French IoT Startup Actility Raises $25M From Foxconn, Orange And More

Startup activity in France around Internet of Things continues to heat up. Following yesterday’s news that Samsung had taken an investment in Sigfox, today another IoT startup, Actility, announced that it has raised €22.5 million ($25 million), led by Ginko Ventures, the European investment arm of Foxconn. Others in the round include the carriers Orange (which has disclosed a €3 million stake), Swisscom and KPN, as well as Fonds Ecotechnologies managed by Bpifrance Investissement, Idinvest Partners, and Truffle Capital.

Founded in 2010 in Paris, Actility’s primary product is ThingPark, a platform that it has developed for IoT deployments of varying sizes, from single enterprises through to entire cities. ThingPark is based on the LoRa specification.

Actility is one of two big Foxconn investment stories today, representing a newer effort from the manufacturing giant to take strategic stakes in businesses that might someday become its biggest customers. It’s also reportedly working with Alibaba on a $500 million investment into India’s Snapdeal.

In the case of Actility, the company will also be taking its products into Asia.

“Foxconn Group is transforming to be a High technology solution provider, including hardware and software value creation. Through this strategic investment, we will expand our current collaboration with Actility to bring its LoRaWAN technology and IoT Platform and Solutions to Taiwan, China, and the rest of Asia,” said Fang Ming Lu, EVP of Foxconn, in a statement. “We will leverage our strong network to accelerate the development of the IoT ecosystem, as well as promote and integrate Actility’s IoT Solutions for Smart Cities implementation in APAC.”

LoRa is a type of low-power wide area network specification that is used for IoT deployments where different kinds of devices may need to “talk” to each other and with a central server. It works with devices built using low-power batteries as well as those optimised for long-range communications. As with Sigfox’s network, the idea here is that normal cellular networks today are not optimised for IoT deployments. ThingPark’s technology aims not just to work with low-power devices but also to provide connectivity at a low cost.

“Today’s wireless technologies are not optimized for IoT applications which require sensors to be low power and able to run on a battery with very little maintenance. ThingPark provides the technology to connect both long range and low power sensors over unlicensed ISM band spectrum, allowing low cost and fast roll-out of IoT networks for a wide range of IoT applications,” said Olivier Hersent, Founder, CEO and CTO, Actility, in a statement. “We are delighted to have secured the backing of such prominent communications industry leaders.”

The company says it will use the investment both to continue building out this product and for more business development deals both in France but also internationally.

The investment is a strategic one: Orange and the other carriers are hoping that they will have a large role to play longer term in the development of IoT services, not just as the network provider (competing and complementing with the likes of Sigfox, which is building its own IoT network) but also as the systems integrator behind enterprise and other large deployments.

“Actility’s connected objects platform is based on bringing together its open service approach with the power of networks. This clearly corresponds to the ambition of Orange Digital Ventures to invest in actors that are developing innovative digital services that contribute to change our customers experience and answer the changing desires and needs of our customers,” said Pierre Louette, Orange’s Deputy CEO who is also responsible for Orange Digital Ventures, in a statement.

This is an area where companies like Orange have already done a lot of work over the years — back when IoT had the slightly less cool name of “machine-to-machine” or M2M communications. More recently, it launched a 4G kit that startups could use to build IoT prototypes; it is also a partner in a larger IoT project in the French city of Angers.