|Issue:||Europe I 2013|
|Topic:||Impact of M2M on society|
Oozi Cats is the founder and CEO of Telit Communications PLC.
Since 2006 Telit’s acquisitions have included Motorola’s M2M division, Global Connect, and Navman’s location based technology.
M2M applications can deliver real-time information wirelessly to decision makers, providing them with a comprehensive understanding of specific situations so they can react appropriately with confidence. The social and economic benefits could be significant.
Machine- to-Machine (M2M) is about the collection and management of data. When people have more background knowledge and more information available, they are able to make better and wiser decisions. M2M helps not only to collect the data needed for such decisions, but provides data in real time to its users and thus provides them with know-how. This knowledge has impact on the decisions we are making in our everyday lives and that impacts society.
One example is energy. Due to the economic and environmental situation we are facing there is a clear need to expand the usage of renewable energy and at the same time educate people to consume less energy. This makes it mandatory for utilities to know where and how much energy is generated and consumed. In addition, they must have the ability to switch different energy sources on and off to avoid network capacity overload, for example solar panels during hot summer days. With a Smart Grid based on M2M technology, utilities can monitor generation, transmission capacity, and consumption, and remotely regulate solar panels or wind turbines in real time. Without this data and the usage of this technology a change towards alternative energy sources is impossible. If we now go one step further and provide this data not only to utilities, but also grant consumers access to it, we see a huge impact: studies show that once people know about their energy consumption, they reduce it automatically and start saving more energy.
This kind of impact is visible everywhere M2M technology is used: M2M health applications monitor patients and send information such as glucose levels, heart activity and medication adherence to a care provider. With M2M connections, physicians, pharmacists and caregivers can now monitor patients as they engage in routine activities such as taking pills or testing blood sugar levels. These devices encourage adherence to a prescribed or recommended regimen and lead people to healthier behaviours, helping them avoid costly doctor’s office or hospital visits.
Or take pay-as-you-drive applications, which are widely adopted in the USA. Safe drivers receive better rate plans and thus people are stimulated to change their driving behaviour. Possible societal benefits may include a reduction in overall trips taken which could result in less traffic, fewer accidents, lower car emissions, longer vehicle life, and less road maintenance.
Another example is water management: water is a precious resource that we continue to waste. It is a key driver of economic and social development and it maintains the integrity of the natural environment. Water has many different uses, so a coordinated action that includes the interests of diverse stakeholders is needed. That will take time, but in the meantime smart water meters are being deployed and the need for smart water grids is being recognized. Utility companies and governments around the world have to make tough decisions about balancing diminishing resources with an ever-increasing demand. For example, urban populations are rising rapidly, particularly in the developing countries; in Asia-Pacific and elsewhere water consumption is rising in line with rising standards of living; and then there is the impact of global warming. The problem is compounded by inefficient usage, particularly in the agricultural sector, which uses around 70 per cent of the available water. Inefficiency comes from evaporation as well as the fact that growing vegetation for animals that are slaughtered for us to eat is a spectacularly wasteful process. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Raising animals for food consumes precious energy.
Balancing social and economic needs
Agricultural issues like humidity and temperature are easy to address using M2M technology. Sensors measure these parameters and the application turns sprinkler systems on only when necessary. Sector solutions are important, but there is a clear need for integrated water resource management systems that will enable water resources to be managed in ways that balance social and economic needs. And until the intrinsic value of water is reflected in realistic household and business tariffs, such as those of electricity and gas, then water will continue to be wasted.
Another key issue is the fact that some distribution systems were built 50 to 100 years ago and badly need upgrading. Revenues of around US$14 billion are being lost according to the World Bank, which makes a compelling economic case for better water metering. When those upgrades happen we’ll start to see the emergence of smart water grids that leverage the value of smart water meters in homes and other buildings. These meters are being deployed, albeit slowly. According to a report from Pike Research, the global installed base of smart meters with two-way communication capabilities will only reach 29.9 million by 2017, up from 10.3 million in 2011. However the UK’s biggest water company, Thames Water, plans to install meters in most homes by 2015.
From an M2M perspective, there is little difference between electricity, gas and water meters. A leading-edge water management provider in the Netherlands, for instance, is utilizing advanced wireless M-Bus modules combined with its own solution to monitor groundwater levels for cities, water boards and mining applications worldwide. Data from the vendor’s wireless groundwater monitoring systems are used by several municipalities and water boards in the Netherlands to reduce risks from flooding as well as for long-term planning and development. In the pilot projects the system is being used in different applications such as monitoring the effects of treated waste/sewage water injected into an aquifer, while mining companies in Florida and Chile wirelessly monitor groundwater supplies required for extraction. The monitoring system can also detect salinity levels, which rise as drinkable water is depleted, and temperature, which can act as an alert to various pollutants if it rises.
In the M2M context, we should not forget: M2M impacts life not only in developed and industrial nations, but also in emerging markets. An example is Africa. We see that especially in Africa cellular networks are very well developed; already today it is commonplace for many Africans to use their mobile phones to make payments, for example. Thus, this is a very interesting market for M2M applications based on cellular technology. An example that has helped improve the healthcare situation there is the GSM printer, funded by the Clinton Foundation and the Mozambique Ministry of Health. Rural medical clinics in Africa are able to wirelessly receive HIV test results of expectant mothers within days of testing, a first for many rural villages. Thanks to knowing their infection status, mothers with HIV-positive results can start on anti-retroviral drugs much earlier in their pregnancies, reducing the chances of transferring the virus to their unborn children from 40 per cent to less than one per cent. This shows the huge potential M2M has in emerging countries counting on a cellular network infrastructure.
Such vertical M2M applications illustrate the societal benefits of having real-time information delivered wirelessly to decision-makers, providing them with comprehensive understanding of specific situations so they can productively move forward with confidence.