In April 2016, the European Commission announced plans to invest $136 billion to create what they call the EU Digital Single Market, by getting EU members to pool resources to invest in the Internet of Things, along with other technologies such as 5G, cloud storage infrastructure, and quantum computing. To successfully compete globally in IoT, Europe will need to get this digital single market to work, and establish interoperability standards overall.
The potential for Europe is large, particularly in industrial applications. According to a report from A.T. Kearney earlier this year, Europe has 230,000 factories and 2.6 million industrial machines. IIoT upgrading of these factories could deliver significant productivity gains in a cost-efficient way.
Below, we look at France, Germany, and the Nordic countries to see how IoT is progressing in specific areas of the continent.
French companies have recently been producing a surprisingly large number of IoT-connected devices. At January 2016’s CES in Las Vegas, 200 French companies exhibited, making it the third most represented country. What’s more, two thirds of those companies were startups. It was particularly strongly represented in smart home devices.
Like other countries with stronger centralized planning traditions than the US, France has funded an IoT center in Angers, called Cité de l’Objet Connecté, and also has an aggressive and well-founded business marketing effort, Business France. Fortunately, along with these more traditional government efforts, France has recently decreased barriers to market entry for startups and these efforts seem to be paying off. Without innovative startups and an active M&A market, technology investment and development will inevitably lag.
Not surprisingly, given its urban reputation, France is also strong in smart cities. Smart cities need consistent and omnipresent network access. After testing in Grenoble, the French telecommunications company Orange has announced that it will be deploying the low-power wide-area wireless network (LPWAN) technology LoRa across French cities. LoRa competes with LTE-M and Sigfox (itself a French company).
France will be taking advantage of its smart cities experience to develop Chandigarh, Nagpur, and Puducherry, as part of India’s large effort to develop smart cities throughout that country.
Finally, the Tour de France has gone IoT, by hiring Dimension Data and IBM to turn every bike in the race into a GPS-enabled data-collection point. This will provide fans with an immense amount of real-time data to view, analyze, and argue about.
Germany is Europe’s industrial center, and the driving force behind Industry 4.0 (named for what they see as the fourth industrial revolution), its manufacturing-focused version of the industrial IoT. This is an effort of both the German government and industry, and is aimed at continuing Germany’s industrial predominance by replacing hierarchical structures with decentralized, self-organizing networks. Germany knows that sticking with its traditional strengths will inevitably lead to obsolescence.
Germany has recently moved to create machine-to-machine (M2M) protocols separately from global standards organizations. It hopes to maintain a balance between being interoperable with global IoT efforts while ensuring that German interests are represented.
And the focus on manufacturing means that, according to a Boston Consulting Group survey, 4o percent of German executives say they plan manufacturing IoT implementations, while that number is still only 25 percent in the US.
As the global economy grows, older industrial powers like Germany and the US know they need to focus on automated technologies and the IoT to maintain competitiveness. Germany is trying a more centralized approach than the US, and is putting a higher percentage of its resources specifically into manufacturing.
The European Commission ranks Denmark, Sweden, and Finland as 1, 2, and 4 among the EU’s “most digital nations”. Norway is not an EU country, so did not get ranked, but is equally wired. The Nordics are leaders in M2M connectivity, and are anticipated to have 2.6 Connected Things per person by 2017.
Finland’s last big boom was during the age of Nokia, but it has yet to recover fully from its own financial crisis in the mid-1990s. In contrast to France and LoRa, above, Connected Finland will be working with Sigfox to roll out its LPWAN network across Finland, with the plan to cover 85 percent of the country by spring 2017. Companies like BaseN, a highly scalable monitoring and control platform for M2M and IoT, and CyberLighting, a smart city network company, are establishing Finland as an IoT leader.
Absolut has launched a global IoT demonstration unit in Stockholm, to show that cocktail consumption can also gain value from connectivity. Thingsquare is a promising startup that promises to allow a consumer to connect products with a smartphone wirelessly, quite a different approach than developing LPWAN networks for connectivity. Of course, Sweden’s Ericsson, which provides connectivity worldwide, is investing heavily in IoT.
Europe is active in various aspects of IoT, and while the US and China are the big players, expect to see a lot of transferrable ideas from this market in the near future.