November 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 11
M2M Shows Momentum in Consumer, Business Vertical Applications
Machine-to-machine communication – which enables equipment anywhere in the world to provide data on its own status, relay other information and be remotely controlled – is gaining steam.
There has been significant growth in the adoption of M2M communications in the last two years, according to Jasper Wireless (News - Alert), which provides software for this arena. Global 500 companies including General Electric, General Motors and Xerox have publicly announced M2M initiatives.
“It’s a significant type of application for our enterprise customers today and a whole emerging sector of consumer electronics,” says Hamish Caldwell, executive director of product marketing management at AT&T Business Solutions, about M2M.
According to ABI Research (News - Alert), more 20 million cellular M2M modules (the transmitters required for a device to communicate) shipped in 2007, and these shipments are growing faster than 30 percent annually.
The global M2M market is expected to reach $50 billion next year and is forecast to grow to $250 billion by 2012, according to FocalPoint (News - Alert) Group data quoted by Duane Wald, director of embedded sales at MultiTech Systems. Wald presented the opening session at the Machine to Machine Evolution Conference, which was colocated with ITEXPO (News - Alert) West this fall in Los Angeles.
The M2M opportunity applies to everything from ATM machines to heart monitors. In fact, telephone companies have been talking about the promise of M2M for more than a decade. But early on the telcos used the word telemetry to describe this concept. The application the telcos liked to reference in those days was vending – that is, allowing owners of candy and soda pop machines to monitor their boxes remotely to stay abreast of when refills or other maintenance were required. But the expansion of that still-popular application to what’s happening today is no small change.
Ticket to Ride
So, other than its name, what’s new with M2M today? And why, after years of being a niche technology, is the mass market train finally leaving the station?
It’s a combination of factors, including the now widespread availability of cellular networks, a move by some players in the communications industry to provide businesses with more customized solutions, and the growing availability of gear that is built for this kind of thing.
“It’s a growing area,” says AT&T’s Caldwell. “It’s an emerging segment. We’re in the early days of a growing business, and it’s going to be quite significant.”
KORE Telematics is one such outfit. The company calls itself the “world’s largest fully digital wireless network provider specializing exclusively on the rapidly-expanding machine-to-machine (M2M) communications market.”
By partnering with tier 1 cellular network operators for connectivity over GSM, HSPA, CDMA and EV-DO networks, and equipment and software companies for gear and applications, KORE is able to deliver complete solutions for vehicle tracking, homeland security, automated metering and dozens of other M2M applications.
One application KORE is delivering to the transportation vertical was brought to market in partnership with RFTrax, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fairfield Industries. RFTrax’s first product, the Asset Management Platform for locomotives, gives railroads the opportunity to “see” exactly what is happening to any locomotive equipped with a special RFTrax transceiver known as an Asset Command Unit. Dispatchers and managers employ the solution to log in to a password-protected site on the Internet and access real-time information on the location, state (whether shut down, moving or idling), fuel level, coolant temperature, ambient temperate and other factors on their locomotives.
Tier 1 service providers also are moving on the M2M opportunity.
“The big carriers are really starting to focus on M2M in a big way,” says Bill Ingle, senior analyst at Beecham Research, tells INTERNET TELEPHONY.
AT&T has made at least a handful of M2M-related announcements in recent months. And Verizon Wireless recently joined forces with Qualcomm (News - Alert) to form an M2M joint venture they call nPhase (http://www.nphasem2m.com/).
Ingle says these major players are interested in the M2M space because they see it as a significant new source of revenue. M2M also is a new growth area for wireless at a time during which cellular providers have saturated the wireless voice market, he adds.
AT&T, which has had a number of M2M announcements this year, recently expanded on those activities by forging a tie with Jasper Wireless to deliver a combined platform to connect and support M2M devices and applications on its wireless network. The companies’ multiyear agreement, for which financial terms were not disclosed, involves providing wireless connection of personal navigation, in-car navigation, e-readers, mobile Internet devices, gaming, healthcare, tracking, and other devices.
What is M2M?
M2M stands for “machine-to-machine” communications. Essentially, it is the exchange of data between a remote machine and a back-end IT infrastructure. The transfer of data can be two-way to: uplink to collect product and usage information; or downlink to send instructions or software updates, or to monitor equipment remotely.
Source: Jasper Wireless
Tracking New Devices
Jasper is providing its software to AT&T to power a web portal called the AT&T Control Center, which provides device manufacturers and application providers with web-based access to activation and assurance capabilities, analytical data, rate plan information, and design and support services relative to M2M and the AT&T wireless network.
“With the AT&T Control Center platform, we can offer consumer electronics and M2M device manufacturers and enterprise solution providers an experience they simply cannot receive from another provider,” says Glenn Lurie, president of Emerging Device and Resale for AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. “We’re streamlining the process by offering a one-stop solution for network provisioning, device activation, customer support, billing options, performance audits and much more. Consumers and businesses will benefit from an unprecedented end-user experience – instant activation, flexible pricing options, and customized support.”
AT&T’s Caldwell tells INTERNET TELEPHONY that more than 1 million devices involved in M2M are deployed today.
The company is doing its best to expand on that, Caldwell adds, through efforts such as the AT&T Control Center, its new Emerging Devices Organization and its lab (which it expanded with new equipment and people just last month), which certifies devices such as smart meters and other gear for M2M to work on the AT&T network.
Twenty percent of all newly produced electronic and mechanical devices will be cellular enabled by 2010, says MultiTech Systems’ Wald, who points out that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs has noted that 50 billion machines could be addressed through “smart services.”
Such services could apply to a broad range of industries, including but not limited to energy, healthcare, transportation and finance, continues Wald.
Given the future of energy is expected to center on the smart grid, M2M comes in to play to help users and energy companies better manage and track energy consumption. That has many communications players energized.
Marthin De Beer (News - Alert) of Cisco Systems’ emerging technologies group in a video on the home page of the company’s website highlights Cisco's Smart Grid strategy and activities. Referring to how Cisco (News - Alert) offers IP communications platforms to help enable M2M, he mentions such applications as energy grid automation, home energy management, security and more, and says Cisco is working with government bodies and industry alliances on interoperability and connectivity standards relating to smart grid.
AT&T is hot on smart grid. Caldwell notes that the company has partnerships with both Cooper Power Systems, a division of Cooper Industries Ltd., and SmartSynch to jointly market and deliver smart grid applications.
AT&T Control Center Offers:
Of course, healthcare is another hot topic these days. M2M this space as well.
Monitoring devices employing M2M can be used to monitor a patient’s vitals and send status reports or alerts to doctors or other medical staff.
At ITEXPO in Los Angeles MultiTech Systems was discussing a health care application, which it can support with its rCell 3G intelligent wireless router.
“This product can be deployed in mission-critical applications,” says Annette Evans, major account sales manager for MultiTech Systems.
The product’s persistent connectivity feature means the router stays connected to the cellular network, which is particularly important for applications within the health care vertical. Evans explains that the rCell could be used by an emergency medical technician to monitor a patient’s heart while en route to the hospital.
Health care monitoring applications can also be used in hospitals or clinics, or even within patient homes. If M2M can allow a patient to stay in his or her home as opposed to within a hospital or other health care facility, it could potentially result in health care savings for patients, doctors and/or insurance companies. This could become an important application as the Obama administration and other politicians move to lower U.S. healthcare costs, which Wald notes now amount to something like $2.3 trillion.
“M2M is going behind the hype at this point and becoming very much a reality,” says Macario Namie, senior director of product marketing at Jasper Wireless.
Check Out Our M2M Resources Online!
TMC (News - Alert), parent company of INTERNET TELEPHONY, has partnered with Crossfire Media to launch of a new Web site called Smart Product Ecosystems Connection (SPEC). An additional partner in the site is Mary Cronin (News - Alert), Ph.D., a professor in the Information Systems Department of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.
Of course, smart products and ecosystems are an important part of the M2M phenomenon.
This resource – at www.specosys.com – carries the latest news and insights about smart products and services including smart mobile, smart auto, connected smart health devices and services, smart homes and personal energy management. Daily news and expert analysis will provide an in-depth view of new smart product releases, ecosystem partnership announcements, revenue models, competitive strategies, financial deals, industry trends, predictions, commentary, product and service reviews, and more.
Crossfire Media, an integrated marketing company with a core focus on future trends in technology, is home to Carl Ford (News - Alert), a regular blogger on the TMCnet site, with whom TMC has collaborated to build online and live communities in the 4G and M2M arenas. IT
Namie says now Toyota and many other automobile manufacturers have joined the on-board vehicle system movement started by GM with OnStar. He adds that in-vehicle M2M systems in the future could also be used to help motorists book restaurant reservations and order videos, which could be streamed to the passenger-seat screens in vehicles such as SUVs. He expects all new cars to have connectivity features in the 2011-12 time frame.
Jasper Wireless’ Namie also points to the availability of other often-mentioned devices like connected eBook readers, connected digital frames and connected digital cameras that will enable users to download the latest bestseller or send pictures to grandma while they’re still on vacation.
“Not everything will be a winner, and I think there will be a lot of surprises along the way,” says Namie, “but connectivity is really spurring a lot of innovation and R&D.”
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