The thing about the Internet of Things

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Published in Smart World Jan-Feb 2014, The thing about the Internet of Things

Introduction: It is now common knowledge that the world is becoming more connected, instrumented and data driven. In a world of 7 billion people we have almost 10 billion devices connected to the internet. A recent report from Cisco suggests that the number of connected devices will almost touch 50 billion by the year 2020.

This huge increase in the number connected devices will come largely from a couple of new technology trends namely Internet of Things (IoT), Smart grids etc.

What exactly is the Internet of Things?

The first formal definition of the Internet of Things happened when ITU-T the telecom wing of United Nations came with a report titled “The Internet of Things” in 2005. In this report ITU-T added a fourth dimension of ‘anything’ to the existing anyone, anywhere, anytime network. This report visualized a world where millions and millions of devices either passive, intelligent or sensors collected data from the environment and sent it through the network to a backend processing system.

In Mark Weiser’s classic words, “the most profound technologies are those that disappear and weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it”. Embedded intelligence in the things themselves will further enhance the power of the network. IoT is just this vision of Mark Weiser.

This fourth dimension of ‘things’ or intelligent sensors give the ability to gather data from the environment which is then sent back through the wireless network to the internet for back end processing. Analysis of the gathered data helps in forecasting events ahead of the time.

The Internet of Things is also known as M2M or machine–to–machine computing, pervasive computing or ubiquitous computing.

The Maha Kumbh Mela experiment: Last year, 2013, coincided with the 12 year cycle of the Maha Kumbh mela festival. More than 100+ million people would have passed through the city of Allahabad for a holy dip in river Sangam at the confluence of Ganges & Yamuna. Almost 95% of this human mass would have carried mobile phones equipped with location sensors.  Harvard Business University with the help of mobile Telecom Operators ran an experiment to track the movement of people through the city of Allahabad to understand the behavior of people. It was  hoped that the study of this large amount of data, as people moved through the city, would help in identifying signatures of disaster and how they can be avoided.

This is possible because mobile phones have the ability to send their location data back to the net for processing. This is an example of the Internet of Things.

Some applications of the Internet of Things is outlined below

 

RFID or Radio Frequency Identification: RFID was one of the early enablers of this technology; The RFID is a passive device that responds with its identity when it is in the presence of a RFID receiver. The RFID receiver transmits a signal and a RFID tag responds with its unique tag id. The RFID technology has been used extensively by large retail stores like Walmart of US and Tesco of UK etc. These stores RFID tag all their products in the central warehouse. In the presence of an RFID receiver the RFID tags of all the products are read. So the warehouse has a complete list of its inventory. As the products move from the central warehouse to the regional warehouse and finally to the retail store the products are tracked. So the retail stores know exactly how many of each product is present in all its warehouses and stores. As customers buy products and check it out at the counter the count of the products in the store is also updated. So at any point in time each store will know the count of each of its products. So stores like Walmart can now forecast if there is a going o be a shortage of any of it products and can move some of them to the concerned store. In fact we can imagine a scenario where each shopping cart is equipped with a RFID receiver. As we keep putting products into our cart the cart can add each of the items we have taken so that we have the bill ready when we reach the counter. We need not scan the products at the check out counter.

Highway Tolls: An interesting application of IoT, is the payment of highway tools in which the vehicle do not need to stop to pay the toll. Toll is deducted from a device, with a driver, which is RFID tagged. There are also applications in which the tires of cars are embedded with sensors to detect the wear & tear of the tires. Insurance companies can use the driving data from these sensors to give discounts to safe drivers.

Car-to-car networks: Another certainty in the evolution of IoT is car-to-car networks. Vehicular Communication along with the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) achieves safety by enabling communication between vehicles, people and roads. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications are the fundamental building block of autonomous, self-driving cars. It enables the exchange of data between vehicles and allows automobiles to “see” and adapt to driving obstacles more completely, preventing accidents besides resulting in more efficient driving.

Intelligent homes:  Rapid advances in technology will be closer to the home both literally and figuratively. The future home will have the ability to detect the presence of people, pets, smoke and changes to humidity, moisture, lighting, temperature. Smart devices will monitor the environment and take appropriate steps to save energy, improve safety and enhance security of homes.  Devices will start learning your habits and enhance your comfort and convenience. Everything from thermostats, fire detectors, washing machines, refrigerators will be equipped electronics that will be capable of adapting to the environment. ‘Nest’ is a smart thermostat that made headlines recently. The thermostat learns your requirements and adjusts the temperature accordingly. All gadgets in the Smart Home will be accessible through laptops, tablets or smartphones from anywhere. Others gadgets in Intelligent Homes are smart locks, smart lighting etc. Hence, we will be able to monitor all aspects of our intelligent home from anywhere.

Intelligent offices: Smart devices will also make major inroads into offices leading to the birth of intelligent offices where the lighting, heating, cooling will be based on the presence of people in the offices. This will result in an enormous savings in energy. The advances in intelligent homes and intelligent offices will be in the greater context of the Smart Grid.

eHealth: IoT is being used by some hospitals for monitoring of heart patients Here a device is  implanted into the patient. The device regularly sends data to a doctor who can monitor the patient’s pulse rate, heart rate, blood pressure etc.  It can warn the physician when it detects an irregularity in the patient’s heart rhythm who can then call the patient and advice on appropriate medication to take avoiding a real cardiac arrest.

Smart Cities: How often we sit fretting and fuming in a traffic jam contributing to air pollution. Smart Cities are equipped with multiple devices that identify and measure traffic speed and volume on city roads. At the back end the systems analyze this continuous stream of real time and provide alternative routes based on predictive analytics based on real time and historical data. Studies have also shown that it is possible to control traffic by offering discounts to drivers on less crowded roads.

Smart Grid: The grid or the legacy electrical network has three components to it namely energy generation, energy transmission and energy distribution. The conventional electrical grid which is prevalent in most countries throughout the world has extremely high transmission losses besides having other issues. Typically an outage in one part of the network would cause a cascading effect throughout the network. Remember the infamous blackout in US in 2003 which was the largest black in US in history. More closer to home, in India, we had a blackout in Dec 2012 which was the largest black out ever. This is because of the domino effect where an issue causes a cascading effect. Closer to home we had the world’s biggest blackout in Jul 31 which left 600 million powerless for close to 2 days.

With the advent of Smart Grid the legacy electrical grid will have millions of electrical sensors which monitor the flow of energy. If there is a fault in any part of the network the sensors ensure that the failure is isolated so that outage does not spread to other parts.

Besides instead of the regular electrical meters Smart Grids include the concept of the Smart home equipped with smart meters. These smart meters have a two way communication. The price of energy which we get from the grid varies like the stock price. With the smart meters and smart appliances these appliances turn on when the price of drawing energy is low.

Wearable Technologies: he latest entrants to IoT are the wearable technology like Smart watches, Google Glass, Health bands. These technologies constantly monitor measure and send the data for processing to the backend.  For e.g. Google’s glass can immediately recognize prominent landmarks and display it. Similarly health bands like Fitbit, Nike FuelBand etc can now measure steps, heart rate and provide feedback.

Challenges: There are still many challenges on the way to a future filled with M2M. There is still no universally accepted protocol. There are many competing protocols like WiFi, Zigbee, MQPP, XMPP etc and there is yet to be a single common standard between devices and the networks for the Internet Of Things.

In any case, the Internet of Things or M2M is happening technology and will soon come into our neighborhood and we should all be pretty swamped by this tidal wave in our future

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The Next Frontier

Published in Telecom Asia – The next frontier, 21, Mar, 2012

In his classic book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School presents several compelling cases of great organizations that fail because they did not address disruptive technologies, occurring in the periphery, with the unique mindset required in managing these disruptions.

In the book the author claims that when these disruptive technologies appeared on the horizon there were few takers for these technologies because there were no immediate applications for them. For e.g. when the hydraulic excavator appeared its performance was inferior to the existing predominant manual excavator. But in course of time the technology behind hydraulic excavators improved significantly to displace existing technologies. Similarly the appearance of 3.5 inch disk had no immediate takers in desktop computers but made its way to the laptop.

Similarly the mini computer giant Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) ignored the advent of the PC era and focused all its attention on making more powerful mini-computers. This led to the ultimate demise of DEC and several other organizations in this space. This book includes several such examples of organizations that went defunct because disruptive technologies ended up cannibalizing established technologies.

In the last couple of months we have seen technology trends pouring in.  It is now accepted that cloud computing, mobile broadband, social networks, big data, LTE, Smart Grids, and Internet of Things will be key players in the world of our future. We are now at a point in time when serious disruption is not just possible but seems extremely likely. The IT Market Research firm IDC in its Directions 2012 believes that we are in the cusp of a Third Platform that will dominate the IT landscape.

There are several technologies that have been appearing on the periphery and have only gleaned marginal interest for e.g. Super Wi-Fi or Whitespaces which uses unlicensed spectrum to access larger distances of up to 100 kms. Whitespaces has been trialed by a few companies in the last year. Another interesting technology is WiMAX which provides speeds of 40 Mbps for distances of up to 50 km. WiMAX’s deployment has been spotty and has not led to widespread adoption in comparison to its apparent competitor LTE.

In the light of the technology entrants, the disruption in the near future may occur because of a paradigm shift which I would like to refer as the “Neighborhood Area Computing (NAC)” paradigm.  It appears that technology will veer towards neighborhood computing given the bandwidth congestion issues of WAN. A neighborhood area network (NAN) will supplant the WAN for networks which address a community in a smaller geographical area

This will lead to three main trends

Neighborhood Area Networks (NAN):  Major improvements in Neighborhood Area Networks (NAN) are inevitable given the rising importance of smart grids and M2M technology in the context of WAN latencies. Residential homes of the future will have a Home Area Network (HAN) based on bluetooth or Zigbee protocols connecting all electrical appliances. In a smart grid contextNAN provides the connectivity between the Home Area Network (HAN) of a future Smart Home with the WAN network. While it is possible that the utility HAN network will be separate from the IP access network of the residential subscriber, the more likely possibility is that the HAN will be a subnet within the home network and will connect toNAN network.

The data generated from smart grids, m2m networks and mobile broadband will need to be stored and processed immediately through big data analytics on a neighborhood datacenter. Shorter range technologies like WiMAX, Super WiFi/ Whitespaces will transport the data to a neighborhood cloud on which a Hadoop based Big Data analytics will provide real time analytics

Death of the Personal Computer:  The PC/laptop will soon give way to a cloud based computing platform similar to Google’s Chrome book. Not only will we store all our data on the cloud (music, photos, videos) we will also use the cloud for our daily computing needs. Given the high speeds of theNAN this should be quite feasible in the future. The cloud will remove our worries about virus attacks, patch updates and the need to buy new software.  We will also begin to trust our data in the cloud as we progress to the future. Moreover the pay-per-use will be very attractive to consumers.

Exploding Datacenters:  As mentioned above a serious drawback of the cloud is the WAN latency. It is quite likely that with the increases in processing powers and storage capacity coupled with dropping prices that cloud providers will have hundreds of data centers with around 1000 servers for each city rather than a few mega data centers with 10,000’s of servers.  These data centers will address the computing needs of a community in a small geographical area. Such smaller data centers, typically in a small city, will solve 2 problems. One it will build into the cloud geographical redundancy besides also providing excellent performance asNAN latencies will be significantly less in comparison to WAN latencies.

These technologies will improve significantly and fill in the need for handling neighborhood high speed data

The future definitely points to computing in the neighborhood.

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The promise of predictive analytics

Published in Telecom Asia – Feb 20, 2012 –  The promise of predictive analytics

Published in Telecoms Europe – Feb 20, 2012 – Predictive analytics gold rush due

We are headed towards a more connected, more instrumented and more data driven world. This fact is underscored once again in  Cisco’s latest   Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2011–2016.The statistics from this report is truly mind boggling

By 2016 130 exabytes (130 * 2 ^ 60) will rip through the internet. The number of mobile devices will exceed the human population this year, 2012. By 2016 the number of connected devices will touch almost 10 billion.

The devices that are connected to the net range from mobiles, laptops, tablets, sensors and the millions of devices based on the “internet of things”. All these devices will constantly spew data on the internet and business and strategic decisions will be made by determining patterns, trends and outliers among mountains of data.

Predictive analytics will be a key discipline in our future and experts will be much sought after. Predictive analytics uses statistical methods to mine information and patterns in structured, unstructured and streams of data. The data can be anything from click streams, browsing patterns, tweets, sensor data etc. The data can be static or it could be dynamic. Predictive analytics will have to identify trends from data streams from mobile call records, retail store purchasing patterns etc.

Predictive analytics will be applied across many domains from banking, insurance, retail, telecom, energy. In fact predictive analytics will be the new language of the future akin to what C was a couple of decades ago.  C language was used in all sorts of applications spanning the whole gamut from finance to telecom.

In this context it is worthwhile to mention The R Language. R language is used for statistical programming and graphics. The Wikipedia defines R Language as “R provides a wide variety of statistical and graphical techniques, including linear and nonlinear modeling, classical statistical tests, time-series analysis, classification, clustering, and others”.

Predictive analytics is already being used in traffic management in identifying and preventing traffic gridlocks. Applications have also been identified for energy grids, for water management, besides determining user sentiment by mining data from social networks etc.

One very ambitious undertaking is “the Data-Scope Project” that believes that the universe is made of information and there is a need for a “new eye” to look at this data. The Data-Scope project is described as “a new scientific instrument, capable of ‘observing’ immense volumes of data from various scientific domains such as astronomy, fluid mechanics, and bioinformatics. The system will have over 6PB of storage, about 500GBytes per sec aggregate sequential IO, about 20M IOPS, and about 130TFlops. The Data-Scope is not a traditional multi-user computing cluster, but a new kind of instrument, that enables people to do science with datasets ranging between 100TB and 1000TB The Data-scope project is based on the premise that new discoveries will come from analysis of large amounts of data. Analytics is all about analyzing large datasets and predictive analytics takes it one step further in being able to make intelligent predictions based on available data.

Predictive analytics does open up a whole new universe of possibilities and the applications are endless.  Predictive analytics will be the key tool that will be used in our data intensive future.

Afterthought

I started to wonder whether predictive analytics could be used for some of the problems confronting the world today. Here are a few problems where analytics could be employed

–          Can predictive analytics be used to analyze outbreaks of malaria, cholera or AID and help in preventing their outbreaks in other places?

–          Can analytics analyze economic trends and predict a upward/downward trend ahead of time.

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Technological hurdles: 2012 and beyond

Published in Telecom Asia, Jan 11,2012 – Technological hurdles – 2012 and beyond

You must have heard it all by now – the technological trends for 2012 and the future. The predictions range over BigData, cloud computing, internet of things, LTE, semantic web, social commerce and so on.

In this post, I thought I should focus on what seems to be significant hurdles as we advance to the future. So for a change, I wanted to play the doomsayer rather than a soothsayer. The positive trends are bound to continue and in our exuberance we may lose sight of the hurdles before us. Besides, “problems are usually opportunities in disguise”. So here is my list of the top issues that is facing the industry now.

Bandwidth shortage: A key issue of the computing infrastructure of today is data affinity, which is the result of the dual issues of data latency and the economics of data transfer. Jim Gray (Turing award in 1998) whose paper on “Distributed Computing Economics” states that that programs need to be migrated to the data on which they operate rather than transferring large amounts of data to the programs. In this paper Jim Gray tells us that the economics of today’s computing depends on four factors namely computation, networking, database storage and database access. He then equates $1 as follows

One dollar equates to

= 1 $

≈ 1 GB sent over the WAN

≈ 10 Tops (tera cpu operations)

≈ 8 hours of cpu time

≈ 1 GB disk space

≈ 10 M database accesses

≈ 10 TB of disk bandwidth

≈ 10 TB of LAN bandwidth

As can be seen from above breakup, there is a disproportionate contribution by the WAN bandwidth in comparison to the others.  In others words while the processing power of CPUs and the storage capacities have multiplied accompanied by dropping prices, the cost of bandwidth has been high. Moreover the available bandwidth is insufficient to handle the explosion of data traffic.

In fact it has been found that  the “cheapest and fastest way to move a Terabyte cross country is sneakernet (i.e. the transfer of electronic information, especially computer files, by physically carrying removable media such as magnetic tape, compact discs, DVDs, USB flash drives, or external drives from one computer to another).

With the burgeoning of bandwidth hungry applications it is obvious that we are going to face a bandwidth shortage. The industry will have to come with innovative solutions to provide what I would like to refer as “bandwidth-on-demand”.

The Spectrum Crunch: Powerful smartphones, extremely fast networks, content-rich applications, and increasing user awareness, have together resulted in a virtual explosion of mobile broadband data usage. There are 2 key drivers behind this phenomenal growth in mobile data. One is the explosion of devices-smartphones, tablet PCs, e-readers, laptops with wireless access. The second is video. Over 30% of overall mobile data traffic is video streaming, which is extremely bandwidth hungry. All these devices deliver high-speed content and web browsing on the move. The second is video. Over 30% of overall mobile data traffic is video streaming, which is extremely bandwidth hungry. The rest of the traffic is web browsing, file downloads, and email

The growth in mobile data traffic has been exponential. According to a report by Ericsson, mobile data is expected to double annually till 2015. Mobile broadband will see a billion subscribers this year (2011), and possibly touch 5 billion by 2015.

In an IDATE (a consulting firm) report,  the total mobile data will exceed 127 exabytes (an exabyte is 1018 bytes, or 1 mn terabytes) by 2020, an increase of over 33% from 2010).

Given the current usage trends, coupled with the theoretical limits of available spectrum, the world will run out of available spectrum for the growing army of mobile users. The current spectrum availability cannot support the surge in mobile data traffic indefinitely, and demand for wireless capacity will outstrip spectrum availability by the middle of this decade or by 2014.

This is a really serious problem. In fact, it is a serious enough issue to have the White House raise a memo titled “Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution”. Now the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has taken the step to meet the demand by letting wireless users access content via unused airwaves on the broadcast spectrum known as “White Spaces”. Google and Microsoft are already working on this technology which will allow laptops, smartphones and other wireless devices to transfer in GB instead of MB thro Wi-Fi.

But spectrum shortage is an immediate problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

IPv4 exhaustion: IPv4 address space exhaustion has been around for quite some time and warrants serious attention in the not too distant future.  This problem may be even more serious than the Y2K problem. The issue is that IPv4 can address only 2^32 or 4.3 billion devices. Already the pool has been exhausted because of new technologies like IMS which uses an all IP Core and the Internet of things with more devices, sensors connected to the internet – each identified by an IP address. The solution to this problem has been addressed long back and requires that the Internet adopt IPv6 addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit long address and allows 3.4 x 1038 or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses. However the conversion to IPv6 is not happening at the required pace and pretty soon will have to be adopted on war footing. It is clear that while the transition takes place, both IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist so there will be an additional requirement of devices on the internet to be able to convert from one to another.

We are bound to run into a wall if organizations and enterprises do not upgrade their devices to be able to handle IPv6.

Conclusion: These are some of the technological hurdles that confront the computing industry.  Given mankind’s ability to come up with innovative solutions we may find new industries being spawned in solving these bottlenecks.

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Tomorrow’s wireless ecosystem

The wireless networks of today had its humble beginnings in 1924 when the first mobile radio was demonstrated. It was many years since this beginning, that a completely functional cellular network was established. The earliest systems were the analog 1G system that was demonstrated in 1978 in US with great success. The initial mobile systems were primarily used for making mobile voice calls. This continued for the next 2 decades as the network evolved to digital based 2G systems.

 

It was around 1999-2000 that ETSI standardized GPRS or 2.5G technology to use the cellular network for data. Though the early data rates, of 144 kbps, were modest, the entry of GPRS proved to be a turning point in technological history. GPRS provided the triple benefits of wireless connectivity, mobility and internet access.  Technological advancement enabled faster and higher speeds of wireless, mobile access to the internet. The deployments of 3G enabled speeds of up to 2 Mbps for fixed access while LTE promised speeds of almost 56 Mbps per second coupled with excellent spectral efficiency.

 

The large increase of bandwidth along with mobility has allowed different technologies to take advantage of the wireless infrastructure for their purposes.  While Wi-Fi networks based on 802.11 and WiMAX based on 802.16 will play a part in the wireless ecosystem this post looks at the role that will be played by cellular networks from 2G to 4G.

 

The cellular network with its feature of wireless access, mobility and the ability to handle voice, video and data calls will be the host of multiple disparate technologies as we move forward into the future.  Below are listed some of the major users of the wireless network in the future

 

Mobile Phones:  The cellular network was created to handle voice calls originating from mobile phones. A large part of mobile traffic will still be for mobile to mobile calls. As the penetration of the cellular networks occurs in emerging economies we can expect that there will be considerable traffic from voice calls. It is likely that as the concept of IP Multimedia System (IMS) finds widespread acceptance the mobile phone will also be used for making video calls. With the advent of the Smartphone this is a distinct possibility in the future.

Smartphones, tablets and Laptops: These devices will be the next major users of the cellular network. Smartphones, besides being able to make calls, also allow for many new compelling data applications. Exciting apps on tablets like the iPad and laptops consume a lot of bandwidth and use the GPRS, 3G or LTE network for data transfer. In fact in a recent report it has been found that a majority of data traffic in the wireless network are video. Consumers use the iPad and the laptop for watching videos on Youtube and for browsing using the wireless network.

Internet of Things (IoT):  The internet of things, also known as M2M, envisages a network in which passive or intelligent devices are spread throughout the network and collect and transmit data to back end database. RFIDs were the early enablers of this technology. These sensors and intelligent devices will collect data and transmit the data using the wireless network. Applications for the Internet of Things range from devices that monitor and transmit data about the health of cardiac patients to being able to monitor the structural integrity of bridges.

Smart Grid: The energy industry is delicately poised for a complete transformation with the evolution of the smart grid concept. There is now an imminent need for an increased efficiency in power generation, transmission and distribution coupled with a reduction of energy losses. In this context many leading players in the energy industry are coming up with a connected end-to-end digital grid to smartly manage energy transmission and distribution.  The digital grid will have smart meters, sensors and other devices distributed throughout the grid capable of sensing, collecting, analyzing and distributing the data to devices that can take action on them. The huge volume of collected data will be sent to intelligent device which will use the wireless 3G networks to transmit the data.  Appropriate action like alternate routing and optimal energy distribution would then happen. The Smart Grid will be a major user of the cellular wireless network in the future.

Hence it can be seen the users of the wireless network will increase dramatically as we move forward into the future. Multiple technologies will compete for the available bandwidth. For handling this exponential growth in traffic we not only need faster speeds for the traffic but also sufficient spectrum available for use and it is necessary that ITU addresses the spectrum needs on a war footing.

It is thus clear that the telecom network will have to become more sophisticated and more technologically advanced as we move forward into the future.


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Technology Trends – 2011 and beyond

There are lots of exciting things happening in the technological landscape. Innovation and development in every age is dependent on a set of key driving factors namely – the need for better, faster and cheaper, the need to handle disruptive technologies, the need to keep costs down and the need to absorb path breaking innovations. Given all these factors and the current trends in the industry the following technologies will enter mainstream in the years to come.

Long Term Evolution (LTE): LTE, also known as 4G technologies, has been born out of the disruptive entry of data hungry smart phones and tablet PCs. Besides, the need for better and faster applications has been the key driver of this technology. LTE is a data only technology that allows mobile users to access the internet on the move.  LTE uses OFDM technology for sending and receiving data from user devices and also uses MIMO (multiple-in, multiple out). LTE is more economical, and spectrally efficient when compared to earlier 3.5G technologies like HSDPA, HSUPA and HSPA. LTE promises a better Quality of Experience (QoE) for end users.

IP Multimedia Systems IMS): IMS has been around for a while. However with the many advances in IP technology and the transport of media the time is now ripe for this technology to take wings and soar high. IMS uses the ubiquitous internet protocol for its core network both for media transport and for SIP signaling. Many innovative applications are possible with IMS including high definition video conferencing, multi-player interactive games, white boarding etc.

All senior management personnel of organizations are constantly faced with the need to keep costs down. The next two technologies hold a lot of promise in reducing costs for organizations and will surely play a key role in the years to come.

Cloud Computing: Cloud Computing obviates the need for upfront capital and infrastructure costs of organizations. Enterprises can deploy their applications on a public cloud which provides virtually infinite computing capacity in the hands of organizations. Organizations only pay as much as they use akin to utilities like electricity or water

Analytics: These days’ organizations are faced with a virtual deluge of data from their day to day operations. Whether the organizations belong to retail, health, finance, telecom, or transportation there is a lot of data that is generated. Data by itself is useless. This is where data analytics plays an important role. Predictive analytics help in classifying data, determining key trends and identifying correlations between data. This helps organizations in making strategic business decisions.

The following two technologies listed below are really path breaking and their applications are limitless.

Internet of Things: This technology envisages either passive or intelligent devices connected to the internet with a database at the back end for processing the data collected from these intelligent devices. This is also known as M2M (machine to machine) technology. The applications range from monitoring the structural integrity of bridges to implantable devices monitoring fatal heart diseases of patients.

Semantic Web (Web 3.0): This is the next stage in the evolution of the World Wide Web. The Web is now a vast repository of ideas, thoughts, blogs, observations etc. This technology envisages intelligent agents that can analyze the information in the web. These agents will determine the relations between information and make intelligent inferences. This technology will have to use artificial intelligence techniques, data mining and cloud computing to plumb the depths of the web

Conclusion: Creativity and innovation has been the hallmark of mankind from time immemorial. With the demand for smarter, cheaper and better the above technologies are bound to endure in the years to come.

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The Future of Telecom

Published in Voice & Data – Bright Future

Introduction: The close of the 20th century will long be remembered for one thing. The dotcom bust followed by the downward spiral of many major telecom and technology companies. For those who believe in the theory of the 12 year economic cycle this downturn is right about to end and we should see good times soon. Even otherwise there is good news for those in the telecom domain. We could shortly be witness to golden years ahead. There are many signs that seem to indicate that the telecom industry is on the verge of many major breakthroughs. Technologies like LTE, IMS, smartphones, cloud computing point to interesting times ahead. In fact telecom is at a inflexion point when the fortunes seem to be pointed northward. This article looks at some of the promising technologies which are going to bring back the sunshine to telecom.

3G Technologies –Better Quality of Experience (QoE): The auction of the 3G spectrum ended after 131 days of hectic bidding for this cutting edge telecom technology. 3G promises a whole new customer experience backed by extremely high data speeds. 3G promises download speed of up to 2 Mbps for stationary subscribers and 384 Kbps for moving subscribers. It is very clear that such high data speeds will inspire a host of new and exciting applications. Applications that span location based services (LBS), m-Commerce and NFC communications will be simply be irresistible to the users. Moreover the ability to watch video clips or live action on mobile TV or on laptops enabled with 3G dongles will have a lot of takers for 3G technology. App stores for 3G are bound to do a roaring business as 3G takes off in India.

Smartphones – The game changers: In the last decade or so in the telecom industry no other invention has had such a disruptive effect in the telecom domain as smartphones. Smartphones like the IPhone, Droid or Nexus One have changed the rules of the game. The impact of smartphone has been so huge that it actually spawned an entire industry of developers who developed applications for smartphones, content developers and app stores. The irresistible appeal of smartphones is the ease of use and the ability to browse the net as though they were using a normal data connection.  Users can watch youtube clips, play games or chat on the Smartphone.

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) – Digital Convergence:  IP Multimedia System (IMS) , based on 3GPP’s Release 5 Specification in 2005, has been in the wings for quite some time. The IMS envisions an access agnostic telecommunication architecture that will use an all-IP Core for the transport of medium be it voice, data or video. IMS uses SIP protocol for signaling between network elements and SDP for exchanging media between applications.  The IMS architecture promises a whole slew of exciting application ranging from high quality video conference, high speed data access, white boarding or real time interactive gaining.  IMS represents a true convergence of the telecom wireless concepts with the data communication protocols. The types of services that are possible with IMS will be only limited by imagination. With the entry of smartphones and tablet PCs, IMS is a technology that is waiting to happen and will soon become prime time

Long Term Evolution (LTE)Blazing Speeds: Already there are upward of 5 billion mobile devices and a report from Cisco states that the total data navigating the net will exceed ½ a zettabyte (1021) by the year 2013. The exponential growth of data and the need to provide even higher Quality of Experience (QoE) led to the development of the LTE. LTE is considered 4G technology. LTE promises speeds anywhere between to 56 Mbps to 100 Mbps to users enabling unheard of speeds and applications.  What makes  LTE so attractive is that it promises better spectral efficiency and lower cost per bit than 3G networks. The competing technology for LTE is WIMAX which is also considered as 4G. But LTE has a better evolution path from 3G networks as opposed to WiMAX, While LTE is a packet only network there are sound strategies for handling voice traffic with LTE.  The standards body 3GPP offers two options for handling voice. The first is the Circuit switched (CS) fallback to 2G/3G network. In this scenario data access will be through the packet network of LTE while voice calls will use legacy 2G/3G voice networks. The other alternative is the switch voice traffic to the IMS network with its all-IP Core. This method is supported by the One Voice initiative of many major telecom companies and accepted by GSMA.  This strategy for handling voice through an IMS network is known as VoLTE (Voice over LTE)

Internet of Things- Towards a connected World:  “The Internet of Things” visualizes a highly interconnected world made of tiny passive or intelligent devices that connect to large databases and to the internet. This technology promises to transform the network from a dumb-bit pipe to a truly “computing” network. The Internet of Things or M2M (machine-to-machine) envisages an anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything network. The devices in this M2M network will be made up of passive elements, sensors and intelligent devices that communicate with the network. The devices will be capable of sensing, identifying and responding to changes in the immediate environment. Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) is one of the early and key enabler of this technology. The uses for this technology range from warning when the structural integrity of bridges is compromised to implantable devices in heart patients warning doctors of possible heart attacks.  The impact of the Internet of Things will be far-reaching. There are numerous applications for this technology. In fact, ubiquitous computing or the Internet of Things allows us to distribute processing power and intelligence throughout the network into a kind of ambient intelligence spread across the network. This technology promises to blur the lines between science fiction and reality.

App StoresThe final verdict:  The success of App Stores in the last couple of years has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is a complete ecosystem with App Store Developers, App Stores, and the Content Developers and Service Providers.  Apps and App stores have changed the rules of the game so completely. No longer is a mobile phone’s snazzy looks enough for it to be a best seller.  The mobile should be supported by cool downloadable apps for the user to use.  App Stores and apps will play an increasingly important role with apps being developed for smartphones and tablet PCs.  There are bound to be several interesting apps spanning technologies like   Location Based Service (LBS), mobile Commerce, eTicketing, Near Field Communication

Cloud Computing – Utility computing: Cloud Computing has been around some but is slowly gaining more and more prominence. Cloud computing follows a utility model for computing where the cloud user only pays for the computing power and storage capacity used. Cloud computing not involve any upfront Capacity expenditure (Capex).  Users of public clouds like EC2, App Engine or Azure can pay according to the usage of the resources provided by the cloud. Cloud technologies allow the CSPs to purchase processing power, platforms, and databases almost like a utility like electricity or water.  The cloud exhibits an elastic behavior and expands to accommodate increasing demands and contracts when the demand drops. Cloud computing will be slowly be adopted by more and more organizations and enterprises in the years to come.

AnalyticsMining intelligence from data:  Nowadays organizations all over are faced with a deluge of data.  For raw data to be useful it has been analyzed, classified and important patterns determined from the data. This is where data mining and analytics come into play. Analytics uses statistical methods to classify data, determine correlations, identify patterns, and highlight and detect key trends among large data sets. Analytics enables industries to plumb the data sets through the process of selecting, exploring and modeling large amount of data to uncover previously unknown data patterns. The insights which analytics provides can be channelized to business advantage. Data mining and predictive analytics unlock the hidden secrets of data and help businesses make strategic decisions. Analytics is bound to become more common and will play a predominant role in all organizations in the years to come.

Internet TVHot off the net:  If IMS represents the convergence of Telecom and the internet, Internet TV represents the marriage of TV and the internet. Internet TV is a technology whose time has come. Internet TV will bring a whole new user experience by allowing the viewer to be view rich content on his TV in an interactive manner. The technology titans like Apple, Microsoft and Google  have their own version of this technology. Internet TV combines TV, the internet and apps for this new technology.  Internet TV is bound to become popular with complementary technologies like IMS, LTE allowing for high speed data exchange and the popularity of websites like Youtube etc. Internet TV will receive a further boost from apps of smartphones and tablet PCs

IPv4 exhaustion – Damocles’ sword: While the future holds the promise of many new technologies it is also going throw a lot of attendant challenges. One serious problem that will need serious attention in the not too distant future is the IPv4 address space exhaustion.  This problem may be even more serious than the Y2K problem. The issue is that IPv4 can address only 2 32 or 4.3 billion devices. Already the pool has been exhausted because of new technologies like IMS which uses an all IP Core and the Internet of things with more devices, sensors connected to the internet – each identified by an IP address. The solution to this problem has been addressed long back and requires that the Internet adopt IPv6 addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit long address and allows 3.4 x 1038 or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses. However the conversion to IPv6 is not happening at the required pace and pretty soon will have to be adopted on war footing. It is clear that while the transition takes place, both IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist so there will be an additional requirement of devices on the internet to be able to convert from one to another

Conclusion:

Technologies like IMS, LTE, and Internet TV have a lot of potential and hold a lot of promise.  We as human beings have a constant need for better, faster and cheaper technologies. We can expect a lot of changes to happen in the next couple of years. We may once see rosy times ahead for telecom as a whole

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The “Internet of things”

Published in The Hindu, Sep 22, 2010 by Tinniam V Ganesh – http://bit.ly/9Jlwx5

We are progressively moving towards a more connected world, using a variety of devices to connect to each other and to the Net. We are connected to the network through the mundane telephone, mobile phone, desktop, laptop or iPads. We use the devices for sending, receiving, communicating or for our entertainment. In 2005, the International Telecommunications Standardisation Sector (ITU-T), which coordinates standards for telecommunications on behalf of the International Telecommunication Union, came up with a seminal report, “The Internet of Things.” The report visualises a highly interconnected world made of tiny passive or intelligent devices that connect to large databases and to the “network of networks” or the Internet.

This ‘Internet of Things’ or M2M (machine-to-machine) network adds another dimension to the existing notions of networks. It envisages an anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything network bringing about a complete ubiquity to computing. In Mark Weiser’s classic words, “the most profound technologies are those that disappear and weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it”. This will result in the metamorphosis of the network from a dumb pipe to intelligence at the edges. Embedded intelligence in the things themselves will further enhance the power of the network.

The portents of this highly revolutionary technology are already visible. The devices in this M2M network will be made up of passive elements, sensors and actuators that communicate with the network. Soon everyday articles from tyres to toasters will have these intelligent devices embedded in them.

RFID tags

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) was the early and pivotal enabler of this technology, with a tiny tag responding in the presence of a receiver which emits a signal. Retailers keep track of the goods going out of warehouses to their stores with this technology.

In a typical scenario one can imagine a retail store in which all items are RFID tagged. A shopping cart fitted with a receiver can automatically track all items placed in the cart for immediate payment and check-out. Another interesting application is in the payment of highway tolls. Similarly, plans are already afoot for embedding intelligent devices in the tyres of automobiles. The devices will be used for measuring the tyre pressure, speed etc., and warn the drivers of low pressure or tyre wear and tear. The devices will send data to the network, which can be processed.

This technology is also well suited for insurance companies which can give discounts to safe drivers based on the data sent by these sensors. Other promising applications include an implantable device capable of remote monitoring of patients with heart problems. It can warn the physician when it detects an irregularity in the patient’s heart rhythm.

The ‘Internet of Things’ can also play an important role in monitoring the stress and the load on bridges and forewarn when the stress is too great and a collapse is imminent. In mines, the sensors can send real-time info on the toxicity of the air, the structural strength of the walls or the possibility of flooding.

The day is not far off when devices will connect to the Internet to monitor and control the environment, improving our daily lives and warning us of impending hazards.

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