Smart City could take a decade to reach fruition: MediaTek

Kuldeep Malik, Country Head – Corporate Sales International, MediaTek India

The Internet of things (IOT) is set to play a big role in building smart cities in India. There are many companies which claim to offer IoT-based solutions for Smart Cities. One of such companies is MediaTek which has strengthened its presence in the semiconductor and mobile chip space. Dataquest spoke to Kuldeep Malik, Country Head – Corporate Sales International, MediaTek India.

What is the role of MediaTek in IoT domain?

MediaTek is a leading fabless semiconductor company, enabling 1.5 billion devices in 2015 across product categories including digital TV, feature & smart phones, optical disc drives, among others. And now MediaTek seeks to provide innovative solutions that will help power the next range of wearable and IoT devices. Broadly, we are most actively involved in three categories; M2M, Wearables and Connected Homes.

M2M: For M2M devices, we have solutions like the MT6260 and MT6261, to help enable products for smart metering, fleet management, remote monitoring, point of sale, security and smart agriculture.

Wearables: The rising market of smartphones and tablets is enabling the integration of wearable devices with the smartphones. Wrist wear segment holds the majority of the market share and is anticipated to dominate the market by 2020 (Report). Global sales of wearables – a broad category that includes fitness bands, smartwatches and connected clothing, shoes and health gadgets – rose 67.2% in the first quarter in 2016, compared with a year earlier (TOI). So, wearables category is obviously seeing a big jump in growth, and MediaTek is ready to tap into this booming market with a range of its wearable solutions for fitness tracker, BT notification watch, calling watch, fashion watch and GPS tracker watch.

Some of the recent key wearable processors include the MT2502, MT2503 and MT2601. The MT2502 (Aster) is one of the world’s smallest commercial System-on-Chip (SOC) for Wearables. This SOC works with MediaTek’s energy efficient Wi-Fi and GNSS companion chipsets also. This means it is now easier to create devices that connect to other smart devices or directly to cloud applications and services. Recently, MediaTek tied up with Intex to power its newly launched range of wearable devices. The iRist Junior- The first IOT based wearable device from Indian brand is powered by the MT6261, and includes GPS solution for child tracking, the first to be introduced by an Indian brand, a 0.96 inch TFT screen and weighs 48.5 grams. And the upcoming iRist Pro is powered by the MT2502, providing upgraded features like the water resistant build, support for Bluetooth 4.0, and compatibility with Android 4.4 & above.

Further, the MT2601 SoC for wearable devices is based on Google’s Android Wear software. By enabling Android Wear on MT2601, MediaTek is offering a comprehensive platform solution for device makers to implement their own hardware and software, and introducing a multitude of possibilities in Android Wear devices for the fast-growing consumer class globally.

Connected Homes: There is an increasing trend towards the smart home that involves connecting every imaginable electrical or electronic device, delivering smart home appliances. Smart home appliances refer to appliances that are connected to the Internet, and are capable of carrying out their functions by being remotely controlled with a smart device, or on their own. As technology advances and prices go down, smart home appliances are expected to be widely adopted on a global scale, and this is the opportune time for MediaTek to drive proliferation of the IoT market. MediaTek offers various solutions to cater to this category, like the MT7688, MT7681, MT7687 and MT7697. The MT7687 and MT7697 are the latest additions to the growing range of platforms under this category and are based on ARM Cortex-M4 architecture, and can be used for the creation of high-performance, low-powered connected appliances, home and office automation devices, smart gadgets, and IoT bridges. Additionally, the MT7688 and MT7681 are designed for easy embedding into small and simple home appliances such as smart lighting, door locks and plugs, and seeing a positive market response.

How do MediaTek’s offerings help to cater towards India’s Smart Cities initiatives?

The purpose of the Smart Cities initiative is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes.

This is exactly where MediaTek contributes. By providing a range of solutions that help to create Smart technologies, MediaTek helps enable devices to improve infrastructure and services, paving the path to achieving the vision of Smart Cities in India. Say for instance, by using MediaTek’s MT7681 SoC platform, we have recently developed a prototype for a smart lighting solution that is expected to be deployed in one of the Smart Cities projects. Or like how MediaTek is working on real estate projects, providing our WiFi technology for smart metering and home security solutions.

Similarly a Wi-Fi based grid can help to monitor the load on the respective power lines, and can help the power distribution companies to quickly work around a strategy to balance the load from underutilized power lines. This can work as a huge advantage for the entire power distribution sector.

Tell us about some of the key challenges that the Indian government will have to overcome in implementing the Smart Cities initiatives.

As per various industry reports sourced, the urban population in India is expected to rise by more than 400 million people to 814 million by 2050. India, therefore faces the kind of urbanization which was earlier seen in China. To tackle this, the government has proposed the smart city project which aims to create 100 cities by 2022, of which 20 have been already selected. It is a great initiative and we expect this to provide a boost to over infrastructure and economic standards in the country, though it will be a while to turn these ideas into reality.

India is a very diverse country with a vast population, having its own set of issues which pose a hurdle in the government’s ambitious plans. Firstly, the Smart City could take almost a decade to reach fruition and this requires persistence and commitment on the part of the government as well as the citizens. In order to meet the desired deadline, clearances need to be issued at the earliest. Secondly, due to the advancements in technology, the industry is undergoing constant changes with newer technologies coming into the foray and hence the government needs to be on top of the game if they want to succeed. The whole aim of the smart city is to enable people to enjoy sustainable economic growth and high standards of living. This will require the community to actively participate in energy saving, implementation of new technologies and decisions to improve quality of life. To this end, the government will need to outline special programs to educate the people in this direction. Another major challenge is the lack of skillsets and the need to train and develop a skilled workforce which will consume a majority of the government’s finances and time. In addition, one of the major difficulties we foresee is lack of standardization in technology. There are different vendors working on different city projects and currently all technology firms are building their own solutions to target the requirement. Though, there is no one standard requirement or technology put in place, which can help guide every city in similar direction. This can breed fragmentation that may require further upgrade quite soon, which may work for a few cities and may not for others. In order to successfully roll-out the Smart Cities project, this is also an aspect the government needs to work towards.

What are the Key Trends observed in the IoT space for semiconductor industry?

Rapid technological innovation is driving growth in the semiconductor industry. As more and more cutting-edge devices like smartphones, tablets, electric cars and wearable devices emerge, they are constantly expanding the number of semiconductor components we use every day. The advance of digitization and the IoT will further increase demand for semiconductor products. Taken together, these factors will drive solid growth for the global semiconductor market. According to a recent PwC analysis on the global semiconductor market, the industry is forecasted to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 5.2%, reaching $432 bn by 2019.

A few trends we can expect will include significant growth in semiconductor demand driven by the industrial and automotive markets, integration of more semiconductor features on a single chip, and the advent of utility/basic smart phone that will lead to rapid growth of semiconductor sales, especially in semiconductor economies, presenting both opportunities and challenges to semiconductor players.

How does role of start-ups help in building Smart Cities?

In order to complete this initiative, it is imperative for the government to partner with private players to ensure that this project reaches fruition and does not collapse mid-way. This opens a plethora of opportunities for not only big conglomerates but also start-ups. The internet revolution almost two decades ago has ushered in the start-up era, encouraged by government policy and built on the unprecedented ability to source funding through numerous crowd-funding portals and Venture Capitalist firms. In light of this, Smart Cities are fast becoming the ideal stage for start-ups, thanks in large part to the falling prices of raw materials. When it comes to City Infrastructure Management (CIM) including Smart Parking, Smart CCTV Surveillance, Smart Street Lighting and Smart Water Management, the opportunity to develop solutions by start-ups is tremendous.

Given that start-ups have much slower innovation cycles, it’s harder for multi – national corporates to run the kinds of rapid iterative experiments done by their small counterparts. Additionally, start-ups are capable of rapid & efficient growth. Due to their constant innovation, they are able to attract talent and capital, and within half a decade they can reach 100 or more cities thereby helping in developing these cities by providing work opportunities to the growing populace that will occupy the place in the near future.

Having said that, let us also take a look at the flip side. Though, start-ups are more innovative, they require economic scale to survive, and therein lies the biggest challenge. The Smart Cities initiative aims to optimize city operations as a unit, many related to IT or IoT, focusing on specific projects like waste management, water supply, public transport, surveillance etc. So a whole portfolio of solutions is required. For now, a start-up cannot provide a complete solution for all. Each is working to provide very specific solution basis requirement while working with its vendor. But once the solution is up and running, there will be revisions. Like mentioned before, there is a requirement to set standards across technologies to build economic scale for start-ups, to be able to build a viable business proposition for them.

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