‘M2M: Set to change the way a multitude of industries operate – including electricity and water’


Kevin Jacobson,
General Manager,
Business Indirect
Sales, MTN Business
Interview with Kevin Jacobson, General Manager, Business Indirect Sales, and Nomalanga Nkosi, General Manager, Business Marketing, MTN Business

What is Machine-to-Machine (M2M)?
M2M can sound daunting, but in essence it refers to “communication between any devices via a common mobile network for a specific purpose.” These devices can be used either to gain access to information or to send commands to other connected devices. For example, a sensor or meter connected to a GSM modem is used to capture “events” and these “events” are then relayed through a network and communicated in real time to relevant stakeholders within a business. Information is conveyed over the internet, cellular and satellite networks, to provide critical forewarning and status updates to companies, as to their working environment, to allow them to take appropriate action and control measures in the environment within which they work.

Nomalanga Nkosi

Nomalanga Nkosi,
General Manager,
Business Marketing,
MTN Business

What industries is this technology applied in?
We are very excited at what this technology can offer and how it is set to change the way a multitude of industries operates – including electricity and water, as well as petrochemical, environmental, mining and pharmaceutical sectors. While the M2M market is still widely fragmented, it is estimated that it is growing at 30% per year and widely quoted statistics indicate that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 versus just 8.5 billion people which clearly indicates the potential M2M has. This strong growth is attributable to businesses, across all industries, realising the operational benefits and efficiency savings of real-time data monitoring.

Why is MTN Business in this space?
Telemetry and M2M remote monitoring and controlling has been popularized with the move to use GSM and GPRS as the platform to link remotely located or devices. Therefore, due to the widespread coverage offered by networks such as MTN, especially in rural locations, we have examined the impact and implications of this technology. If we consider that the possibilities for this technology application is endless, it certainly makes business sense for MTN Business to offer our expertise in this area – from remote medical diagnostics, to transport tracking solutions that improve route optimization – the growth, productivity and collaboration and connectedness is limitless.

Can you give some examples of MTN Business’s M2M applications?
Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Automated meter management: AMM will allow utilities and municipalities to determine their own smart metering deployment strategy, choose the metering services they require, and have the ability to integrate the management of such services with the telemetry capabilities of the GSM network. AMM is an end to end service framework designed to allow MTN actively be present in the South African smart metering market. The national energy crisis resulted in The Electricity Regulations Act of 2006 which specifies that all end-users with a monthly usage of 1,000 kWh or more need to be on smart metering systems by January 2012. This legislation coupled with demand side management initiatives and increasing energy tariffs are driving the country’s smart metering market.

The MTN Business AMM solution is not just about reading your electricity meter, but rather about providing the entire communications platform for remote meter, device and data management – allowing utilities and municipalities to remotely monitor electricity meter performance and have their eyes on the ground – essentially providing a full value chain from municipalities all the way through to end user businesses.

MTN Business AMM provides the following key benefits:

  • Reduced operating costs for utilities and municipalities: In the MTN Business AMM solution, the traditional modem (CSD) can be replaced by customers with modems that now communicate through GPRS.
  • Operational efficiency: The clients’ server does not need to establish a communications link directly with the meter, but binds with the AMM platform through either web services (REST, SOAP) or a bespoke protocol if required.
  • Scalability: A single platform to cater for multiple meters will allow for rapid, bulk deployments.
  • Security: As the meter information will be encrypted, this information will not be available on the AMM platform, but will go directly to the client’s server (if needed) for manipulation and rating. How the client connects to the utility is still up to the client.  
  • Water usage monitoring: Business facilitates early leak detection, prevents wastage and minimizes costs, as well as ensures accurate and timely water meter readings – which means accurate billing and proactive risk management. The system is web-based, meaning that data can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection making it both affordable and easy to deploy. Portfolio managers are now able to view a number of sites in their portfolio that need to be monitored, the total monthly water consumption, the number of anomalies detected and solved, as well as those that remain unsolved, and the estimated monthly savings on water bills. Using the flow rate reduction, (in kilolitres per hour), taking for example a pilot test that was conducted – company x was losing 21,000 l of water a day from a small leak, and with a R400,000 bill every month as a result of the leak – it was having both a commercial and environmental impact. By using MTN Business’ Water Usage Monitoring solution to find the leak, the estimated yearly saving would be in excess of R3.5 million.

The interface can be linked to almost any water meter using the standard pulse outputs of a water meter. In addition to the above, MTN Business Water Usage Monitoring provides the following:

  • Real time business intelligence reporting
  • Assistance in proactive planning and water management for your facility
  • Back up of all usage information to a database
  • Supplying all water monitoring hardware
  • Installing, configuring and commissioning the hardware
  • Alerts via SMS and email on preset thresholds
  • Management of the service, end to end
  • Accurate hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual consumption reports via a website
  • Flow rate graphs detailing hourly consumption patterns.

As M2M and telemetry solutions become more proficient, MTN Business will continue to offer a wide variety of packages to address the needs of the more specialized customer.

What will be your message to African Utility Week?
The possibilities for industries in terms of growth, productivity and collaboration and connectedness are limitless – don’t ignore them. Today, managing your business’s utilities is made much easier with the latest in M2M technology. Versatile, reliable and cost effective, M2M connects all your machines, sending important data over a GSM network with real time reporting, 24 hours a day, so that you can detect and prevent problems before they happen. With this type of technology, businesses can now proactively monitor all their devices, and make informed decisions, improving overall productivity, streamlining business processes and achieving cost savings. Essentially, it’s about visibility, control and foresight – and as both water and energy are precious resources, M2M solutions ensure commercial and environmental viability. Africa is a catalyst for development – M2M technology is well poised to support such growth and drive further expansion of the continent.

Kevin Jacobson will address the opening session of African Utility Week on “The future of M2M communications in Africa: The opportunities for utilities, governments and other stakeholders”.  MTN is a platinum sponsor for the event.