Making machines talk to each other is proving to be smart business for a Chennai-based technology venture that uses wireless communication to build a range of novel applications. Nimble Wireless, co-founded by former Qualcomm employee Siva Sivakumar, develops technology used to track loan repayments by consumers in the US as well as to monitor the health of hundreds of telecom towers in India, without human intervention. "Wireless technologies revolutionised how people connected with each other. A similar revolution is now happening with machines communicating with each other," says Sivakumar, an engineer from the Coimbatore Institute of Technology, who spent almost two decades in the US telecom industry before returning in 2007.
He teamed up with friend Naveen Sabapathy to launch his first entrepreneurial venture, a handset design services firm, which proved to be a non-starter because of stiff competition from established players. Realising the need for a pivot in business strategy, the duo decided to build wireless products that could link machines with each other. "We were laying tracks as the train approached," says Sivakumar, who quickly rolled out a variety of applications for both local and overseas customers. The market for such products based on machine-to-machine communications is expected to grow from $44 billion (Rs 2.47 lakh crore) in 2011 to $290 billion (Rs 16.30 lakh crore) by 2017, says to research firm Marketsand Markets.
In India, Nimble has customers including Tata TeleservicesBSE -0.79 %, Maharashtra State Electricity board and telecom tower operator Indus Towers, which works with telecom majors AirtelBSE -1.87 %, Idea and Vodafone. Sensors developed by the Chennaibased startup are deployed in about 500 telecom towers. These help to manage the towers remotely and gather real-time insights such as health of batteries, temperature and diesel fuel levels. For Maharashtra State Electricity Board, Nimble has set up a smart metering system, where electricity consumption is transmitted wirelessly to handheld devices of field employees and the electricity department. Experts say although managing remote assets is a big opportunity; it requires clear value addition and a strong relationship with partners. "It is a question of providing right applications," said Shashikanth Suryanarayanan, a professor at IITBombay.
In the US, Nimble's technology has proved useful in recovering stolen goods, by helping to track a stolen truck loaded with a consignment worth $200,000 (Rs 1.1 crore) within an hour of the crime being reported. For another customer that retails high-end consumer electronics, the Chennai-based venture has built a novel application. When customers fail to repay monthly installments on expensive pianos, an embedded sensor within disables the instrument. "It all boils down to money. Saving more money through increasing efficiencies makes profit," says David McCartney, co-founder of M2M DataSmart, a US-based wireless data service provider, which is a customer of Nimble. Nimble, which now has a team of 25 engineers, has crossed a turnover of Rs 3 crore and aims to clock revenues of Rs 15 crore by 2014. This estimated three-fold increase in revenues will be driven by the company's ability to build simpler commercial applications based on machine- to- machine communication. "This is very similar to Apple providing the iPhone as a vehicle to write apps on-they made it simple," says McCartney of M2M DataSmart.