India urged to address M2M fragmentation

Lack of standards and interoperability pose big challenges for machine-to-machine deployments, but the growth potential of connected devices is huge in both rural and urban India.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

NEW DELHI--There are significant growth opportunities in connected devices in both rural and urban India, but the lack of standards and interoperability must first be addressed.

Rural India
M2M growth opportunities abound in rural and urban India.

"The industry needs a change in mindset toward connected devices," Ashok Chandak, senior director of global sales and marketing at NXP Semiconductors India, said at the Convergence India 2013 conference held here Thursday.

M2M deployments have to be reliable and future proof, Chandak said, urging the need to focus on long-term benefits instead of short-term cost issues.

Mahesh Mahajan, Accenture Mobility's global lead of M2M transportation and embedded systems, noted that while M2M is still at a development stage, it will have a huge impact on the lives of people living in both urban and rural India.

Jaswant Boyat, technical director of SP India and SAARC at Cisco Systems, agreed, adding that the country will see 200 to 300 percent growth in M2M year on year.

Vijay Sethi, vice president and CIO at Hero MotoCorp, said: "The tremendous growth in networks is one of the key reasons behind the growth in M2M deployments in India, particularly in the automobile industry."

According to a report by GSMA, globally, there are currently 9 billion connected devices and by 2020, this number will spike to 24 billion. The total number of mobile-connected devices will double from 6 billion today to 12 billion by 2020, GSMA reported. This growth will support an addressable revenue opportunity for mobile operators of nearly US$1.2 trillion by 2020, a seven-fold increase from 2011.

Boyat added that M2M brings many industry players under one umbrella, including device manufacturers, network operators, data-management companies, and application developers. However, the biggest challenge is that all of these players are working in silos, he noted.

Everything, including the Internet, has a standard. But globally, M2M lacks standards. In India, there is no industry body that can look into matters concerning connected devices.

- Sandeep Puri, Accenture Mobility India

"They are building their own devices [and] in such a scenario, working on interoperability becomes difficult," he said.

Fragmented M2M industry
At the device level, integration work is being done to reduce human intervention, but wider adoption of M2M is fraught with challenges such as lack of standards at a global level, lack of interoperability, poor network coverage, safety, and data-privacy concerns.

"There has to be interoperability at the hardware, software, as well as the user interface level," Chandak said. "The industry is still fragmented. Every player is trying to find its niche."

Sethi added that there needs to be interoperability and open architectures so that future upgrades can be easier.

He said there is still a lot that the industry needs to work on. For instance, can it develop a chip that does not require maintenance for the next 40 years? Sethi added that the auto industry is a big adopter of M2M, and questioned whether it has the internal processes in place to take action on all the triggers which may be come up as a result of various M2M deployments.

According to panelist Sandeep Puri, managing director of Accenture Mobility India, what works for one industry, such as automotive, will not necessarily work for another industry, such as power, where smart metering is taking off in a big way.

Another challenge revolves around security and reliability. Puri said: "Everything, including the Internet, has a standard, but globally M2M lacks standards. And in India, there is no industry body that can look into matters concerning connected devices."

Consumer education, too, is an important area that the industry needs to work upon.

Sethi said that convincing consumers of the benefits they will enjoy as a result of such deployments remains a huge challenge. Ultimately, he added, consumers are the ones who will pay for the additional cost of inserting chips and sensors in their automobiles or consumer devices.

Puri noted that Indian market conditions are slightly different from those in developed markets where M2M has already caught on in industries such as consumer electronics. Besides automobiles, he said smart metering is one area that is relevant for India, since the power sector ends up losing nearly US$10.19 billion (INR 550 billion) each year due to power thefts. Some 40 percent of power generated in the country is not paid for, the bulk of which is stolen.

With the Indian government is rolling out the national fiber network, which seeks to provide connectivity to 250,000 gram panchayats--local governments in villages and small towns--India is poised to see huge broadband penetration at the village level.

"Healthcare, education, and skills enhancement are areas where M2M deployments hold huge potential in rural India," Chandak said.

Think beyond monetization
Panelists at the conference said the industry needs to delink M2M from average revenue per user (ARPU) and revenue growth as gains from M2M deployments are multifarious, and hold the potential to considerably improve the quality of life for Indians.

ATMs, for instance, often run out of cash, particularly on weekends, Boyat said, and he suggested that sensors be installed in ATMs to send out alerts to the control room when cash levels dwindle. "Customers will not be aware of the technology that has gone behind this, but they have a lot to gain with this deployment," he said.

Similarly, M2M deployments in healthcare can help save lives. "For such deployments, such as a chip fitted in a patient for seamless monitoring of health, patients may be willing to pay a lot more than the cost of the device," Chandak said.

In the case of M2M adoption for traffic control, the gains to the motorists can be tremendous in terms of savings on time and fuel, but it would be difficult to charge motorists for such deployments.

Boyat noted that while there are various benefits to be gained, there are still no clear answers on the monetization of M2M deployments.

Puri reminded both the user and company's perspective should be evaluated, and added that the rule of economics must apply to any M2M deployment.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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