Made in France, the return: The €3.4bn industry revamp pitting technology against technolgy

The French government is bringing back its 'made in France' plan to kickstart local production. It's an initiative that could have unintended consequences for the French tech industry.

In 2013, France's then minister for the economy, productivity and digital technology, Arnaud Montebourg, issued a call for French citizens to buy French products in order to bring jobs back to the country and rejuvenate local industry.

The move provoked an interesting response at the time from a young French journalist, who set himself what seemed on the surface to be a relatively easy task: to become 100 percent 'made in France' - buying only locally made goods and eating only French-grown foods.

After 10 months, Benjamin Carle was rated 96.9 percent 'made in France'. However, the project cost him time, money and a lot of his valued possessions - including his smartphone, TV, refrigerator, and even his preferred music.

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While Carle's was an entertaining experiment, it served to illustrated the whole 'made in France' movement, part of a much wider initiative labelled Nouvelle France Industrielle (new industrial France) that sought to help the country reinvent itself and become a stronger economic and industrial power for the future.

Under the initiative, France's president François Hollande unveiled a 10-year plan aimed at supporting new developments and opportunities in 34 growth sectors, including several telecoms and technology-related areas, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) or connected devices.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Montebourg is no longer part of Hollande's cabinet, having been replaced last year by former investment banker Emmanuel Macron as minister for the economy. In fact, Montebourg went back to school to study business, with plans to set up his own company. His Twitter feed shows that he continues to pursue his dream of 'made in France'.

Macron in turn has not let the grass grow under his feet: he swiftly put together the 'loi Macron' (Macron Law), a bill designed to modernise France's economy, peel away red tape and speed up growth in what is still a challenging market environment. That bill has only recently been signed into law by prime minister Manuel Valls.

Macron has also taken over control of Nouvelle France Industrielle, now relaunched as 'Nouvelle France Industrielle, phase 2' in a somewhat reduced and simplified form. Central to this second phase is the project Industrie du Futur (Industry of the future) together with nine new 'priority markets' and an investment budget of €3.4bn.

Importantly, Industrie du Futur retains a focus on IoT as part of the remit to transform industry through digitisation and the application of smart technologies. It consists of five pillars, including the development of technologies in the areas of additive manufacturing (the industrial version of 3D printing), IoT, and augmented reality - areas where France believes it can become a European or world leader in the next three to five years. With total funding of €730m, a first call for projects will be announced in September 2015 and a new technology platform will be launched in January 2016.

Interestingly, the objective of one of the five pillars is to strengthen France's collaboration with European and international initiatives, with a particular focus on the European Commission's Horizon 2020 project and the initiation of a partnership with the German platform Industrie 4.0.

Horizon 2020 is a huge programme with nearly €80bn of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020), in addition to the private investment that this money is expected to attract. What's more, the programme has provided €700m towards funding for 5G research in Europe, supporting the flagship European Union initiative 5G-PPP.

Meanwhile Industrie 4.0 represents Germany's own bid to be at the forefront of what it describes as the fourth industrial revolution. Industrie 4.0 is its vision for the future of manufacturing, with a focus on IoT, smart factories, and much more. Companies such as Deutsche Telekom, SAP, and Siemens are just some of the German companies investing in the initiative, and even China-based Huawei has got involved.

The overarching idea behind both Industrie 4.0 and Industrie du Futur is to bring what is already happening in the consumer world to the industrial and business world. Products will become services and wireless sensors will be attached to every access of the production chain. Every nut and bolt will have an IP address - or at least, that is the vision of what industry will eventually look like.

France and Germany both recognise the need for collaboration to ensure that Europe is able to take a lead here. At the same time, each country will also want to take ownership of future-oriented industries in order to promote future growth at home.

The stakes are high for France in particular, which has not enjoyed the same economic success as Germany in recent years. As things stand, it has set its focus on the nine priority markets under phase two of Nouvelle France Industrielle, including smart cities, the data economy, smart devices, and the widespread use and availability of data under 'digital confidence'.

Some interesting developments are already coming out of L'Hexagone, which is showing signs of becoming a hotbed for IoT starups. Indeed, the country has produced at least one company than has gained global recognition as an IoT specialist: Sigfox has developed a low-energy, low-cost wireless networks and in February raised $115m from investors including Telefonica, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, France's Air Liquide and GDF Suez, Eutelsat, and US hedge fund Elliott Management.

In June, Actility - which has developed the ThinkPark low power wide area (LPWA) radio network built on the LoRaWAN standard that was developed by the LoRa (Long Range) Alliance - raised $25m in fresh funding from investors including telcos Orange, KPN, and Swisscom.

France is not only producing innovative IoT specialists, it is also fostering rivals in the same field: LoRa technology endorsed by Actility is regarded as a competitive option to Sigfox networks, primarily because Sigfox focuses on an ultra-narrow-band implementation, while LoRa has opted for a wideband CDMA approach. That could certainly spark some interesting new developments ahead.

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