Wikipedia defines the Internet of Things or IoT refers to the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing-like devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. IoT is characterized expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services going beyond machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and covering a variety of protocols, domains, and applications. The interconnection of these embedded devices (including smart objects), is expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields, while also enabling advanced applications such as Smart Grid or the Smart Homes.
Early adoption of IoT are industry specific including heart monitoring implants in healthcare, biochip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, or field operation devices that assist firefighters in search and rescue. Other examples include smart thermostat systems and washer/dryers that utilize WiFi for remote monitoring.
Arguably, one of the earliest implementations of IoT is in the use of sensing technologies like RFID, the initial usage of which are around inventory control and tracking, asset management, and monitoring job sites and work assignments to improve worker safety. RFID however, promises to do more as ecosystem technologies improve.
In Malaysia, one of the early proponents of RFID deployment and usage is MDT Innovations (MDTi), a majority owned subsidiary of Multimedia Display Technologies (MDT). MDTi’s core business includes component engineering, systems design, software development, and application solutions in: RFID; advanced display devices; and mobile information technologies.
The company’s core RFID activities are in research, design, development, implementation, and maintenance of RFID key components and systems integration with customers in Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Data&StorageAsean recently spoke to MDTi’s general manager Sim Hon Wai to discuss the company’s role in the emerging IoT industry in Malaysia and Asia.
MDTi’s engineering competencies in RFID are attributed to its earlier involvement in design and development of advanced display products and RF components. Emphasizing on LCD-, PDP- (plasma), and OLED-based displays, the development of analog-digital boards, OSD (on-screen display) firmware, display drivers, video scalers, RF circuit design and HDMI modules had brought technology advancements to the company knowledge base not only in RFID products, but also in display products such as LCD & PDP televisions, LCD and CRT display monitors, DVB (-S,-T,-C) set top boxes, HDMI modules, mobile computing based displays and wireless AV (audio-video) transmissions.
DSA: Please tell us how you got started into RFID?
Sim: MDTi started out as a supplier of panel display monitors and LCDs. By 2002, we identified that the display monitor business was extremely competitive and unprofitable so we ventured into analogue digital conversion.
DSA: Which industries are at the forefront of RFID adoption?
Sim: Walmart is one of the first to popularize the use of RFID in retail and the supporting supply chain. From then on, the technology has been adopted by the largest retailers that saw the benefit of using RFID to tract inventory from warehouse to store floor. Other applications include freight tracking, warehouse management and track-and-trace.
DSA: How is the RFID adoption in Malaysia?
Sim: The Malaysian market is too small. For the moment, the Government is spearheading awareness and adoption. We have seen manufacturing adopting RFID as part of automation goals to enable systems to talk to each other with minimal human intervention. But again, the local market opportunity is small. For MDTi, 94 percent of our business is overseas with bulk of our business coming from India, China, Indonesia and Australia.
DSA: What and where do you see are the major hurdles for its continued/faster adoption?
Sim: It’s really about awareness and understanding of the potential of the technology to keep track of inventory, reduce wastage and lower cost. These are the early messages of the technology and its tied to the accepted benefits of tagging. However, we believe that longer term, the focus should shift on the business benefits of RFID including operational efficiencies and better intelligence through analytics.
DSA: Recently there have been talks about the connection between Big Data and Internet of Things. Please share your thoughts on this? How are they connected?
Sim: It really depends on the level of connectivity that the user wants. If the goal of adopting Internet of Things is to give the user tools to help in decision-making then yes, IoT will benefit with Big Data. Today, IoT is already with us thanks to the efficiencies that RFID brings to the operation. However, I personally think that Big Data is still several years into the future. Maybe by 2020, technology and business processes will have sufficiently matured to see the intersection of the two.
DSA: MDT is primarily a RFID solution vendor. What is the role your company will play in the IoT story for Malaysia?
Sim: In the early 2000s we were known as pioneer in RFID. The term IoT has only begun to appear in technology vocabulary in the last two years. For our part, MDTi is rebranding ourselves as a IoT enabler through embedded innovation and development. The interconnect between RFID and IoT is very clear and because of this, you could say that MDTi is a pioneer of making IoT a reality for businesses and consumers.
DSA: Gartner predicts that by 2015, the focus will no longer be in the technologies that support or bring about IoT but in the applications themselves. What is your take on this?
Sim: I agree 100 percent. It is not for the sake of tagging things. It is about what you get after tagging these things. We see great potential beyond tagging and we plan to play in the market for a long time to come.
DSA: What is your advice to Malaysian businesses in the industry sectors you serve in terms of how they can ride this trend?
Sim: Users have to realize that eventually automation and analytics will be key to driving business forward. Malaysia is no longer cheap as labour is rising. Therefore Malaysian businesses have to look at ICT as a way to grow further forward. To adopt ICT they have to look at Big Data, perhaps IoT, to increase business efficiency, reduce labour cost and empower businesses with valuable insight.
DSA: What is role of government in this?
Sim: I think the Malaysian government is doing a great job to promote embedded technology to qualified research companies. It has identified IoT as the next wave and is actively working to position Malaysia to not only benefit from the technology as a user but to drive the development forward. Indeed the real challenge in Malaysia is for local market adoption.