Shyam Ananthnarayan, vice president – Marketing, Embedded Product Design and Biswajit Biswas, head – Strategy, Wireless Communication, Tata Elxsi, explain to Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram and all our readers the evolutionary significance of the Internet of Things, the communication backbone required for it as it unfurls, and the challenges in using existing infrastructure for this purpose.
What do you think is the current scope of the Internet of Things? It has certainly come a long way since the initial applications of fleet tracking using RFID – so it would help if you could introduce our readers to the IoT concept as it is today.
‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ or ‘M2M’ or ‘Web of Things’ are some of the terms being used in the industry today to represent an emerging trend that holds the potential to transform the experience of the industrial and individual consumers regarding the sense of being connected.
Communication paradigm continues to shift from People-to-People, to People-to-Machine, and now Machine to Machine. The challenge IoT brings forth for the network is that devices that will generate the Internet traffic are no longer going to be intelligent computers, but ‘Things’. These can include cars, home automation sensors, surveillance cameras mounted on the pole on highways, a container sitting in a cargo truck on transit, your future unique identification card, health monitoring devices or even your passport. The IoT will help to realise the dream of living in a smart city where people will live in smart homes.
With the increasing pressure on traditional service providers to monetise the network infrastructure, IoT helps in providing new services that might result into streams of revenue. One of the significant trends that is being witnessed is the decline of the ARPU based voice traffic as most of the traffic increase is on the data side. This is further poised to grow with innovation and rapid growth of IoT technology.
Also it is not just technology alone, but it would also depend on how the government, society and individuals would participate in embracing this massively impacting phenomenon called IoT.
What kind of a communications backbone does the IoT require?
IoT will require network access spread across the local and metro networks for the cloud connectivity. On the local access some of the possible technologies that can be applied will be NFC, RFIDs, WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, 6LoWPAN and XBee. On the backbone or backhaul for longer distances to cater to metro needs, it can be GSM, GPRS, 3G, LTE, WiMAX or Ethernet.
The critical challenge however is that most of the devices have to be extremely low powered (solar powered wherever possible). The technologies like Bluetooth Smart (Low Energy), ZigBee, 6LoWPAN will possibly find wider adoption and implement some of the smart automated mesh networks. The deployment of the IPv6 enabled multimode gateways and dedicated IP address management devices can help to counter the growth of IP addresses.
What are the challenges involved in using existing communications networks for IoT applications? Could you tell us, at a broad level, how these can be overcome?
Existing long-range communication technology, especially the wireless access standards have not been designed keeping machine communications in mind. These are designed for voice and high-volume data communication. Machine communication data traffic is short and bursty in nature, and devices usually are battery-powered, which necessitates stringent power management for link control and signalling. For the time being, 3G and 4G (WiMax, LTE) may be good enough, but there are rising needs for a different access technology suiting the emerging IoT needs.
Other than a light-weight open wireless standard as a backbone, there is going to be a need for more and more spectrum. Currently all the spectra available are in multiples of Gigahertz range. This won’t be suitable for IoT communication, the reason being poor NLOS performance and higher power requirement. Hence, it would be necessary to get more affordable spectrums in sub-Gigahertz bands. Spectrum known as TVWS (TV Whitespace) can be effectively used for enabling IoT devices.
Another most challenging aspect for the network backbone will be the ability to handle this burst of IP addresses and at the same time, manage and apply the data acquired.
For example, how the notification for a blood pressure level from a patient can be distributed to doctors to provide better life-saving services. How effective navigation can enhance the user-experience for in-vehicle infotainment using Internet access nodes for real-time traffic updates. Or, how smart sensors can be used in a building to switch off lights in unused rooms to save energy.
The amount of notification generated by these sensor based nodes will be huge. How best the communication network can stream/ store in cloud and apply analytic engines to extract key information to benefit end user needs will determine the extent to which service providers can monetise their investment.
Does Tata Elxsi offer any solutions for those wishing to develop IoT products, technologies, or infrastructure?
Tata Elxsi today is very strategically positioned to partner with IoT vendors. We have solutions for enabling IoT in the areas of smart energy, transportation and remote health care. We have industry leading wireless access and backhaul solutions (on GSM, 3G, WiMAX, LTE and WiFi) and have developed several low-power devices deployed in challenging outdoor environments. Tata Elxsi also works on development of networking appliances, which are dedicated for network automation and resource management.
We work closely in various industries like Automotive, Industrial Automation and Healthcare. We bring together a unique experience with the IoT communication infrastructure as well as the ecosystem where they will be deployed.
Having leading operators from Europe, US and Japan as our key customers, gives us and the vendors the opportunity to develop, deploy and test these IoT nodes in real networks. We are currently working with some of our existing and prospective customers regarding leveraging our expertise and components for the IoT ecosystem.
We understand the need of standardisation in the area of IoT or Machine-to-Machine communication for realising the full potential. It helps interoperability across devices, geography and networks. We are supporting the ETSI-driven initiatives for M2M standardisation and adopting the architecture specification for our solution offering.
What is the vision of your firm w.r.t. IoT – for the future of the firm and its customers?
With our unique combination of key expertise, solution offerings and embedded components across the M2M ecosystem, we would like to be one of the top engineering services suppliers globally in M2M including services on product development, component design/development, IP and design. We also have various business models including strategic long-term engagements with key OEM’s, silicon vendors as well as outcome-based models that we would showcase as part of our journey towards our vision.