The Smart City’s bedrock

By: | Published: February 2, 2015 12:26 AM

Machine-to-machine technology can help make Indian cities safer, smarter and more connected

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to build 100 smart cities across the country has stirred the technology industry into action, with numerous vendors showcasing their offerings with an eye on the vast market opportunity. Traditionally, the various systems that serve a community—from government, energy, utilities, transportation, building management, and more—have operated more or less independently, making it difficult to view or determine logical ways to improve overall efficiencies. “The basic objective of a smart city is to make life smoother for its residents using technology,” said Vivek Varshney, vice-president and Global Head, Telecom Practice, UST Global.

“One of the most important means by which this is achieved is by bringing in efficiency in all aspects—right from providing public services to use of resources,” Varshney told FE in an interview recently. “This efficiency is often the result of automating processes that have traditionally required human intervention. “This is exactly what machine-to-machine technology—popularly known as M2M—does. It drastically improves the efficiency of any system by making direct, unassisted communication between systems and devices—or machines—possible. It is being hailed as the hottest technology in the ICT arena, with a potential global market of $1.2 trillion.”

Innovations in M2M technology— essentially, the Internet of Things—and wireless networks are helping public and private organisations gain better insight into the needs of their communities. Equipped with accurate and near real-time information, cities will be able to develop strategies to improve their infrastructure, plan for long-term growth, create more energy-efficient environments, and keep people safe.

The smart cities market includes smart homes, smart buildings, smart grid, smart industry automation, smart healthcare, smart education, smart transportation and smart security. Many countries, including India, are witnessing their cities expanding at an extraordinary rate. M2M stands for a mechanism that “things (machines)” are connected to each other via networks using all sorts of communication tools. With the M2M mechanism, every single “thing,” not only information equipment such as PCs, servers, etc. but also other equipment such as home appliances, vehicles, sensors, etc., are connected via the network to communicate with each other by autonomic operation.

According to Varshney, the concept of M2M is not new. The basic sensors in many devices that we all have taken for granted are a manifestation of the same principle.

What explains the new-found interest and excitement over M2M are a few emerging trends.

* It is being employed in daily lives of common people

* The interactions, earlier restricted to closed, controlled systems, are now being expected to happen seamlessly over public networks

* The availability of one big network – the Internet – means potentially any device can be made to interact with any other device anywhere. In fact, the most fascinating manifestation of M2M is what is being called Internet of Things.

In other words, what is exciting is that the all pervasive public networks as an underlying backbone are magnifying the potential of M2M technologies manifold.

“In a country like India, with poor fixed line data connectivity but having one of the largest mobile networks, it is but natural to expect that mobile operators will play a crucial role in making widespread adoption of M2M technologies a reality,” the UST Global VP said. “Any new technology has to replace existing technology. In India, a lot of such infrastructure and services are being rolled out as Greenfield projects, which means return on investment is much easier to justify. The smart city example is a case in point,” he said.

Even otherwise, India has mammoth plans of rolling out many essential services such as health, security and education. It is completely revamping its public distribution system; All these have implications for adoption of underlying integrating technologies like M2M. Areas like transport—toll/traffic management, vehicle tracking—as well as smart building management systems offer immense opportunities in the short to medium term.

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