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La Poste delivers internet of services

The French postal system is taking existing services and adding a digital dimension to support a new business model

La Poste has been perhaps one of the more unexpected participants at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas over the past two years. The French postal service is associated more with the delivery of parcels and letters via “snail mail” than the provision and support of innovative digital services.

That is set to change. At least, this is the vision of David de Amorim, internet of things (IoT) programme director for La Poste in France. De Amorim intends to exploit the IoT to launch a range of services based on low-power, wide area networks (LPWAN), such as Sigfox and LoRa, to create a more sustainable future for France’s postal service.

La Poste wants to move on from the internet of things and towards the internet of services, claims de Amorim.

But the company is not planning to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it will take existing services and add a digital dimension to create new business models that can support the future growth and development of La Poste, as well as that of its partners.

“It is a strategic issue for La Poste,” says de Amorim. “We are starting with services we already offer, but showing how we can do them better. The IoT is an opportunity to think differently about these processes, and reinvent them.”

The postal service and its subsidiary Docapost unveiled an IoT “Hub” at CES in 2015, with the objective of supporting IoT startups and services throughout France.

La Poste to test Domino effect

At CES 2016, La Poste returned with an IoT team comprising 16 French IoT startups, four industrial partners (including Legrand, Malakoff-Médéric, BNP Paribas Real Estate and Atol), and eight students. Also at the event, the company presented a new service called Domino, essentially a connected “button” designed to create new ways of sending post.

During the first half of 2016, La Poste plans to trial the Domino button with the Colissimo parcel service, and the idea behind it is that a customer places an item in their mailbox and then presses the button on the Domino device, which looks a bit like a USB stick.

An SMS message is then sent to an application on the smartphone of the local postman/woman, who will then pick up the item and take care of all aspects of delivery from packaging through to sending the parcel.

De Amorim says the pilot will be launched in multiple areas of France in 2016.

His team is currently in the process of selecting locations and developing the button, but has not yet fully decided on the scope of the pilot. It is likely that around 100 people will test the button over a period of around three months.

The service is also very particular to the French market. As de Amorim says, more than 70% of mailboxes are standardised in France and can be accessed by postal service employees.

Open to emerging technology options

The pilot will initially be based on the Sigfox LPWAN, although de Amorim says La Poste remains technology neutral and will test all types of wireless connectivity options, including LoRa when it is available. He notes the postal service already has a relationship with all of France’s mobile operators.

Stuart Lodge, Sigfox executive-vice president for global sales and partners, says the collaboration with La Poste “is another great example of the IoT’s huge potential for value creation through innovative new services”.

Sigfox is already available, or being rolled out, in 14 countries worldwide, but it is set to face more competition in the LPWAN field in future. 

The LoRa Alliance has now released the LoRaWAN R1.0 specification and is targeting international standardisation in LPWAN. US-based Ingenu is accelerating its strategy to build public networks internationally based on its proprietary random phase multiple access (RPMA) technology.

Read more about IoT in Europe

Meanwhile, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is also working on the narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) standard, which is expected to be completed in 2016 and is likely to be embraced by the traditional mobile operator community.

De Amorim says La Poste will test all technologies, noting that LPWAN systems are very interesting for connected “things” and universal services, as they will help the postal service to establish new business models.

Developing applications for net-connected devices

The company is starting with Domino because, de Amorim says, it’s a simple service. The next step will be to test IoT services with partners, and La Poste has already developed more than 20 use cases.

As an example, de Amorim describes one use case under development with BNP Paribas Real Estate, in home security. The idea is to develop a connected lock that is combined with a videophone, enabling residents to be able to open doors remotely once they have verified the identity of the person who requires entry.

Other use cases are connected with health control services, such as combining weight systems with health insurance, or monitoring the activities of older people (and calling families or health services if something appears to be wrong).

“This is what we want to do, show concrete services,” says de Amorim, noting that payment methods for such services are also under development. For example, people could pay as they use a service, or buy a package of services.

“We are at the start of this,” de Amorim says, “we want to learn and develop the usage with our customers.”

He adds that the IoT is still an abstract idea for many consumers. He thinks the move towards an internet of services will make the whole area more tangible, as users will then be able to see and experience what is actually possible when different “things” or services are connected to enhance different aspects of their lives. 

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)