Big Data – Big Hype or Big Rainbow


Sam Harlan, Head of Engineering & Consulting



With all the clamor the past year about Big Data is this the service that will cause the broadband pipes to fill and the revenue to soar from business and residential applications?  The terms the Internet of Things or Everything also refers to a futuristic view where data will make George Jetson seem more like Fred Flintstone.  Is there a business case for rural telephone providers to position and benefit from this change?

The ability to generate massive amounts of data is certainly within our grasp.  There are a few of us who remember typing on army surplus key punch machines from the post war 1950s and taking these cards to the UNIVAC machine to be processed.  With the advent of the PC, Smartphone and tablet the entry process has grown faster.  Prior to 2005 nearly all of data entry was entered manually and then processed by separating the desired metrics from the chatter of the raw data.

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Now we see Machine to Machine (M2M) creating data with the promise of seemingly never-ending stream of 1s and 0s. The IOT and IOE (whichever term you prefer) has given us visions of smart refrigerators that can tell when we are out of milk and place the order to healthcare that will enable doctor's visits from the comfort of our homes.  

While these may seem a little beyond what we can visualize now Microsoft is launching HealthVault.  HealthVault is a database created by the user that will allow input of health data such as weight, medication, blood pressure, blood glucose, allergies, lab results and historical medical events in a person's life and be able to share this with the personal physician or specialists.  This data could then be used to create a customized fitness program, a record for a person to take to the doctor for a visit so all of your vital statistics would be in a central location.

Home Automation is becoming relevant to more traditional Americans rather than the techies that try the next new thing.  Services are available on a white label basis to bring energy efficiency, surveillance, additions to security systems that enable home and business owners to view and control over their smartphone, tablet of PC the activity in their home or business.

While manual data entry is a major part of this now, as we see more wearable devices the process will become more of the personal data capture.  As this interface and the discipline to actually use the data develops then there may be some traction.  Imagine having all your lab results and health records in a single place.  Combine that with the no wait doctor's offices and prescriptions auto refilled and we can see benefits in better care and savings in time.  The security of your personal health information would be a significant hurtle to overcome and is perhaps the biggest obstacle to acceptance among the younger generation.

Perhaps the biggest upside of Big Data in rural America is certainly on the business side where the ever increasing data exchange from banks, insurance offices, agriculture, agricultural support and petroleum related services.  M2M data generation is in a tremendous upswing.  During a recent data usage survey we encountered a medium sized auto dealership that had purchased a 200 Mbps circuit.  Everyone from the mechanics, sales staff, credit staff, parts and General Manager were connected retrieving and sending information either manually or machine to machine.

Agriculture is seeing an increased supply of data generated for climate observations, planting and seeding rates, field yield potential, equipment tracking and resource usage.  The ability to determine the progress of the crop through aerial photographs using drones is reality.  John Deere, Case, seed and chemical companies are becoming very data conscious.  Cameras that have the ability to measure the need or water or fertilizer could start the center pivot and apply water and or chemicals.  The ability to measure cotton bloom set to the average based on cumulative heat units on an individual field could assist with the decision to invest more money in an insect spray or to avoid the expense.  This business model is just getting off the ground but could show real potential with using both wireless and wireline data transport.  Precision Agriculture is rapidly becoming mainstream.

This begs the question of rural independent telephone companies on how do I participate in this surge in real time M2M data usage.  Of course the pipe is the first component of the solution.  An aggressive ongoing marketing campaign will be requires to expose the residential to the service and how it will provide value at a cost they can afford.  The service must be productized with clear services, values and costs defined.  Fortunately several of the home automation vendors have materials to assist in various ways.

The rural and petroleum areas are somewhat different but young farmers are adopting the Precision Agriculture and there are a multitude of venues to understand what is required to provide the necessary bandwidth.  In some areas solar powered equipment and drones will assist with the power and transport issues.  Become involved, you are considered the technology leader in your community and you can't assume that a farm implement dealer will take your place.  The difference between Hype and Rainbow will depend on how you invest in the opportunity.  The technology and platforms are there.

For more information on Big Data and how you can participate in the opportunity please contact Sam Harlan at 713.351.5111

Written by Sam Harlan at 10:00