Qualcomm’s Snapdragon family of chipsets have become almost ubiquitous in the mobile device and equipment arena, but the company has been looking to leverage that success into other areas such as machine to machine (M2M) and the so called ‘Internet of everything’.
Qualcomm’s Kanwalinder Singh, Senior VP, Business Development, tells Wireless that in the M2M world it has two key areas of industry focus: automotive and energy.
‘These are the two domains we have zeroed in on and in some ways they represent the two ends of the market,’ says Singh. ‘Automotive is representative of higher end 3G and now increasingly LTE use, while Smart Energy represents the lower end of the market, which is very price sensitive on the device cost, as well as the network connectivity, as it migrates from the old GSM networks to 3G.’
Singh points out that both these domains are very large industries, which means they have the volumes to help to justify investment in new products. ‘They also represent two ends of the market in which we have unique products situated very well in helping to push LTE migration from 3G. One is diverse and has higher end margins and the other is helping to stimulate the migration from 2G to 3G and LTE, but has lower margins,’ he says.
For Smart Energy the key use case is demand management right from where the energy is produced all the way to an appliance that consumes energy within the home, says Singh.
‘We need to manage the demand, the grid, the meters and the appliances so they are all able to collaborate in a peak situation where demand has to be reduced to balance what is being consumed and what is being produced. When that demand use case has to be balanced within minutes then all the connected devices need to respond to that need by dropping demand by a certain amount. A sufficient number of devices have to respond and affirm that that is going to happen. This is why connected devices are so relevant in smart energy,’ explains Singh.
He points out that this has a knock on effect in that connected appliances lend themselves to other applications – the Smart Home. Home automation user cases include: remote control of doors, windows, lights, heating and ventilation and, of course, the key use case of home security – all of which can be managed from a smartphone.
Singh cites two companies in the USA, EDT and Alarm.com, which offer a complete package of sensors, alarms and call centre support. ‘They wire up your home and offer a monthly service to monitor your home and you can monitor it too. If there is a fire or break-in they will respond and you get notification on your smartphone. It’s all connected.’
But Singh says the Smart Home can go beyond these use cases with appliance manufacturers wanting to have a closer relationship with the consumer. ‘A washing machine manufacturer may want to give you a better warranty service by being able to monitor your washer or dryer and see how it is performing. It’s not just about optimising energy use, but if the machine is connected it can pass on information to inform the manufacturer that it is it out of balance, for example.
‘If the manufacturer can extract this kind of information he can provide a better service to the consumer, especially around warranty,’ continues Singh. ‘If you overstuff your washer, you might not get a cheaper warranty, but if you treat it properly they can proactively tell that you that it needs this or that part fixed.’
Singh says that for the utility industry M2M connection is more about energy management, but for the appliance providers it is about having a better connection and being able to provide a better service. What that brings is a better relationship with the consumer. ‘This is what is beginning to emerge in the M2M space,’ he says.
Of course, the Smart Home (and mobile device) world is also about media consumption, be it video, music, tablets, smartphones – areas where Qualcomm products are very firmly established. It is a different use case, but it is all connecting in the cloud, says Singh
The emergence of electric vehicles is where automotive and energy come together. ‘Managing the demand of charging electric cars is going to be a very large use case,’ says Singh. ‘As more and more electric vehicles are deployed, managing all of us coming home and plugging in our cars needs careful consideration. We need to be able to charge them in way that does not exceed the peak capabilities of the grid.’
Crossing over to automotive brings us to the already well established world of vehicle telematics, tracking, security and safety. The biggest example of this is GM OnStar, the in-vehicle security, communications, and diagnostics system, which uses Qualcomm chipset technology. Telematic head units from OnStar, which look like a souped up smartphone or tablet, enable customers to download applications and create infotainment services.
After market applications – vehicle insurance
Then there are after market applications such as insurance. Usage based and driver behaviour based insurance systems are now quite prevalent.
Singh says: ‘In the US, Progressive is an insurer that uses these devices. There is a bus under the steering wheel, into which you plug an after market device. Then based on how you drive you get a discount (they don’t penalise you for bad driving though!). It’s very smart: they say this is your regular premium, but if you take this device and demonstrate that you don’t drive that much, keep your distance from other drivers, don’t break or accelerate too quickly, then you’ll get a discount on your insurance.
‘What we are doing is leveraging GPS and telematic information collected from the car navigation system, which is transmited back through the cloud to Progressive, who can then determine whether you deserve a discount. It’s a very direct way of changing driver behaviour with financial compensation attached if you drive more carefully,’ observes Singh.
‘eHealth is a bit of a fragmented space,’ says Singh. ‘Qualcomm Life has come up with devices, body sensors and other quite innovative products, but the market is still developing.’
At this year’s CES show at Las Vegas in January 2012, Qualcomm attempted to stimulate the eHealth market by announcing it would award a $1m prize to anyone who could come up with a body scanner similar to the ‘tricorder’ used by Dr McCoy in the original series of Star Trek.
‘If someone can build a tricorder device that can diagnose a person’s affliction by scanning them and correctly diagnosing their condition, as agreed by a doctor, then they will win $1m,’ reports Singh, who explains: ‘It’s not just about connecting things. We are going into that arena to try and stimulate innovation and see if someone can break through with something.’
Qualcomm already provides a home health hub called 2Net, a wireless health platform that captures data from wireless medical devices. People with health issues, such as low blood pressure, can measure their readings, but they don’t have to worry about their cellular connection. ‘You can connect through Bluetooth or something else to the hub and then out into the cloud. It is a cloud based service for people in long term care at home,’ says Singh
‘We can do cellular, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth,’ continues Singh, ‘but in healthcare it is working out what kind of things will have value. I joke that the biggest value segment potentially are the people who are not yet in hospital, but who have a chronic disease that they don’t know about. Or people who are healthy, but who worry about their health and would buy products to monitor themselves.’
There are a wealth of potential use cases to make cities smarter, but one already deployed in the USA is Streetline, which provides information and payment facilities for city centre parking. Sensors are embedded into parking spots and are integrated with the parking meters, which in turn are linked directly into credit card billing systems via cellular networks.
Once it is set up and connected via short range radio frequency and cellular a driver downloads an app on his phone and asks if there is a parking spot in his vicinity. ‘It is a very real time use case,’ says Singh. ‘Based on the distance it can tell you the likelihood of the nearest parking spot to where you want to park being available when you get there. It colour codes it green, amber or red.
‘If it is green you are pretty much certain you’ll get it. But if you are further away it is less probable you’ll get it, so you get an amber or red signal. It’s all done using algorhythmic calculations. Once you’ve got a slot, you can pay for it from the phone and if you need to extend the time, you can top up the payment from wherever you are without having to go out to the meter.’
Singh says that from the perspective of emerging economies smart cities are exciting. ‘This is the “Internet of everything” – all kinds of sensors produce information that is captured by the cloud and which can then be offered as a service. It is not information being generated for the sake of it.
‘The Internet of everything is the marriage of the information gathering sensors and the cloud to produce something of value. Information on available parking slots goes into the cloud and then the municipality or a service company takes that information and creates an application that is useful to people who pay for it and provides a revenue stream for the municipality,’ says Singh.
Clearly, the advances in M2M and the Internet of everything means we are just at the start of a major technological change that is likely to alter our behaviours and the way we interact with the world around us.