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Mister Beacon Episode #68

Beacons, Mobile Apps & Smart Cities

April 16, 2018

Connecthings is in the business of enabling public transport solutions for Smart Cities using a combination of Beacons, NFC and QR Code technologies. We talk to their CEO, Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, about how her company has achieved success in an area where few have survived.

For more interviews and articles from the author of Beacon Technologies see https://www.mister-beacon.com/...


  • Narration 0:07

    The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, scaling IoT with battery free Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 0:17

    So this this week, we're gonna be talking about smart cities. And we have, we have the CEO of connect things with us, Laetitia Gazel Anthoine. And this one is my, is my attempt at pronouncing your name correctly. Is that reasonably close? Perfect. Fantastic. So can you tell us what Kinect things does? I think you are a remarkable beacon company, because you're like, over 10 years old. And most speaking companies never get that far. I'm assuming you started what you do before beacons existed? Can you give us an overview of of what connects things?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 0:59

    Yes, we so you're right, I thought it connects 10 years ago, and with the vision that we can create interaction between people and the city, through reuse through their smartphone, and to push the best content to the end user invest in their environment. We use technologies, so not only beacons that we use today, but also charcoaled NFC, we also work on geofencing. So this is more a matter and vision about connected cities that can provide services in to people when they need it.

    Steve Statler 1:41

    So what was the original problem that you started solving? And how is that evolved to today? It's 2018, I imagined that it's changed a bit.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 1:51

    Yes, you're, you're perfectly right. We start with a very focused approach on transport, and mass transit, public transportation, where we help them to to provide better information to the commuter when they need it. And a very simple use case that we have deployed in the 10s of cities in Europe is to add at the best of QR code NFC, and also Wi Fi URL, a tiny area URL that will provide access to the pages page that is created for the need of the best of our ability look, then use your corresponding to the best. So this is where we provide all the next best time, for example, to the end user corresponding to their business.

    Steve Statler 3:01

    Where it stops, that sounds like a very practical application, people want to know when the so would you tell them when the bus is coming? And that sort of thing?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 3:09

    Exactly. So we are in the field of of using technology like NFC Carriker, but also aggregating web services, real time data from these transport operators, and managing the all the database about desktops or other other assets in the city that want to provide real time information when people are at this specific place.

    Steve Statler 3:35

    How many cities have deployed your services?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 3:38

    Oh, I would say this, this specific services and transport we are we are 50 cities that deploy them on the bus stop. So we have in your database, a lot of data about the desktop itself, but also all the real time information around the desktop. So it's not only next biases, it's also traffic perturbation. It's also weather forecasts. So it's a set of data that provide a context to these physical assets in the city. That can be as I mentioned, desktop or server when trends or monument or put them in the city that provide touristy touristic information. So this is the kind of places that we were in create interactivity.

    Steve Statler 4:23

    And I imagined that you're starting to focus on the states you obviously from your accent and your name. You started in France, and you are based in Paris, which has wonderful metro system if you're now in New York on Madison Avenue, which also has an amazing subway system. You know, what's, what is your geographic strategy? I'm assuming you've got a good base of cities in France and Europe.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 4:50

    Yeah, so in 2012, we opened new office in the in the rest of Europe, Spain, Portugal, it has The UK in 2015, we add the beacon technology to the set of technologies that we manage in connecting platform. And it allows us not only to provide mass transit information at the desktop, but also to open a beacon of network to any mobile application that want to benefit about information, this guy is waiting at the desktop, if you want to engage with him, then we can deliver you the moment information. 2015 was a time when we we, we add this technology. So this business model to the platform and all the network that we have we scrapple in NFC, then we add the CAN network.

    Steve Statler 5:49

    So that's opened up some business possibilities beyond just providing utility for the passengers, you're essentially looks like you have an ad platform that's come out of that.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 5:59

    We are not doing advertising at connect things. But we are providing permission to mobile application itself so they can create more engagement. And spectators don't just take an example in the gaming industry. People spend time in gaming, and 1/3 of this time is in the public transport or computing. So knowing that someone is just waiting at the bus stop is good information for this kind of application, news and so on. So this is where make money.

    Steve Statler 6:34

    What have you seen in terms of people's willingness to engage using those different hooks that you described using the QR code, the NFC and the beacons? I imagine it. It varies based on the geography that you're in. But it would be great to get your insights into what you've learned.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 6:53

    That's, that's very interesting question, too. We, even if QR code is not the most popular technology, because it's a little bit difficult to use, we are in cities in some cities in in Europe, good traction, because the service at the end is useful. Even if you need to scan a QR code that is not so simple. You have the services well explained. And the it's it's a it's really used as the best NFC tag is less use, even if the user experience is you know, were better. As we as iPhone is not on to the open to NFC tag reading. We have to wait for that to to find a success in NFC tag. But for me, the user experience is very interesting with NFC tags. So for me, even if these technologies will technology was very popular years ago. And now we we see that it's used for payment, but we don't speak a lot about NFC I'm sure that NFC an NFC tag reading as a big feature, need to have iPhone on board.

    Steve Statler 8:08

    It's a great user experience when the phone supports it. And I think people think, oh, yeah, iOS now supports NFC and it kind of does, but it sounds like it doesn't support it in a way that you need. Can you explain what's what's missing?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 8:26

    Yes, I always is open for payments. So NFC transaction, but with other NFC tag reading. So it's a little difference, it's where your phone is ringing, that that is not your phone, read by your reader. So it's really your phone reading a target that is, for example, stick on their desktop, or on a short display or this kind of thing. From here, you need to iOS reported, but just through mobile application that other integrated NFC tag reading feature. And and what would be great is Apple will open it to any so you don't need to have any mobile application. It's inside. So the tag reader is inside. And and I'm sure that when this will happen. The usage of NFC tag reading will be great. So we are ready for that because we have a lot of NFC tags in big cities in in in Europe.

    Steve Statler 9:35

    So the I guess the lesson is, really you can't assume that people have the city's app loaded. For this to really work. People need to be able to tap on an NFC tag, have it go to a URL go to a website and then maybe they'll download the app Are you are you finding a city is trying to get people To install an app, or are our cities kind of recognizing that this is, you know, too big a lift for them, it's just too hard.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 10:07

    Yes, it's not, it's not a thing that the tiki will not push people to download an application to read attack. So it's too complex. So really, if we want to, it will be a lot of effort for Lorenza to engage with people or to so too, I think that really that is the solution is to have it embedded in the device, Bo s. And that's it.

    Steve Statler 10:34

    So So you have over 100,000 beacons deployed, you're in over 60 cities, how many people are on your team? How many people work at connect things? So we afford your 14 people? So that's, that's, that's not a payroll, you're supporting a lot of families there. How are you generating the revenue these days? I think you kind of set the scene about where you started off over 10 years ago? How tell us a little bit more about the applications and the use cases that cities are wanting to deploy? And, you know, where's the money? Frankly? Where does Where do you see the revenue coming from?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 11:16

    So that's true that cities are not very easy to take a lot of time to sign a contract with the city. And but the good news is that once they have signed with us or st sign for years, so we have some contracts, the from five to 13 years, and we have a lease license per year. Pay and that is paid per city. Okay.

    Steve Statler 11:51

    That's a good business model. And so what are the other things that they're asking you to enable beyond public transport?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 11:59

    Yeah, so we have this, as I mentioned, NFC QR code, cool solution. And then and that we, we saw two, two, CTS and public transport. And we are the beacons that allow us to provide push features to mobile application. So not only is the restaurant application, so that pay subscription per year, but also other applications that want to use the moment also the replaces the knowledge that we know that someone is at this place in the city, so and we sell to them a subscription to take benefit of this information.

    Steve Statler 12:47

    Okay, so you're providing data to them about the citizens?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 12:53

    Sorry, yeah, in real time, that mean that when someone is arriving at the best part, we navigation that try to oscillation will get the information. The person it has is at this bus stop. Next Bus is in 10 minutes and the weather is is it's sunny today. So TV, this information, bike application, for example, we can engage with the user to tell oh, by the way, you can take us one minute walk to where bike back for you so they can do a new drive.

    Steve Statler 13:35

    Okay, so I know a lot of cities are starting to adopt climate action plans in this country and presumably in in France as well. Is that driving your business at all? I imagine that there's a mass or underprice pressure to reinvigorate public transport to get people out of cars, onto bikes onto buses. Is that helping it?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 14:05

    Yeah, I think that what here in the US and also in Europe. So we arrived in the US two years ago. And what is very interesting is that, yes, in Europe, you have more mass transit system than in the US. But here in the US, you have all what happened around the autonomous vehicles, car sharing solution, bike sharing, and so on. You have a lot of new services and new transportation modes that are coming very fast. And you have a big city like Los Angeles where the current is king. Yes. Where are they want to push them? Los Angeles as the new and the city of the new transportation bill, including kashering solution, carpooling and so on. So this is why the US are very interesting today it because with the booming of a new transportation mode, you, when you go back home, from your office to home, you usually take your car or you take the subway, you just add one transportation mother. And now, in fact, you could add several. So you can take it back, you can take your share account with a friend or with a colleague, you can take the mass transit system, so you have a lot of different merch, that you will make a choice 70 The time to you the cost and maybe to guess this person who is who you can go back home. So this is why I think what's happening here in the US is very, very interesting. And obviously, I think that the people are more concerned about pre made pollution and so on, and probably less interested in owning their own car.

    Steve Statler 16:08

    So what are the apps that are using your beacons, we talked about the fact that NFC and QR codes have the advantage of not needing beacons, but you've got over 100,000 Bluetooth beacons out there. Are they? Are they broadcasting Physical Web IDs? Or is it mainly iBeacons? What what are people using the beacons for?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 16:29

    So it depends. So in some cases, we have both, in some cases, just the iBeacon is is used. So it depends. Sometimes Physical Web is used to to push application store URL and Download to download the app of the posit, for example. 

    Steve Statler 16:54

    So is it mainly the mass transit apps that you're using the beacons to trigger these beacons, static beacons are actually on the bus.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 17:04

    Someone did this but I would say that the main use case we have aesthetic desktop on places physical places that are not moving. And we it's not only a mass transit system that use or application so we have several like Madrid transport application, Paris transport application, city of transport application of this mass transit system application, use your beacon network that is that not only them, we have a bike sharing application that use or a system also in the city of Paris. We have all in France, application like cab, like the name is Luca the to Uber like application that is very successful in France. So they use or we can at the best app to trigger the application when there is a car just close to the best start so they can do a new Drive. And we also have other applications that are more on the entertainment about what's around me what show the are playing tonight and this kind of application. So we have already already more than 3 million mobile application that ever we're SDK excited to interact with beacon in the cities that that we have built. And here in the US. We have also beacons deployed in Times Square in New York. Several you know, they're a part of Europe, and also in the city of Austin, Texas.

    Steve Statler 18:43

    Oh, okay. So it's New York and Austin so far under those beacons under the just the city on those or do you own them?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 18:54

    We on them.

    Steve Statler 18:56

    Okay. What, what beacon hardware do you use? Are you making your own or do you use other people's?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 19:04

    No, no, as I said, we we are not hardware manufacturer. We use several technology like NFC tag, secure QR code and beacons. And so we buy them to several. We have not just one provider. So we have some of us are some China, some in Europe. So defense of where we deliver the beacons.

    Steve Statler 19:30

    So I imagine America is obviously an important market to you. You've you've done very well in France. I think you alluded to this earlier, America and public transport aren't kind of the two things that go together. I think a it's a huge country and it just seems like it's a different culture. If you go on the bus in San Diego, it's not like where you go to rub shoulders with the movers and the shakers that the elite and On the bus there in the in the car, is that a? You know, is that a sole solvable problem from your perspective? Do you think how feasible is it to get American cities to do the kind of thing that French cities are more.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 20:18

    I think that I'm not sure that the city now was able to do such a big investment to, to do a very so a new underground or, or deploy a lot of energy in new mass transit system and so on. Even if trade new bus land is not very expensive. My My feeling is more that we, the city should upgrade your infrastructure to to, to welcome all the new transportation modes that operate today. So some will say some will die for sure. But there is a really a lot of, of there is a lot of some new services, and a lot of creativity. So we can share the car. And and I really think that this is a way things will evolve, even even if we are just at the beginning. And it's a little bit of a mess. But yeah, this is probably the more the less expensive way for CT to create something.

    Steve Statler 21:31

    So we've talked, we talked about France, we've talked about the US but you guys are in Brazil, you're you're in Spain, you're in Italy, how would you characterize those markets? Where are you seeing the traction in those markets.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 21:47

    In Brazil, we quit or the Bestop of the city of Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games with a track called NFC and beacons. So this is an interesting service. Not so easy Brazil in today in terms of business development, I would say that for sure. North America is a big market where there is a lot of move on the transportation. So it's a very great opportunity for many things to be in. And in Europe, I think that Europe is still very fragmented. So it's a it's countries, like India fought to enter. But if you take all the country, you mentioned Italy, Spain, Portugal, in France, for us, it's a one one market with more or less the same attraction. And then you ever the UK is, which is quite different. Yes. So it's interesting, this is a country where we just we started in 2012, and then we stop and then we restart now. Because there is there is a certain market for sure. It just the you have to pay a lot of energy to turn 30. So we are here, but with this.

    Steve Statler 23:06

    Very good. So you're not put off by the fact that we seem to be trying to sever all ties with Europe, you're gonna give us you're still going to do business with us. That's good. So what about indoors? So I think you have a very distinctive position with your focus on public transport. But I think you also are competing in markets, like shopping centers and airports, that sort of thing. What, what are the use cases that you are seeing, get traction in those venues? And how, what do you see the competitive landscape, I see a lot of people focusing on shopping centers for sure.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 23:51

    What the connection is doing is really to collect collect, moment in the city. So this guy is entering the subways, he's got he's waiting at the bus stop this, this guy is entering the stadium. This guy is in the study and, and this kind of information, then we collect it, and we repurpose it to the mobile application. So if you take for example, FC Barcelona is a customer of Kinect things we work with them. What interests them is to provide different experience when people are using the app during football match when they are the surgeon or when they are in the bar or in Japan or when they're at home. So we provide this kind of information so they can decide how, what experience they want to provide to their user because it's not the same if you are in the stadium or if you are at home. So this is what we do. So you can do that through using beacons that you deploy in the stadium, but it's not really where we are because indoor beacons, it's a lot for geolocation. and so on, we don't do that we will use a beacon or geofencing in the stadium to detect that someone is in the stadium at that time and to provide this this information. So the content of the application or the notification can be customized customize, during that information.

    Steve Statler 25:23

    So and what have you learned over the last decade in terms of the keys to getting cities to invest? It's you talked about the fact it's a long sales cycle, but then you have a long relationship, but no one likes spending money, what's the ROI that you point to that gets people from kind of interest to investment.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 25:47

    So if a guy says To be frank, it's a very odd market. So that's what I say, because it takes a lot of time. And it's not so easy to be scalable, when you rely just on selling to the city. So for me, when so anyway, to work on the city, or we city to partner with city is very tough. From from my point of view, it's very interesting. There's a lot to do to to make the life easier, or smarter, and so on. So I think that people that want to enter the city provide city services need to have a business model where they make money in another word. So this is like the outdoor advertising. So people the advertising that provide billboards, and bus shelter. So for the for the user, it's a you know, where's the best app, and you have a shelter for training? So it's, it's a service to the city, that in that hour, where they make money, it's not by selling shelter to the city. It's really thanks to the advertising. So for me to be successful. In working with city must, you must add something else to your business with it.

    Steve Statler 27:08

    Yes. So so it sounds like part of your revenue comes from from advertising and you and you share that revenue with the city is that am I reading?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 27:18

    So it's not advertising, it's just to, to provide a better user experience experience inside their application itself. So it's better for the user because you receive a notification at a good point of time. It's better for the for the mobile application, because then they create a real engagement with their user, or maybe you can sell something else. So this is a way connection is making money.

    Steve Statler 27:49

    Wonderful. Well, Leticia, thanks so much for spending time with us. I know that you've got bad weather over there in New York. So I appreciate that. You made it in and you're you've you've joined us. Appreciate your time.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 28:03

    Thank you. Thank you so much.

    Steve Statler 28:11

    So the idea is you're going to Mars, you can only take three songs, what would the three songs be that you would be happy to listen to?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 28:21

    So it's a good question. So I think that honestly, I will take with me. I love Okay. Ha. All right. I love what Kara and I think that my most favorite, open Ha is Linux defeatable.

    Steve Statler 28:44

    Okay. Mozart, Mozart. Yes.

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 28:48

    And there is one thing that I like I'd love for you to to take with me is one of Shiva. And that's a The title is you that know what is love? And that's it's a wonderful new new thing some other than one it will be also classical music given given D Yes. And that have really, yes. Religious you compose religious music. And the name of one of them is Lizzie Dominus. And it's vice versa men that like CASPA you know, it's also something that I'm sure that they will bring a mass.

    Steve Statler 29:43

    Okay, so you're in the spacecraft. You're gonna feel like there's a lot of people that with you because you've got this big chorus singing, right?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 29:50

    Yeah, exactly. It's a lot of it gives you a lot of power and yes and very inspiring song. Fantastic. Do you need to be inspired to to be to live in a mouse?

    Steve Statler 30:04

    Yes. And so you got one left. What's What's your third?

    Laetitia Gazel Anthoine 30:09

    That last one? Yes. So it would be most contemporary music it will be that one and bed says yes, everything there's a sangha get lucky. And I think I've got good music with me.

    Steve Statler 30:32

    Oh, wonderful. That's great, great choices. Thank you for indulging us in our little thing and it's always good to hear what people what's kind of gets them going. So that's good.