The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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March 20, 2013

How to eat a trillion dollar pie ?

There is a pie that is baking right now. It is big. It is really big. In fact Cisco pegs it at 14 trillion USD. To put that in perspective, it is roughly the size of the current GDP of the United States of America.  The obvious questions are a) what is this all about and b) how do we bite into it.

The pie is known by several names. Brand managers in corner offices of top companies are working overtime to ensure that the terminology is associated with their respective organizations. IBM calls it "Smart Planet". Google calls it the "Internet of Things". Qualcomm recently tied up with AT&T and decided to call it the "Internet of Everything". Cisco use to call it "Planetary Skin". Now they too call it the "Internet of Everything".  In essence the trillion dollar question is about connecting people, processes, products and data and whatever we need to do to make sense of it all. At Infosys Labs, we call ourselves the Machine to Machine communication group. We call ourselves so because we feel that the underlying commonality is about a lot of machine to machine communication, with a lot of machines representing individual personalities in the virtual world.   

Charting a course in the M2M communication space is a challenging task, primarily because our visibility of the ecosystem remains limited at this point. Before we go to answer how we bite into this pie it is important to understand how the space is shaping up and various positions are being taken. At the bottom of the stack are the silicon providers like Qualcomm, Intel, Texas Instruments etc . Their primary interest is to corner the silicon market. To provide chips for every one of those 50 billion devices that are expected to hit the market by the end of the decade.  It includes smartphones, tablets, ATM machines, connected cameras and what not. Now there are two categories of companies making these devices. There are a few large players like the Samsung and Apple and a large number of startup initiatives hoping to hit it big with a killer product. Also in the fray are the Microsoft and the Google of the world, whose innovation engines are churning out products like Google Glass, Microsoft Surface and Amazon Kindle regularly.

Next up in the stack are the are the alliances in the communication protocols, both wired and wireless. Wired protocols include HIVAC, MODBUS, OBD etc. and the wireless group  includes the Zigbee Alliance, WiFi Alliance and even alliances around 3G/LTE options. At this stage the data movers of the world come into the picture, the Ciscos on the internet side and telecom operators like AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone on the cellular side.

Storing all the data coming out of the billions of connected devices  is the next major issue. Naturally the next layer includes the data storage providers like Oracle, who incidentally have their own M2M platform offering.  The challenge here is to be able to make sense of the very big data sets and to be able to query over them. Slightly higher up are the data crunchers of the world, the Google and Amazons who can provide the computation power to run advanced analytics on the huge amounts of data.

Given this ecosystem, where would be a good place for Infosys to play in? Interestingly enough we have still not answered the question about how to address the consumer's business needs. It is in this space where system integration has a huge opportunity. If we play by our strengths, we can create powerful applications that can harness the innovations at every layer of the stack. What we need to do is to build the right partnerships and create the right ecosystem. If we can execute that part successfully, we can become the foremost system integrator in this trillion dollar space. With our deep client connects, the next wave of application development awaits us.

November 11, 2012

M2M - Looking Beyond the Hype...

M2M market is expected to grow big time in the coming years.  As per a report from Ericsson, 50 billion devices are to be inter-connected by 2020.

Naturally, there is a lot of hype surrounding the deployment of M2M solutions and services in enterprise as well as consumer markets.  While technologists are gung ho about the possibilities of M2M and Internet of Things technologies, enterprise customers are looking at M2M solutions and services for addressing their key business challenges.  For enterprises to invest in M2M solutions and services, technology / solution providers and service providers have to pay attention to these aspects:

1. Addressing the right problem with the right solution
Not all problems require an M2M solution.  Identifying the right business problem to address is the key.  Moreover, if the solution does not address the problem effectively, it will not gain wide spread adoption by enterprises.  For e.g., just gathering data from sensors and devices and presenting them to the user serves little purpose if the user does not know how to use the data/information.  The information has to help the user identify opportunities for cost and resource savings, improve productivity, efficiency, and optionally how to take remedial actions. 

In addition, automating the end-to-end business processes using M2M technologies and solutions is also not always feasible.  Automation brings its own complexities and issues.  One issue is that of integration challenges with existing enterprise systems.  Another is related to the data.  If the device data is not reliable, or the processing of the data is not effective, automating the process (e.g., initiating control or taking corrective actions) can create more problems than it solves. 

2. Maturity of the technology and solution
A number of new M2M technologies, products and solutions are being introduced every day in the market.  Not all technologies are mature enough, and not all vendors and suppliers provide mature, scalable and robust offerings. 

Compliance to industry standards based protocols, APIs, wired/wireless interfaces, etc. is another aspect that needs to be carefully considered. 

In addition, making sure that the devices comply to the country / region specific safety and regulatory certifications is important.  Not all vendors have certifications for all geographies.  Working with the vendor to get the necessary certifications before deploying the solution is essential.  Identifying the right technology and procuring M2M devices, products and solutions from the right vendors is most crucial for delivering a mature offering.

3. Operational effectiveness in enterprise and industrial environments
Many M2M solutions make use of wireless interfaces for communication between devices, and also between devices and backend infrastructure.  It is essential to ensure that the chosen wireless communication technologies and products works reliably and effectively in the appropriate deployment environment - which may have a variety of impediments such as physical obstructions (metal enclosures & doors, glass walls & doors , wooden compartments, concrete roofs, brick walls, etc.), electromagnetic interference (from other wireless signals), noise and vibrations (from machinery, equipment), etc.)  Common issues faced with quality of wireless communication include signal attenuation/loss, fading, packet drops, jitter, etc.  These aspects have to be carefully considered while developing and deploying the solution.

4. Security and Privacy
Enterprise customers have concerns regarding the security and privacy of enterprise data gathered and processed by M2M solutions.  Solutions need to address security of data at several levels - 1) the wired/wireless communication channels, 2) data storage, 3) at presentation level, 4) at interfaces with other systems, apart from others.   Enterprises want to ensure that robust security mechanisms have been built into the M2M solution before deploying the same.  M2M devices and solutions have to be certified not only for compliance to industry accepted security standards, but also have to clear enterprise-specific security policies, guidelines, and tests without which enterprises will not deploy them.  In addition, many enterprises still prefer to have data collected and processed on-premise rather than sending data to a public cloud.  These considerations have to be taken into account while designing and deploying M2M solutions. 

5. Retrofits and interoperability with other enterprise systems
In most environments, M2M solutions cannot work in isolation.  More often than not, they need to be retrofitted on to existing equipment, machinery, and integrated with other enterprise systems.  This is a very critical need for many enterprises.  Often, the M2M solution needs to have the ability to integrate with a wide variety of devices, equipment and enterprise systems using standards-based and proprietary interfaces.

6. Who will run the service
Not all enterprises have the ware withal or inclination to operate an M2M solution/service on their own.  They would prefer some third-party service provider to provide the service to them with suitable SLAs defined and enforced.  Some prefer to deploy the solution within their premise and either operate it on their own, or by a third-party.  Others prefer to minimize their investments/risks and make use of third-party cloud based services and pay for the service as they go. 

7. Tangible Business benefits 
Technology for the sake of technology will not go very far.  Enterprise look for tangible and quantifiable business benefits from M2M solutions.  Key questions that need to be answered are: will the M2M solution/service help generate new revenue stream, can it improve revenue from existing streams, will it cut down on operational costs (if so, how significant will it be), will it make the enterprise 'green', will it improve productivity, efficiency, improve health and safety of employees and customers, etc.  Many M2M deployments do not go beyond pilot phase and do not see commercial deployments due to one or more of these reasons: 1) the solution is not effective in addressing the problem, 2) business benefits are weak/unattractive, 2) solution is economically unviable.   

8. Minimal Investment
M2M devices aren't always cheap.  In fact, the more specialized a device is, the more expensive it is.  Cost of devices is one of the most significant factors of an M2M solution.  Enterprises would like to keep their upfront investment minimal.  They would prefer if the service provider can deploy the devices on their premises for no-cost, on rental basis, or on lease basis rather than they having to purchase them.

In addition, enterprises would like to take advantage of any rebates and incentives - especially while buying the M2M devices, products and solutions.  It is important to understand the rebates and incentives available in different geographies, who is offering them, which products and solutions qualify, how do the rebates and incentives affect the investment, etc. and educate the customers accordingly.

9. Pricing and Pricing Models
Right pricing is key.  The solution has to be economically viable to see light at the end of the day.  Flexible and innovative pricing models are also important.  Pricing model related questions that need to be answered are: Can the enterprise "pay-as-you-go" for the service?  Does the enterprise have to pay one time / annual licensing fee for the solution?  Is the service offered on a monthly subscription basis?  Is the pricing based on benefits derived - say cost savings achieved, etc.?

10. Reasonable Return on Investment
Return on investment is the most crucial aspect of M2M solutions.  This is one of the first questions that gets asked by a customer.  Do not go to the customer without answering these questions: How good is the return on investment? What is the payback period?  Etc.  Payback period of more than 2-3 years are hard to justify for enterprises.

November 2, 2012

Technologies influencing widespread adoption of M2M today...

In this exploratory blog on M2M technologies, we look at some of the prominent technologies that are influencing the widespread adoption of M2M applications and solutions in the market today:

 

  • Sensors, actuators & smart devices: Sensors, actuators and smart devices (including smart phones) are becoming more and more powerful, intelligent, programmable, smaller in size, consume very low power, are significantly lower in cost, and widely available today.  They can monitor a wide variety of physical and non-physical entities effectively and relay them to a remote monitoring station over a wired or wireless interface for further processing and analysis.  Some of these devices are even capable of working autonomously - taking decisions and acting on their own.
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  • Wireless technologies: Wireless technologies such as zigbee, bluetooth, cellular, WiFi, etc. are widely available today.  These wireless technologies are often integrated with sensing devices allowing these devices to readily communicate between themselves, and with external systems wirelessly.
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  • Access devices: A wide variety of access technologies and devices such as desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, smart phones, PDAs, and tablet are available in the market today, which provide the advantage of accessing enterprise information from anywhere, and at any time. 
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  • Web technologies: Web technologies such as web-services, REST based protocols are today ubiquitous, are based on open standards.  M2M solutions based on web technologies readily make devices interwork with each other. 
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  • Software tools, frameworks and platforms: Several data gathering, storage, analysis, reporting and other software tools, products, platforms, frameworks and solutions (including open source ones) are widely available today that makes it easy to put together M2M applications and solution rapidly and deploy them in the market. 
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  • Cloud technologies: Cloud technologies and infrastructure are increasingly being deployed across the world making it possible to offer M2M solutions as a service to customers.  Many small and medium sized enterprises, who could not afford to pay for expensive M2M software solutions earlier can now leverage the power of the cloud to address their business needs at a fraction of the cost than was possible earlier.

 

In subsequent blogs on M2M technologies, we will discuss the above technologies (and additional ones) in more detail.

 

October 31, 2012

Nature's wrath

As we start going about our daily business today, millions of people are still reeling under the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. My deepest condolences to the people who succumbed to the fury of nature and for those whose lives have been irreversibly scarred by this act of God.    

In the midst of a chilly Fall evening in 2007, I found myself on the wooden Broadwalk around Atlantic City. I remember strolling out of Caesar's and into the Pier Shops. I had made plans to dine at Souzai Sushi and Sake. I was already comfortable by the time I settled down in the temperature controlled environment. Adding to the ambience was the sushi chef's exemplary public display of culinary showmanship. From the corner of my eye I could catch reflections of "The Water Show" - the $7 million water, light and sound extravaganza.  It had all ingredients of a memorable evening. Yet, what I remember most vividly was the effect of the Atlantic's dark waters,  playing out a passionate scene on the other side of the glass facade. The ocean's rumblings were seemingly overpowered within the contained space.

Looking back, it seems like Mother Nature was laying low and letting us, humans, bask in the glory of our own achievements and make merry in our  fool's paradise. Unfortunately for us, some of her other whims are not as convenient.  Superstorm Sandy made landfall at that very spot, leaving being a trail of destruction. However, such catastrophes present us with a rare opportunity to test the resilience of our collective systems and will power. It allows us to introspect on what is and what could be.  In fact it makes a stronger case for creating effective solutions to benefit humanity.

While it is sad that Superstorm Sandy caused loss of life, the silver lining is that the situation could have been worse. Damage to life and property were curtailed because we had a rudimentary oracle. Years of human endeavor have given us the ability to put an eye in the sky to lookout for upcoming storms. We have created complex models that can predict storm movements. We have invested in infrastructure to obtain data from ground zero. We have also created an internet to disseminate information among the general population as well as tablets to access the information remotely on a near real time basis. We also have some policies, awareness and discipline in place so that we know how to react in the face of an adversity.  This is no mean feat, and yet, there is a lot more that could have been done.    

Slowly, but surely, smart things are becoming part of our daily existence. There are "Things" that respond to us. There are "Things" that reason about our actions.  What is perhaps lacking is the ability to pool these experiences into a pervasive fabric that can be tapped into for the collective good. In the days to come we would build sense and respond systems that ensure business continuity. We would build smart buildings and bridges that adapt to their environment.   We would also build systems that recognize and prioritize human health and safety. But to get there we need to start thinking in a selfless, collaborative manner. We need to create a smarter and more responsible civilization and our systems need to reflect that philosophy. Every Superstorm Sandy will test the core of human resilience, but we will be better prepared to mitigate collateral damages.

October 29, 2012

Challenges in M2M

While the M2M market is growing rapidly today, there are quite a few challenges that enterprises and telcos have to overcome while deploying / commercializing M2M solutions and services today.  In this blog, we look at such challenges and possible ways to overcome them:

Technical challenges:

       Scalable M2M infrastructure and network

       Explosion in data volume from a large number of devices affect throughput and storage space on the M2M infrastructure and network.

       Increased network traffic and load on the M2M infrastructure due to large data volumes from devices.

       Standardization, interoperability & governance

       Currently no single global set of standards exist for the IOT and M2M technologies, devices, platforms, and solutions.

       Interoperability issues between devices following different standards pose significant challenges for M2M application developers.  Adoption of Zigbee standards is becoming more prevalent in the industry today, though differences in implementation of Zigbee profiles among vendors still pose a challenge for interoperability.

Making use of gateway devices with 'edge intelligence' can help address the issues of network traffic and data volumes to some extent.  In addition, a flexible and scalable M2M middleware that can be used to integrate a wide variety of devices following diverse protocols & standards will be of tremendous value.

M2M Platforms and Middleware

       High licensing fee and TCO of commercial M2M platforms

       Many commercial M2M platforms in the market today are comprehensive in features and are highly scalable, but come with high licensing fee and high TCO. 

       High upfront investment on an M2M platform, where the market is not mature involves significant risks for enterprises and telcos who wish to invest in M2M.

       Commercial platforms are not suitable for early stage exploration / innovation activities

       Typically, 9 out of 10 M2M ideas never make it to the market.  Therefore, high licensing cost of commercial M2M platforms make it unsuitable for early stage exploratory / innovation activities - where a new M2M idea/application needs to be rapidly prototyped, field tested in the market for technical and business feasibility before being launched commercially.

Light weight and agile M2M platforms with the ability to scale incrementally (as per needs) and having low TCO is much sought after in the market today.

M2M Value Chain

       Complex value chain

       The IOT value chain comprises of multiple players, each specializing in different applications, devices, platforms, middleware, vertical specific applications, etc.

No single player can deliver a complete solution.  As such, forging strategic partnerships with different members of the M2M value chain is important for going to market with M2M applications and solutions.

Industry Adoption and Business Value

       Business process & efficiency

       Enterprises are not always clear on what benefit they can derive from deployment of M2M application & services.

       Addressing the right business problems

       M2M technologies are not always necessary for solving all types of business problems.  The challenge is in identifying the right business problems that can be solved by M2M technologies.

       Privacy & security

       Enterprises have concerns about privacy & security of enterprise data on public cloud.  Many still prefer on-premise deployments though cloud deployment can save them on capex.

Co-creating M2M apps & services with clients/customers, and launching the service on pilot basis to validate viability / market acceptance will go a long way in gaining customer confidence.

Cost & ROI

       High cost of end devices and long payback period for M2M solutions and services pose significant challenges for early adoption by enterprises / customers.

Finding ways and means to reduce the burden of upfront investment for the customer is important.  Leasing, or renting of M2M devices, equipment, etc. can reduce the burden of upfront investment for the customer.  Customers can also take advantage of tax rebates and incentives (especially those that are related to "Green" solutions) offered by various governments when deploying M2M solutions and services.

Monetization - M2M Business Models

       Telcos are not clear about the market potential for several new M2M apps & services, and are still taking baby steps while investing in M2M.

       Monetization is a key challenge in the M2M area.  For some M2M apps & services, it is not clear what is the right business model, who pays for the service, what is the opportunity size, etc.

Identifying the right business model is the key to the success of M2M apps & services.   Telcos today are finding innovative ways to deal with this challenge.  For example, some telcos are building financial transaction right into an M2M application so that they can monetize on the financial transaction made by the end-user, even if they can't charge the enterprise customer for the M2M service itself. 

Licensing, Pay-as-you-go, revenue sharing, subscription model, etc. are some of the models that are prevalent today.

 

 

August 31, 2012

Leveraging 'Internet of Things' to improve Customer satisfaction at Retail Outlets

In today's retail world, competition is everything. Every store in a shopping mall vies for the customer's attention on its range of products. But what if one store's gain also meant gain for all other stores? Let's take a look at how 'Internet of Things' can help.

A novel idea that inspires to boost sales of retail outlets:

Don't we all hate waiting in the long queues at the super markets or food marts. Imagine if we could provide the outlet with our shopping list of products beforehand either online or through a mobile app. Later, simply just walk-in, collect our items and walk out or better still have them delivered to our address. Owing to 'Internet of Things', this can be achieved by a web application where customers can browse, select and add products to the cart. Then NFC technology could be used to help authenticate the user when he arrives to collect his merchandise. In case of home delivery, the deliverer's mobile can be used to authenticate customer's mobile via NFC.

But how does this help other stores? Most people visit malls not only to obtain items which they require but also to window shop and discover new products. The major constraint to this is time. Every minute the customer spends trying to get the products he visited the mall for, is a minute of time lost in discovering new items. Now, if the customer is given the items he wanted on arrival, it means he/she gets more time to look at other stores. This is a win-win situation for the stores at the mall.

Indoor tracking to increase sales:

With malls growing in size and number year on year, it has become so difficult to identify the many stores, their products up for sale and their location within the mall. Kiosks help only to a certain extent and usually have a crowd of people surrounding them. But with the use of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth based location triangulation and Augmented reality not only can patrons locate themselves on the Mall's map, but can also easily locate specific category of stores they might be interested in. In addition to this, advertisements can be displayed to the user depending on his location within the mall. Again, this can prove to be a smart method for stores to attract the right set of customers while increasing customer satisfaction. As an added benefit, customers too remain happy as they don't have to walk round and round a large mall trying to find what they need.

The above is just a couple of advantages among umpteen benefits that the usage of 'Internet of Things' and technology can bring to the Retail segment. There is a huge opportunity and innumerable possibilities; the only limit is one's imagination

August 9, 2012

Smart Farmers: The future of agriculture with 'Internet of Things'

 

Another failed monsoon, another drought hit winter ahead for our country. For a vast and populous country like ours, with ambitions to grow as an economic powerhouse in the flat world, it is a bit shameful that a vast majority of its people still depend on the south west monsoon as its primary source of food and income. Crops fail, and thus demand exceed supply, which in turn gets the prices to soar. As techies, we might crib about the rise in prices but our steady income helps negate them for the time being. But for the 600 million farmers scattered over the country, their whole livelihood is in danger.

How can this situation be prevented? Can information technology help avert drought like disasters and help sustain our country's economy? Internet of Things, a key new buzzword in the realm of emerging technologies, might have a say or two in this matter.


Smartness comes with optimization

One thing any farmer would think of is to maximize his harvest with minimizing his expenditure. How can we optimize a season long cultivation process?

A 24 hour, 365 day, comprehensive environmental and growth parameter monitoring solution could be the answer to this. With sensors at the ground level sending instantaneous data regarding humidity, temperature, light and the many characteristics of soil such as pH, moisture content, fertilizer content etc., one can monitor whether a plantation is growing with its ideal growth conditions. When any parameters go awry, for example, moisture content in soil goes down beyond a set limit, alerts can be raised to the farmer and he can be guided as to exactly how much irrigation is needed and where.

Resource optimization, process optimization, business optimization; all in one go, at your fingertips, powered by meaningful data and the insights surrounding them.

 

Smartness comes with flexibility

Consider you had a piece of land and wanted to cultivate a cash crop as an alternative source of income; consider it your first foray into life as a farmer. You however, do not have any idea on what to cultivate, how to cultivate and how to monitor it. In this case, you would need a tool which can answer these queries backed up by instantaneous and accurate data.

A comprehensive plant management and monitoring system complete with databases, sensors and web based dashboard fits the bill here. Plant databases can be made use of to select the best growing crop in relation to the climate and soil conditions, relayed back by sensors deployed at ground zero. Once a crop is selected, its ideal range of growth parameters could be used as the threshold for monitoring it. Alternatively, one can change the crop (if it's not needed any more) as soon as environmental and soil parameters are not conducive any more.

 

Smartness comes with predictability

The common factor in all stories where crops fail is that the farmer couldn't predict it at the sowing or growing period, until he realizes it's too late. Can the farmer predict the future so that he can take corrective action if necessary?

Our continuous ground level parameter monitoring solution, together with crop databases and accurate weather predictions could actually make this possible. Continuous monitoring of moisture content and pH in the soil can be used to calculate how many days the sown crops would survive without irrigation. This data with accurate weather reports would give the farmer a better idea as to whether he needs to change the crop or explore other sources of irrigation.

 

Conclusion

Internet of Things has a huge potential in the agriculture field, particularly with the water stress and weather changes predicted in the near future. It gives plants a tongue to speak to us, complain to us when it needs resources to grow; also it serves as an ear to the farmers, telling them what to change/add to get optimum growth for the plantation. Its potential is only limited by imagination; we can expect farmers to be very 'smart' in the near future.

Continue reading "Smart Farmers: The future of agriculture with 'Internet of Things'" »

July 31, 2012

Internet of Things


Internet of Things (IoT) is a web of intercommunicating devices talking to each other over different physical media, channels and protocols. It is based on the paradigm of 'everyware', a combination of pervasive computing and ambient intelligence. IoT or Machine to Machine (M2M) technologies include sensors, actuators, RFIDs, smart plugs, smart meters, etc. with wireless communication capabilities.

So far, the Internet has been used to connect with friends and family, get information, conduct transactions, and of course, for entertainment. However, the next wave of Internet usage will enable you to connect with the physical objects and things around you. Picture a tomorrow where an app on your mobile phone will help you locate your car keys or a medicine bottle will track your dosage. Tomorrow everyday objects will come alive and you will control them over the Internet to make your life better.

Owing to 'Internet of things', the everyday objects ranging from electrical appliances to what you wear, what/where you drive, what you read/see and anything humanely perceptible will be more addressable and controllable (over the Internet).

The implications of such an intelligent network where even the most miniscule objects can be accessed and/or controlled are only limited by one's imagination.

Moving forward, maximum traction for IoT is seen in the following verticals:
  - Workplaces and Smart Homes
  - Healthcare and Hospitals
  - Manufacturing and Industry
  - Transportation, Supply Chain and Logistics
  - Public Safety and Emergency Services
  - Utilities and Smart Grids
  - Retail, Education and Insurance

Evidently, the space of IoT is immense and the opportunity huge.                  

50 billion devices will be connected to web by 2020 - Ericsson

One of the six disruptive technologies of this century - US Intelligence Council

M2M services will generate nearly $17 billion in worldwide connectivity revenues in 2016, with a CAGR of about 34% over the next five years - Forrester

IBM with its Smarter Planet concept, Qualcomm and HP with Internet of Everything and CeNSE Project, respectively, have announced their entry in the domain in a big way. Ericsson is working on its Social Web of Things, and the networking giant Cisco on Cisco's Planetary Skin.

In a future reigned by 'Internet of Things', there are a plethora of technologies and facilitators which provide much momentum. Going by the market trends and technology evolution, the day is not far when a world without 'Internet of Things'/'Machine-to-Machine communication' will be hard to imagine.

As clear thus far, most of the companies and business leaders understand its immensely huge potential. No wonder, most technology titans, including us, are actively pursuing the space of 'Internet of Things'.