France Innovation

All eyes on 5G in this year's biggest VivaTech summit

Paris is playing host to VivaTech, the three-day summit that sees industry and world leaders meet to look at innovation in the tech field, with this year’s focus on rolling out the 5G network.

France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the opening of Vivatech in Paris, May 16 2019
France's President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the opening of Vivatech in Paris, May 16 2019 REUTERS / Charles Platiau

The three-day summit opened on Thursday with show floors and stages bigger than its first year in 2016.

The tech summit has a reputation of diversity, inclusivity and innovation, with 125 countries represented and over 100,000 people attending.

It’s regarded as the top rendezvous for global technology firms and startups from across the world as many entrepreneurs share innovative ideas that could prove useful in other regions or countries.

In total, some 9,000 startups and 1,900 investors are expected to circulate the halls of the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre before wraps up on Saturday.

AfricaTech zone

More than 100 startups from Africa are attending with a focus on Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Cameroon, Mauritius and Rwanda.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is expected to attend Friday’s session along with Senegal’s President Macky Sall to discuss the continent’s progress in digital economy.

But the real draw is for younger entrepreneurs and innovators who have a chance at the summit to sell their products to potential investors.

Serge Boupda, an entrepreneur from Cameroon, pitched to a jury of three venture capital executives on Thursday.

He was hoping for interest in his Diool payments, a means of transferring money among West African nations.

He stressed the need for such technology in an area that is increasingly faced with jihadist threats, in particular Mali and Burkina Faso.

"Of course it's something that's going to affect my returns, but what sort of problems does terrorism represent? People are poor, and governments are struggling to be effective," said the Cameroonian creator.

African entrepreneurs often struggle to find the capital to finance their projects locally, making fairs like Vivatech a great opportunity to connect with potential investors.

Mario Sander, the World Bank representative in Europe, told Vivatech attendees that his agency is funnelling millions of dollars into African ventures and organising mentoring programmes for burgeoning entrepreneurs with tech giants such as Google.

5G network

The rolling out of the 5G network has been at the top of this summit’s agenda, with France’s President Emmanuel Macron opening the event with a warning against the growing battle over 5G between China and the US: "When it comes to 5G, we are being very careful over the access to the technologies in this network in order to preserve our national security." 

He added that it was not appropriate for a war to break out over technology or commerce “regardless of the country”.

Washington this week announced that the Chinese company Huawei, a major investor in 5G research, would be blacklisted in an effort to protect US companies.

The next generation 5G networks will power revolutionary new technologies such as artificial intelligence, driverless car and automated gadgets.

A presentation from Huawei's Ken Hu and Börje Ekholm from Ericsson was expected to draw big crowds, with Europe's 5G plans and concerns over security issues and spying accusations against the Chinese manufacturer on the agenda. 

France represents

Among other kiosks displaying their fares is a series from various French regions.

France’s national science and research organisation, CNRS, has brought along its partners to demonstrate their latest innovations, such as the AntBot from robotics experts in Marseille.

The AntBot is being touted as a robot which can navigate the polarisation of light from the sun, imitating insects in the desert.

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