as of 2020 5G will provide an increasingly personalisable response enabling true connectivity ‘à la carte’ depending on each type of need: focusing power entirely on coverage for an anti-theft function, or favouring energy consumption above all for parking sensors, for instance.

Let us not forget that a successful IoT project requires an end-to-end approach: selection of the things, connectivity, solution for the management of the set of things and their data (collection, storage, analysis) and of course, security.

What are we waiting for?