Interview With Srinivas Varadarajan, VP Sales And Business Development Polaris Wireless

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Srinivas Varadarajan
Srinivas Varadarajan

Recently Telecom Talk went behind the scene to have an exclusive ‘talk’ with Mr. Srinivas Varadarajan , VP Sales And Business Development Polaris Wireless India.

Polaris Wireless is a US based company that is bringing high-accuracy, software-based wireless location solutions to India. It has extended its reach by partnering with key players in the Indian telecom space.

1. Elaborate on the recent Polaris Wireless’ field trials in India.

PW: We have successfully completed field trials with an Indian wireless network operator to prove compliance with the Indian Department Of Telecommunications (DoT) May 2011 mandate for location-based systems.

The trials were conducted over a period of two weeks in the North East telecom circle of India, at Agartala, to demonstrate the effectiveness of Polaris Wireless Location SignaturesTM (Polaris WLS) in urban, suburban and rural environments and remote areas. Polaris WLS is based on the 3GPP standardized RF Pattern Matching (RFPM) approach. The DoT mandate specifies accuracy levels of 30 to 95 percent within two years of adoption for a range of 50 to 300 meters in urban areas. Polaris Wireless achieved accuracy levels of 67 to 100 percent in its field trials in urban areas.

For suburban and rural areas, the mandate specifies accuracy levels of 50 to 80 percent within three years for a range of 100 to 500 meters. Polaris Wireless achieved accuracy levels of 88 to 99 percent. For remote areas, the mandate specifies accuracy levels of 50 to 70 percent within three years for a range of 300 to 500 meters. Polaris Wireless achieved accuracy levels of 87 to 99 percent. Polaris Wireless is the first location solutions provider to exceed the DoT mandate in all categories, proving the attainability of the mandate thresholds.

Also we had conducted a previous trial with another major wireless network operator in Bangalore which exceeded the DoT requirements in urban and indoor environments.

2. How will LBS help in public safety and security of the nation?

PW: Location Based Services is very helpful for the Police, Government and also security agencies to keep an eye on the activities of criminals as well as terrorist attacks that use cell phones to execute their plans.

The need for accurate LBS was suggested after Mumbai attack (26/11) in 2008 to track down the terrorist mobile users. Taking this as an example, LBS could have helped security agencies to accurately pinpoint the location of the terrorists. They could have also deployed geo-fence around Taj Hotel and identified the suspects.

Once India deploys high-accuracy wireless location as part of the public safety ‘toolkit’, the country will be at the forefront of countries operating advanced surveillance techniques to protect the lives of its citizens. By monitoring the locations of suspects over a period of time, Indian authorities will be able to create "heat maps" that identify areas in which terrorist safe houses are located. These can then be used by the government to assign priority for increased monitoring and to optimally deploy personnel and equipment.

The DoT must lead the way by preserving its current mandate in the face of attempts to weaken it to accommodate lower accuracy location solutions. These solutions lack precision and could render the country's surveillance efforts less effective. Once high-accuracy location becomes widely available to public safety authorities, they will be able to truly find the "needle in a haystack," and enhance security and surveillance of sensitive areas within India. We strongly advocate the preservation of the accuracy thresholds in the DoT mandate to ensure that government authorities in India are able to proactively and efficiently manage threats and gain an advantage in counter-terrorist and counter-intelligence activities, national security and other mission-critical efforts.

3. Besides providing safety and security, Can LBS generate revenue?

PW: Market Research firm ABI Research predicts that global Location Based Services revenues will surpass $14 billion by 2014. Rising levels of urbanization and wealth are a prime driver for LBS penetration in developing markets such as Asia-Pacific. India is considered to be one of the fastest-growing markets in the region. As the market estimates predict that LBS sector is expected to grow at a rate of 80% annually due to 3G roll out, it will surely lead to a growth in LBS sector. Indian telecom operators can foresee wide opportunities in terms of revenue generation once application such as family/friend finder, location based advertisement, fleet management, asset tracking, road traffic information, and public safety applications (emergency calling, anti-crime, and anti-terrorism) is deployed with LBS.

4. How is LBS provided by Polaris Wireless better than the GPS based Google Maps in Smartphones?

PW: Most Smartphones produce a location fix (on Google or other maps, depending on the user interface) via GPS (Global Positioning System) technology. This is a handset-based location solution that requires GPS receiver chipsets to be included in the Smartphone. This solution has been deployed in CDMA2000 and iDEN networks, but not widely in GSM networks due to lack of mass market availability of GPS mobile phones and/or reasonable pricing. Location of the GPS-equipped handset is obtained by trilaterating signals received by the device from multiple GPS satellites. GPS works well in direct line-of-sight conditions with the satellites (open sky conditions), such as suburban and rural areas but often fails to perform in dense urban (urban canyons) and indoor environments. For law enforcement applications, GPS solutions cannot be used because GPS in the phone can be easily disabled by the end user, jammed or spoofed. In addition, GPS does not work well indoors, which is a primary requirement for law enforcement agencies. Because it uses a receiver chip in the handset GPS can have excessive battery consumption when used in demanding applications, such as geo-fencing.

Polaris Wireless Location SignaturesTM (WLS) is the only high accuracy, software-based, scalable location solution that requires no additional hardware changes/additions to the mobile phone or at the base stations. It uses radio frequency pattern matching to compare mobile measurements (signal strengths, signal-to-interference ratios, time delays, etc.) against a geo-referenced database of the mobile operator’s radio environment. WLS can locate al calls in Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), Code division multiple access (CDMA2000), Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) and 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, and across the range of environments. WLS works extremely well in non line-of-sight conditions such as dense urban and indoor environments, where GPS based solutions face severe challenges. Since it is independent of line-of-sight conditions, WLS is highly reliable and is ideal for mission-critical and safety-of-life applications.

5.  Elaborate on the market opportunity for software based LBS application in India.

PW:  India is a well-known hub for wireless communications, and is regarded to have the second largest wireless network subscriber base in the world. The future of wireless is taking place here. The statistics support this assertion. Mumbai-based market research firm Ovum predicts significant growth of location-based services (LBS) in India, bolstered by an 80 percent annual increase in 3G connections over the next five years. Another key driver is interest from the key demographic of high-value early adopters, such as working professionals and the burgeoning youth sector, which is expected to grow to about 150 million subscribers in 2012. Smartphone adoption among youth, a key indicator of LBS growth in other markets, is 10 percent in India, according to Nielsen Research, which considers India a high-growth market. The pervasiveness of mobile networks (compared to the relative unavailability of high-speed Internet connections) presents both opportunities and risks for the widespread adoption of LBS.

6. Comment on the market opportunity for software based LBS applications in India, focusing on the public safety and assisting government’s security policies (e.g. Tracking Terrorists)? How these services can help the administration in making a safe society?

PW: India, which is just embarking on its journey of integrating high-accuracy location into its public safety efforts, can follow the example of the US, while adapting policies and technologies to accommodate the unique aspects of the Indian market:

• Like the FCC did with its Phase I and Phase II mandates, the DoT should communicate strongly and clearly to the market that the mandate will not be weakened to allow for low-accuracy technology solutions. Since several technology providers have proven the attainability of the mandate’s accuracy thresholds in field trials, any further discussion of weakening it is unnecessary and only serves to delay widespread deployment of location solutions throughout India.

• That said, the DoT should continue to distinguish between urban, suburban, and rural areas and allow disparate regions to implement the location solution that best meets their needs, while achieving the accuracy thresholds.

• The DoT should explore the timeline for strengthening its location mandate, especially in dense urban areas such as Mumbai and Delhi. These areas are more likely to benefit from enhanced public safety infrastructure and could serve as ‘test markets’ for the rest of India.

• The DoT should explore some type of funding scheme, similar to the E911 surcharge in the US, to fund public safety infrastructure, including the deployment of high-accuracy location technology.

Enhancing public safety is the most important objective for high-accuracy location technology. Unfortunately, the market alone cannot ensure that this capability is made available on a consistent basis to everyone in need. In this situation, it is vital that the national regulator step in and serve as the advocate for citizens whose safety depends on having the best-available technology in place to respond to emergency calls.

7.  What are the challenges faced in deployment of LBS in the Indian market?

PW: The challenges in deploying LBS in the Indian market would be that the operators cannot launch all these technologies at the same point of time, there has to be a roll out plan which will take a few months.

Today, the technologies are available, which are mature enough to be deployed in very complex networks like the ones in India. So we feel with the willingness of the operators to launch technology first, services later, we can help them to achieve it as a technology product provider. Also, we have partnerships in India with Tech Mahindra, which will help us deploy the products faster as they have large operations in the Indian markets, know the networks well and would easily deploy our products.

8.  Can you share some information on Polaris’ India and global business plans?

PW:  We have more than 50 percent of Polaris Wireless’ employees residing in India. Our Bangalore center has been operational since 2004; last year we opened another center in Nagpur. Fifty percent of our global employee work force is based in India, comprising mostly developers. With our tie-up with Tech Mahindra here, we are expecting to double or triple our employee strength over the next 2-3 years depending on the market growth in India.

The revenue wise break down for this year is about 70:30, where 30 percent is from the US and 70 percent outside the US. However, we think that we are going to win some contracts in 2012 in the US and by 2015 probably we would have 50:50 with 50 percent in US and 50 percent overseas. In US we had the E911 mandate, which is for the past 10 years and now the rules have changed and became more stringent so we anticipate quite a few more deployments there and in overseas the issues of security; so we see both markets in the US and overseas going strong for us. Our overseas markets include Middle East, Africa and Asia, where most of the deployments are security related.

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