The new era of connectivity

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Oct 7 2013, 18:15pm hrs
It is hard to miss the new level of smartness and alertness in Delhi Traffic Police personnel these days. In contrast to the earlier image of a bored cop sitting on his motor bike and issuing tickets to the traffic violators from his dusty, worn-out challan book, traffic police personnel are armed with advanced hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) devices nowadays and issuing e-challans with a never-seen-before ferocity. Their device is connected to the central database of violators and makes available online details of traffic violators. The e-challan system started in August this year and eager cops on patrol have already prosecuted more than a lakh traffic violators. Advanced PDAs are also being used by traffic cops in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

A niche technology called machine-to-machine, or M2M, is behind the traffic cops zeal to curb violations and implement stricter traffic discipline. Machine-to-machine is when devices and machines communicate with each other without the involvement of humans. M2M requires sensors, the wireless networks and a computer connected to the internet. More on its technicalities later, first a look at few more real-life instances as to how this technology is coming mainstream in India.

In the southern metropolis of Chennai, property tax collectors from the citys 25 municipal wards do not carry plethora of documents anymore. Instead, they are equipped with a BlackBerry device and small Bluetooth printer to capture real-time information on outstanding arrears customer wise. The tax collectors accept payment in cash as well as by cheque/demand draft. The details are captured simultaneously resulting in recording of the payment history real time and generation of payment receipt instantaneously.

The solution, developed by Bharti Airtel, expedites the process of collection; data is uploaded to the main server immediately and the tax payers get to know details of their arrears instantaneously. This has also helped bring down the queues at the payment counters at the zonal offices. It has helped Chennai Corporation with an increased and effective productivity and has worked towards customer satisfaction.

In Bhubaneswar, Orissa State Road Transport Corporation (OSRTC) was perturbed by the high fuel costs incurred by its transport fleet. It was noticed that the fuel consumption in OSRTC was high in comparison to the All India standard. The management decided to use satellite-based vehicle tracking system which will capture interalia the fuel consumption.

Bharti Airtel has developed and deployed a satellite-based vehicle tracking system and fuel monitoring system for OSRTC. This M2M system allows OSRTC to track required data while the bus is on the move or stationary. The fuel tank of these buses has been installed with unique sensors which will allow OSRTC to keep a track on fuel consumption and control pilferage. It captures the coordinates of the bus from the satellite and routes the information to the control centre via Bharti Airtels wireless network. The solution is a powerful tool and has already enforced streamlined operations at OSRTC. The smart fuel monitoring system has helped OSRTC to control cost of operations by keeping a track on fuel consumption. The Corporation is now running 325 vehicles per day. As per a conservative estimate, if five litres of fuel is saved from one vehicle, the Corporation will gain R21.45 lakh per month.

Last week, Tata Power Delhi Distribution sought a solution that would enhance the reliability and efficiency of energy distribution across the Northern and North western part of Delhi. It roped in IBM to conceptualise, design and deliver an advanced smart grid solution that will collect and analyse real-time information from smart meters and data from the communication and management infrastructure. This will enable Tata Power Delhi Distribution to better manage energy output and further reduce outages. Additionally, the solution would also help empower its over 1.3 million electric consumers to manage their own energy usage.

An advanced infrastructure-based demand response is a complex exercise and has not been done in India before, and this engagement is the first step in creating an end-to-end intelligent utility system to manage generation short fall by peak shaving of actual load. Peak shaving is a technique that is used to reduce electrical power consumption during periods of maximum demand on the power utility and enable consumer to redistribute loads to different period of the day, thus saving substantial amounts of money due to peaking charges.

Arun Kundu, managing director of Professional Services, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Asia Pacific, says, M2M is fueling innovation in the enterprise because businesses are realising that smart machines and smart applications can take information from a system or an environment to create new revenue streams, control costs, and improve products and services. In fact, the opportunities to use M2M to bolster the performance of a business are more attractive and justifiable than ever before.

In India, aggregated technical and commercial losses that occur due to electricity transmission and energy theft are estimated at about 26.4% on a national average. The government has launched the Restructured-Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (R-APDRP) with the aim to reduce these losses in the country and to improve the power distribution sector of state utilities, during 11th Five-Year Plan period, 2007-2012.

In the near future, utilities will look to integrate insights into their traditional grid operation solutions and also into customer, energy management and environmental domains, says Rahul Sharma, executive-director and partner, Global Business Services, IBM India & South Asia. The advanced meter management solution builds real-time intelligence into the system, integrating information into business and operations systems quickly and easily. IBM is involved in more than 150 smart grid engagements in mature and emerging markets.

As a part of the R-APDRP project, Airtel offers M2M smart meters to three state electricity boards and with the M2M solution enables the state to reduce outages and interruptions in power, identify losses in the distribution set-up and effectively monitor performance of transformers and grids. The automatic meter data reading has benefited the customers as well and ensured customer satisfaction for the electricity board.

The fact of the matter is that M2M as a concept has finally found ground in the Indian market and today almost every industrybanking, industrial automation, logistics management, retail store product tracking, traffic management, video surveillance, power & energy are able to take their processes to the next level with the help of what this technology offers.

What is making this possible is the fact that wireless networks have become ubiquitous in nature and they are being increasingly used not just to connect people together but are also becoming all the more pervasive in connecting machines to each other. M2M communications is based on the concept of connecting various kinds of machines together using available wireless networks so that they can talk to each other making life a lot more simpler for not only consumers but also for businesses. This concept relies on a network of sensors and modules embedded in machine that we normally use and these machines are programmed to communicate with other machines under pre-set conditions. It is expected that within the next few years, billions of devices will be connected with each other through a vast array of sensors and networks. Thereby, providing digital intelligence and connectivity to almost all commercial and industrial product and appliances extending the pervasiveness of the internet into most aspects of our lives.

According to Verizons Arun Kundu, smart-grid initiatives underway in the electric utility sector illustrate M2Ms ability to make a transformative impact on that industry and society. In the near future, smart meters installed at businesses or households can help reduce energy consumption and associated costs, as will smart appliances that users can control and monitor via the network or hand-held devices. Energy companies, water agencies, and others are also finding that they can use new M2M technologies to support their mandates to contain or reduce costs, better manage the use of their assets, and conserve energy, he informs.

Some of the most compelling examples of smart business can be found in the emerging use of M2M in healthcare. M2M-enabled solutions will be used, for example, to monitor a patients condition whether they are in a care facility or at home. M2M services will make it possible for a physician to make a remote diagnosis based on the transmission of vital signs or other clinical data from one device to another. Patients will have devices they can use at home to monitor their conditions. M2M will also be used by hospitals, for example, to track the delivery and status of prescription drugs and to monitor usage-based medical equipment, helping streamline costs and increase safety precautions, says Kundu.

With most businesses today being heavily dependent on connectivity and communications, the possibilities for M2M services are limitless. Nearly any machine or device in any industry has the potential to be connected. By merely making the machines talk, we can make the world a better place to live!