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Transport future rides on M2M
Farid Faraidooni (COMMUNICATIONS LIFE) / 2 September 2012
Telcos are talking about the next big idea — tera-play, and the development of a worldwide network consisting of a trillion connected devices, hooked up using machine-to-machine (M2M) telco communication networks.
In so-called M2M comms a device such as a sensor or meter is used to capture an event, which is relayed through the network to an application or software programme. This translates the captured event into meaningful and actionable information — for example, revision of a weather warning. This is accomplished through the use of telemetry, the language machines use when in communication with each other.
The application possibilities with M2M technologies are virtually limitless, and the transportation sector has become an eager early adopter. M2M is particularly useful for this sector, because it provides valuable data in real time that helps ensure the smooth transit of goods and passengers and maximise asset utilisation.
M2M and the internet of things
A strict definition M2M communications is “communication where a remote machine is monitored and/or controlled by a central server”. This definition explicitly excludes machines, which are directly monitored or controlled via a user interface by a user who is physically co-located with the machine, therefore excluding personal devices such as smartphones or laptops.
Increasingly, though, the concept is being broadened to include lots of emerging consumer devices where the user interface is in plain sight but the connectivity and the network are invisible to the end user.
The industry has mapped out all sorts of potential for M2M. Consumer electronics has the highest potential to create scalable volume in deployment, with e-readers and consumer location-based services growing quickest.
The clearest example of this is perhaps Amazon’s e-reader device, the Kindle. Here Amazon presents itself as the service provider. The end user only pays a fee for providing e-books, and is not necessarily aware that Amazon is paying a fee to the telco. Although the e-reader is a personal device, with a user interface, it stands as M2M. Other operators treat personal navigation devices or digital picture frames in the same way. Some organisations even include connected laptops, or laptops where connectivity is provided by a remote access provider which is aggregating mobile network connectivity and Wi-Fi, in the same category as M2M. These increasingly broad definitions of M2M are represented in the figure above.
The business-to-business market is also ready to take advantage of M2M, and one supplier, Jasper Wireless, estimates that there are over a billion machines worldwide used by businesses, which eventually could be connected through M2M.
A number of things have changed over the past year or so that makes M2M look a much more promising market for transport and other sectors.
Smoother transportation riding on M2M
The transport and logistics sectors are particularly drawn to M2M fleet management applications to optimise use of their assets. Emerging regulatory pressure for carbon-friendly transportation could provide additional stimulus in the automotive sector for the rollout of M2M in smart cars and trucks. Analyst firm Gartner Group has suggested that well over a third of all M2M applications will be eventually adopted by the automotive and transportation sectors.
With adoption rates rising quickly and the potential of M2M still largely untapped, the market is about to increase in both size and in value. Estimates of the M2M market vary considerably, and depend on how the marketplace is sliced:
For transportation applications, the most important aspect of M2M is connectivity and reliable telco communications. Regional telco suppliers believe they now have the required infrastructure in place.
In fact, the connectivity or communications part of M2M solutions is not particularly problematic. Most M2M applications are low bandwidth and not particularly demanding in terms of latency. M2M traffic can be transmitted over a variety of communications mediums including cellular networks and across combinations of telco carrier networks. Typically, M2M devices communicate with each other using mobile technologies like GPRS, EDGE or CDMA.
Industry analysts confirm that 2G mobile technology predominates for M2M connectivity at the moment. However, it is reported that 3G M2M modules are growing at three times the rate of 2G alternatives as prices drop and the link speeds required by M2M applications increase. 3G modules are predicted to comprise 40 per cent of the market by 2014, market-watchers iSuppli forecasts.
As telco operators begin their rollouts of next generation 4G networks, the region’s airwaves will be busy with M2M conversations between millions of connected devices.
The writer is the chief commercial officer at du. Views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy
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