“In adopting oneM2M we learned the importance of not reinventing the wheel when building each new IoT application”.

June 2024 - In this interview, Suresh Kumar Karthikeyan, co-founder of Susan Future Technologies Private Limited describes his organization’s oneM2M adoption journey. He also discusses some of the innovative uses of IoT and communications technologies in India, where he is based.

Q: Would you begin by introducing yourself to our readers?

SKK: I am Suresh Kumar Karthikeyan, Founder of Susan Future Technologies (SFT) Private Limited based out of Chennai, India. I am a wireless network enthusiast with a strong interest in open-source initiatives. SFT was set up in 2021 to focus on the use of advanced communication technologies to develop sustainable solutions for various industries.

My professional career began after I completed my Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Communication Engineering at the College of Engineering Guindy. I then spent about ten years designing and building wireless and cellular communication networks. I managed multiple product and IP developments with leading telecommunication R&D companies, contributing significantly to indigenous technology development in India for Civil and Defence applications. My experience ranges across LTE, 5G, Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN), Low Power Personal Area Networks (LPPAN), and Ultra-Wideband Networks.

I participate in cellular communication and IoT standardization efforts, collaborating with organizations such as Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), and Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC).

I am currently pursuing my master’s research in 5G Non-Cellular Radio Access Network at IIT Madras (IITM) while participating in the IITM 10x Young Tech Leaders and Rancho programs.

Q: What kinds of activities does Susan Future Technologies work on?

SKK: SFT’s vision is to “Venture a Sustainable Future”. We are a team of engineers and experts in aerospace, communication systems, product design and manufacturing, financial planning and audit, and quality assurance. 

Our key initiatives include the development of Lighter-than-Air High Altitude Platforms and Tethered Aerostats. Our flagship platform, MOBIUS, is a semirigid hydrogen airship that operates at altitudes of 20-30 kilometres above the Earth's surface. These platforms cater to diverse sectors such as defence and surveillance, network and communication, remote sensing, maritime monitoring, disaster response, and payload delivery.

Currently, SFT is actively participating in the Sangam: Digital Twin program organized by the Department of Telecommunication with a focus on "Aerostat for sustainable communication and surveillance."

We are also collaborating with the Centre of Innovation for IoT/M2M (COI) set up by C-DOT. Notably, we have developed Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in Mission Critical Broad Band Public Protection and Disaster Relief (BB-PPDR) communication networks for first responders. This work is based on oneM2M standards.

Our work has been recognized through industry awards including the Defence Research and Development Organization’s Dare to Dream 3.0 Innovation Challenge for our "Underwater Diver Acoustic Communication Equipment" and the Delhi Police Open Innovation Contest 2021 for "SIM Box Locator".

Q: Why is the IoT important for your company’s business activities?

SKK: The IoT is pivotal to SFT's mission of fostering a more interconnected and technologically advanced future. While internet access is essential for human habitats, there are numerous scenarios where connectivity for non-human entities is crucial. For instance, forest fire monitoring systems require robust communication networks to function effectively, even in remote areas where human presence is minimal. By integrating IoT technologies, we ensure these systems can operate seamlessly, providing vital data for early detection and response.

A key principle underpinning IMT-2020 systems is Massive Machine-type Communication (mMTC), which anticipates a continual increase in the density of internet-requiring devices. This principle guides our efforts to support the ever-growing network of connected things.

A significant aspect of our research focuses on designing non-cellular 5G mesh networks, operating in the license-free ISM band, for IoT use cases. This allows us to provide scalable and flexible connectivity solutions that are not dependent on traditional cellular networks. Non-cellular 5G mesh networks are particularly beneficial for IoT applications that require ultra-reliable, ultra-low-latency communication in areas where it is challenging or impractical to deploy conventional infrastructure.

Q: What are the primary technical challenges in integrating High Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) with existing IoT infrastructure?

SKK: Current IoT infrastructures are largely based on terrestrial or satellite networks. Terrestrial networks are constrained by their physical height and coverage range, limiting their effectiveness in providing extensive coverage. On the other hand, satellite networks offer broader coverage but come with high latency due to their distance from earth or high mobility due to orbiting.

Operating at altitudes of 20-30 km, HAPS strike an optimal balance by providing wider coverage than terrestrial networks and lower latency than satellites. Their closer proximity to earth results in significantly lower latency. This is crucial for real-time and mission-critical IoT applications such as Industry 4.0, emergency response, and public protection. HAPS are resilient to terrestrial calamities and provide a robust and reliable IoT network for critical applications. Recent approval by the WRC-27 for HAPS to use IMT spectrum enables cellular connectivity directly to devices and is likely to accelerate the adoption of HAPS.

Latency is critical for emergency response, public protection and Industry 4.0 applications. Another benefit of HAPS’ closer proximity to earth takes the form of higher signal quality and higher throughput. This helps with bandwidth-intensive applications such as video surveillance.

At SFT, we are developing solutions to overcome these latency and bandwidth challenges. Our HAPS platforms are designed to integrate seamlessly with existing IoT infrastructure, ensuring minimal disruption. The higher signal quality and throughput provided by HAPS ensure that IoT applications, especially those requiring real-time data transmission, can operate efficiently and effectively. Additionally, HAPS is resilient to terrestrial calamities, providing a robust and reliable IoT network for critical applications.

Q: What developments would you highlight to describe the IoT sector in India?

SKK: The IoT sector in India is experiencing significant growth and transformation, driven by several key initiatives and developments. One of the most prominent is the 100 Smart Cities Mission, which aims to develop urban areas with advanced infrastructure and sustainable technologies. This initiative has accelerated the adoption of IoT solutions for efficient city management, including smart lighting, waste management, traffic control, and public safety systems.

Another crucial development is the adoption of oneM2M as the national standard for IoT/M2M communication in India. This standardization facilitates interoperability and scalability of IoT solutions while fostering a cohesive ecosystem for developers and service providers.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is running the Sangam Digital Twin program which is another significant initiative. By creating digital replicas of physical infrastructure, this program allows for advanced simulations and predictive analytics which will help to optimize infrastructure management and planning, thereby enhancing operational efficiency and reducing costs.

Transportation is another sector where there are promising developments. For example, the Indian Railway Native IoT based Yield Analysis Telemetry, Recording, and Control (IR-NIYANTRAC) project aims to achieve Net Zero Carbon Emission by 2030. The project aims to integrate IoT technologies for real-time monitoring and control of railway operations.

Q: How did you hear about oneM2M and get involved with oneM2M? 

SKK: I first learned about oneM2M through the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), which had established the Centre of Innovation for IoT/M2M (COI).

We at SFT responded to a notification for collaboration with a proposal for an Intelligent Transport System for first responders. Given that our solution utilized a cellular interface for M2M communication, our collaboration with C-DOT expanded to include understanding cellular IoT and its integration with the 3GPP system. This turned into a fruitful collaboration which opened doors for further IoT opportunities including a project for Indian Railways.

Through this journey, we became members of the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), which is a Partner Type 1 organization of oneM2M. Our involvement with TSDSI has further solidified our commitment to oneM2M standards, and we look forward to contributing to future releases of oneM2M.

Q: What more can you tell us about the work you are doing with C-DOT?

SKK: Our work focuses on two major projects. One is the Intelligent Transport System for first responders and the second is the Indian Railway Native IoT-based Yield Analysis Telemetry, Recording, and Control (IR-NIYANTRAC) project.

The Intelligent Transport System supports first responders during emergencies to enhance their response times and operational efficiency. The system leverages IoT technology to connect IoT sensors, such as those used for fire detection and environmental sensing, and to monitor location data for emergency vehicles in the field. Our activities focus on the IoT devices and the collection of sensor data. We rely on C-DOT's Common Service Platform (CCSP) for seamless interoperability across different devices and networks. CCSP provides us, as application developers, with the common functions necessary to manage register and authenticate device identities securely and to manage the collection and transfer of IoT data to visualization dashboards.

Our early work with C-DOT led to discussions that resulted in another project opportunity which is the Indian Railways’ IR-NIYANTRAC project. Our solution involves deploying IoT-enabled intelligent field devices at Indian Railways’ Integral Coach Factory in Chennai to monitor various operational parameters. These devices collect data on energy inflows and outflows, lighting management, water levels, and the status of escalators and lifts. As before, we rely on the CCSP to transmit data to a cloud-based management portal for analysis and optimization, aiding in energy consumption reduction and operational efficiency. This project is pivotal in addressing the technical challenge of monitoring and managing vast amounts of data across the railway network.

C-DOT has been instrumental in providing technical support, helping us understand the oneM2M standard and integrate our devices with the CCSP. This support ensures that our solutions are compatible with existing telecommunications infrastructure, facilitating smoother deployment and operation.

Q: What were the most important oneM2M learning and adoption challenges and how did you overcome them?

SKK: Firstly, we had to learn about oneM2M, its technical specifications and terminology. We managed this with oneM2M’s Application Developer Guides and tutorials along with extensive support from C-DOT. These resources were invaluable in demystifying key concepts and providing practical insights into implementation.

The advantage of using an open standard like oneM2M is the vast community references and knowledge base available. This openness significantly eases the adoption process, as developers can tap into a wealth of shared experiences and solutions. The collaborative nature of the oneM2M community also means that support and troubleshooting advice are readily accessible, making the learning curve less steep.

Q: Was this a long learning process that required any specialized technical expertise?

SKK: Our team of three engineers spent a period of about six months to assess device functionalities with the CCSP. They produced a first version of a product quickly - within the first month - and then went on to conduct rigorous testing to ensure that all features and integrations worked seamlessly.

Special technical skills are not a prerequisite for working with oneM2M standards. Essentially, oneM2M provides a standardized approach to implementing IoT/M2M technology, which can be adapted to various use cases. The flexibility of oneM2M makes it applicable to a wide range of devices, from low-cost embedded systems to high-end server machines. This versatility ensures that developers with varying levels of expertise and resources can adopt the standard.

A key technical decision for our project was the choice of microcontroller as that has an impact on required the developer tools. We chose a Texas Instruments (TI) microcontroller and its standard Software Development Kits (SDKs). Additionally, tools like the resource tree viewer and subscription management provided by C-DOT were indispensable for testing and integrating devices with the CCSP.

Q: What is the status and longer-term plans for your work with C-DOT?

SKK: Our collaboration with C-DOT has achieved considerable progress, particularly in the development and testing of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) for first responders. This system has successfully completed its testing phase and is now being extended to our Public Protection and Disaster Relief (PPDR) communication system, which is being developed using Aerostats.

We are extending our work on the ITS and PPDR systems under the Sangam Digital Twin program. This program facilitates ongoing pilot and collaborative testing. Through simulation testing, it helps us to validate and optimize our systems before full-scale deployment, ensuring that we meet the highest standards of performance and reliability.

The IR-NIYANTRAC project has made substantial progress through successful implementation at the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai. The system has been running efficiently for over seven months, demonstrating its reliability and effectiveness in a real-world setting. Looking ahead, we have plans for several more similar deployments across different divisions of Indian Railways this year.

In terms of the future, we are targeting additional clients in sectors that require robust communication and monitoring systems, such as public safety, disaster management, and transportation. Of course, we will continue to collaborate with C-DOT and other stakeholders.

Q: What have you learned from the experience with C-DOT and oneM2M and, what advice would you offer to others that are working on IoT?

SKK: Our experience with C-DOT and oneM2M has been incredibly enlightening and underscored the immense value of standardized implementations in the IoT sector. One of the most significant lessons we have learned is the importance of not reinventing the wheel for each new application. By adopting standardized frameworks like oneM2M, we have been able to streamline our development processes and ensure consistency and interoperability across different projects.

The Common Service Platform (CSP) provided by oneM2M is particularly beneficial. It caters to regular IoT services required for all applications, from data management and security to device management and communication. This universality allows us to focus more on the unique aspects of our projects, rather than spending time and resources on developing foundational services from scratch.

For other businesses and developers working on IoT, my primary advice would be to adopt standardized implementations such as oneM2M. There are compelling reasons for this in terms of:

  • Reusability, which means that solutions developed for one project can be easily adapted for use in others, significantly reducing development time and costs.
  • Interoperability, which ensures that different devices and systems can communicate seamlessly with each other.
  • Support and Resources in the form of oneM2M’s detailed documentation, developer guides, and community resources. This support can be invaluable, especially for teams new to IoT or those facing complex integration challenges.
  • Futureproofing through standardization helps business to ensure that their solutions remain relevant and compatible with future developments in the IoT space. Futureproofing is essential for long-term sustainability and growth.

I would also add that our journey with C-DOT and oneM2M has demonstrated that standardized implementations are key to efficient and effective IoT development.