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INFOTECH: Intelligent Networks – the Future Sooner Than You Think


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The concept of Intelligent Networks today extends to include key growth points within the ICT realm. It is the energy, automotive and healthcare sectors in particular which are considered to be major areas to benefit from networks that offer integrated, intelligent and interconnected functionality, says Dr Andrew Hutchison, expert for intelligent networks at T-Systems in South Africa.

In the case of energy, Intelligent Networks are enabling “smart grids” that allow energy suppliers to provide a better balance of supply and demand. Smart grids enable better management of transmission and distribution, while so called smart meters provide better visibility and management of energy consumption.

Healthcare is another area where Intelligent Networks have huge potential. Benefits of cost savings, and more significantly of improved medical practices, can be realised through remote diagnostics and monitoring. Electronic health records and real-time remote monitoring can allow lifestyle benefits with the simultaneous equivalent of high care. While T-Systems is pursuing Smart Grids and Healthcare as two of the tenets of its Intelligent Network activities, it is the third focus area – that of the Connected Car – which has seen recent advances and around which exciting prospects are emerging.

The Platform is the Crux of Intelligent Networks

T-Systems’ Connected Car platform is designed to enable various services for different user groups and different devices in connection with vehicle related, traffic related and user related services. The range of ‘customers’ of those services extends from drivers, forwarding companies and insurance companies to road operators and other authorities. The platform is open to a wide range of services and applications.

The Connected Car platform is a concept whereby vehicle electronics are combined with software and services inside and outside the vehicle to form a single unit, creating the necessary pre-conditions for vehicle communication with its environment.

The T-Systems platform consists of client services (which would typically happen in the vehicle) and cloud services (whereby over-the-air access to services such as security, monitoring, diagnostics, information etc. could be obtained). Having implemented a replica of its private-cloud engine in South Africa, T-Systems already has the secure, cloud environment required to provide these platform services. We are working with global and local vehicle manufacturers to determine how and when the vehicle platform will become a reality, and this extends into South Africa as well.

To explain a bit more about the Connected Car platform, it is based on open architecture integrating with various client technologies including embedded systems. By means of this, a wide range of applications can be offered on the platform and the concept allows for integration both at the vehicle device/client element and at the data centre/cloud element. These elements are connected via mobile communication standards. Of course security and performance are key attributes that need to be managed, and these are important components of the Connected Car platform.

In addition to the actual vehicle enablement that the Connected Car provides, the creation of high speed connections between cars and the outside world will also enable more seamless streaming of music, video, data, navigation and so on to vehicles. Many solutions are already in progress or being provided to address this goal. It is expected that in the near future digital content will be at our finger tips, in our cars. However, this in-vehicle version of our connected world will have to be safe, and online services must be driver-friendly; for example, using intuitive touch screen applications or voice controls to keep driver distraction to a minimum.

It is not only drivers that stand to benefit from the Intelligent Networks in the automotive industry. Fleet operators, for example, can view data that indicates the need for a trip to the garage and, importantly, they can monitor carbon emissions. Moreover, vehicle-related data will be sent automatically to repair shops and traffic updates will be sent to cars and traffic control centres.

Intelligent Networks and the Now

Another associated benefit of efficient vehicle routing and management is the environmental opportunity. Already, T-Systems has been involved in technology that reduces road transport and importantly allows for savings and optimisation. Together with DHL in Germany, T-Systems created a network of parcel drop-off and collection points, enabling customers to collect at their convenience.

It was estimated by an external consultancy that this system cut out journeys made by customers of around 3.3 million km per year, and saved DHL an additional 600 000km through better internal logistics.

Major automotive manufacturers have already introduced option packages which include electronic navigation systems and access to the Internet. With the vision of the Connected Car platform this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is a whole depth of planned vehicle enablement that provides opportunities for an integrated value chain around vehicle services. While co-operation between OEMs, fleet operators, insurers, traffic authorities and individual drivers is required, the Connected Car platform is an ‘open’ concept in the sense that it can be expanded to incorporate many aspects relating to vehicle automation with its associated benefits and therefore benefit greatly from intelligent networks.

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