Radio based global navigation satellite system is a key technology that helps us in navigation, surveying, tracking, and mapping. While the US GPS is the most popular satellite system with 31 satellites in operation, a GPS-only system faces difficulties, especially in mega cities with skyscrapers where satellite signals are often lost. For fleet management and other tracking applications, this can be an unacceptable situation. Plus, GPS-only navigation also faces other restrictions as GPS satellites orbit the earth from a distance of 20,000 kms.
A solution came up last October when a Russian satellite system called GLONASS became operational with 24 satellites in orbit. GLONASS, when combined with the GPS system with 55 operational satellites improves positioning hugely. The clincher is that access to dual constellations is provided by machine-to-machine (M2M) navigation modules which can receive, track, and navigate using the entire spectrum of satellite systems available globally.
The big plus is that these modules provide connectivity with more satellites as compared to the connectivity provided through a standard GPS, thereby providing optimum performance and more accurate navigation from personal and asset tracking to automotive solutions.
Such modules reduce the delay from several minutes to seconds for a navigation device to acquire its position after being powered on. The devices can cut down the incidence of lost satellite coverage by enabling additional satellite fixes that reduces blind spots.
Finally, it enables more accurate positioning, better 'pinning' of a person, car or any asset's true location on a digital map. These advanced technologies can have a clear impact and strong adoption in diverse fields-more so in emerging and growth markets like India. But what exactly are M2M solutions?
What's M2M Tech?
Machine-to-machine (M2M) refers to technologies that allow both wireless and wired systems to communicate with other devices. M2M uses a device-a sensor or a meter-to capture an event (such as temperature and inventory level), which is relayed through a network (wireless, wired or hybrid) to an application (software program) that translates the captured event into a meaningful information (for example, items need to be restocked).
The sensors or meters could be in vending machines, utility meters, cars or remote health monitors. The collection, processing, and response are done in real-time. M2M is a growing segment for the satellite industry, although satellites still have a small share of the M2M market which is dominated by cellular systems: Only 2% in volume and 6% in revenue in 2011, according to consultancy IDATE. IDATE also forecasts that the global satellite M2M market will reach 2.3 bn euro by 2016 with Asia-Pacific having the highest rate of growth.
While sectors such as fleet management connecting tracking and telemetry devices for transport fleet management and maritime security have driven the sector's development up to now, new markets have been emerging over the past several years, especially in the area of energy and defence.
For example, in Russia, these low-power, cost-effective modules deliver fast, high-accuracy positioning, and are targeted at applications like vehicle tracking, mobile resource management, and emergency call system.
India & the Satellite M2M Application Market
The M2M modules market in India is nascent but offers growth opportunities. The modules can be classified as short-range, cellular, and satellite M2M modules which are used in wide range of applications like utilities, security, automotive, transport & logistics, healthcare, and retail and financial services. Automotive, transport, and logistics are the prominent markets for M2M modules but application markets like security and utilities are the fastest emerging markets.
The increasing demand for remote monitoring and control, government initiatives, launch of 3G networks, and reducing human efforts are a few factors that have spurred the Indian M2M modules market. Satellite M2M applications could be a big plus for a growing but diverse country like India.
Once classic and low-cost wireless solutions (chiefly GSM and 3G) are no longer available, satellite becomes the only possible solution for M2M applications. This is especially true of vast desert areas and of oceans where demand for M2M solutions is high: For tracking fishing vessels, dangerous cargo, and monitoring offshore wind farms. Perfectly suitable for tracking across India's long eastern and western coastline.
As well as providing a 'network extension' for day-to-day operations, satellite M2M services are also being deployed as a back-up to traditional networks to ensure that mission-critical data continues to be transmitted during terrestrial network outages or when cellular networks are simply congested.
India's waiting-to-grow but critical infrastructure sectors can be a major satellite M2M plays. India's power sector is increasingly turning technology-savvy with smart grids and smart meters linked to automated meter readers becoming key. Satellite M2M modules can become the backhaul for the data aggregation points for power meters.
They also find application in system control and data acquisition for monitoring gas pipelines and oil wells. Linking environmental sensors that monitor water quality or seismic activity is a another key application too.
The military can be big users of M2M applications too for tracking combat assets, also called Blue Force Tracking. Satellite M2M networks are ideal for managing remote, mission-critical devices, and for ensuring access to remote infrastructure even during critical man-made or natural disaster.
Experts say they see a great potential for M2M wireless technologies in India with current and future initiatives planned by both public and private sectors expected to benefit from the use of M2M applications in terms of cost and efficiency accruals. The real full-fledged M2M market in India has now started evolving.
Automated meter reading and fleet management are just the beginning. In fact, every machine at your home can be interconnected through M2M modules. This will take a couple of more years to happen.
India and M2M: In Numbers
The numbers reflect the potential. According to 6W research, the Indian M2M modules market is seen generating earnings of $98.38 mn by 2016, a likely compounded growth rate of 33.81% between 2011 and 2016. Cellular M2M modules generated $9.15 mn in 2011 and can reach $41.54 mn by 2016; satellite M2M modules generated $2.43 mn in 2011 and is expected to reach $10.67 mn by 2016.
In the applications market, automotive, transport, and logistics applications account for 75.9% of the overall modules market. However, applications such as utilities and security are expected to grow with a relatively higher CAGR of 38.12% and 35.24%, respectively for the same period.
Global M2M solution majors are playing a big role to create awareness about M2M connectivity and its benefits like cost optimization and higher efficiency. These firms are creating extensive support and distribution network to penetrate the low tier customer base where it was difficult to make inroads before.