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S'pore SMBs move in on M2M

The island-state aspires to be the Southeast Asian hub for machine-to-machine applications, a market that is estimated to be worth US$264 billion worldwide by 2010.

SINGAPORE--A local body hopes to position Singapore as a regional hub for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications by helping its small and midsized businesses (SMBs) connect to opportunities in the region.

The Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA) set up a M2M Consortium early this year to boost the M2M capabilities of SMBs in the country.

With M2M technologies, devices can communicate intelligently with each other using sensors and aid in business decision-making. One example of M2M application is the island-state's Electronic Road Pricing system. Gantries located on various areas across Singapore automatically deduct road tolls from chip-based cash cards, which are inserted into readers located in the vehicles.

Through the M2M consortium, SIAA hopes to offer SMBs in the country a platform that links them to their counterparts in other countries across the Asia-Pacific, said Tan Guan Hong, vice president of the association and chairman of the M2M Consortium. The consortium currently has seven member companies in Singapore from two vertical industries: construction and telematics/fleet management.

"We want to bring in the technology, apply it and develop it to make it suitable for the region, then expand it out to the region for bigger deployment," Tan said.

Singapore companies that want to enter regional markets should form joint ventures with the local SMBs in the respective country "as a launch pad", he said. "They need to work with people, on the ground, in those countries," he added.

The case for M2M
In a study commissioned by IBM, analyst firm IDATE estimated that the M2M industry will be worth US$264 billion by 2010, up from US$42 billion in 2005.

This market potential will be great for the Asia-Pacific region, said Mark Badenach, Asia-Pacific asset monitoring solutions manager, IBM Global Services, who is involved in developing Big Blue's M2M business in the region.

Badenach noted that the large, but mostly unintelligently automated, manufacturing base in the region is a driving force for the adoption of M2M applications. Emerging markets, he added, include Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

Both Tan and Badenach estimated that M2M applications will take off in the Asia-Pacific region in about 18 months, though a number of applications have already been deployed.

In China, for example, M2M projects largely involved the monitoring of its environment, specifically river pollution in some of the country's cities. Badenach explained that the Chinese government uses GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) to link systems, allowing them to read and analyze data simultaneously.

M2M is also applied to improve the safety of coal mine workers in China, he added. Sensors are strategically placed to detect humidity levels and the types of gases present in the mines, he said. The information is then analyzed and alerts triggered, so that necessary action can be taken to avert potential disasters.

SIAA's Tan said the Land Transport Authority in Singapore is also conducting pilot tests in a few areas across the country to monitor street lights for power trips.

And in Korea, Badenach revealed that healthcare patients involved in a pilot test have been tagged with devices that monitor biological functions such as heart rate. This enables patients to be screened regularly even if they are not hospitalized, he said.

Energy giant, BP, makes use of M2M technology in the area of telematics. The company uses M2M technology to track the location of rail cars and monitor its equipment status, said Paul Dorey, the company's vice president of digital security and chief information security officer, in an e-mail interview. Storage containers are also tagged so that warnings will be triggered if containers carrying incompatible materials are stored near one another. BP's chemical plants and refineries in China are also equipped with sensory networks.

In Australia, M2M applications have enabled a utility services provider to bypass the need to deploy human labor to record electricity usage of homes, said Badenach. "They looked at how much it would cost to deploy 'smart' meters to read the usage (level) of electricity (in these homes)… and saw that the business case was good," he explained. Smart meters monitor the amount of electricity a home consumes, and send the data back to the utility provider's network to be processed for billing purposes.

Mobile operators also stand to benefit from the M2M momentum. IDATE is forecasting M2M revenue for mobile telecom providers in the Asia-Pacific to grow over 1,300 percent, from US$1.4 billion to US$20.4 billion in 2010. According to the analyst, this market will register the highest growth in the Asia-Pacific region, compared with North America and Western Europe.