What is Machine to Machine (M2M)?
Machine to Machine (M2M) and the opportunities surrounding it generally refer to devices that have communications capabilities to other devices and to the services and network traffic that can be delivered using these communications capabilities.
More specifically, M2M refers to machines or devices that can communicate with other machines or devices, on either wired or wireless networks, to pass information on events, which can then be acted upon. In many cases these devices are sensors that trigger and communicate the events that can then be acted on by other machines, applications, and/or by people.
Many terms have been used to help convey the evolution and potential of M2M technologies and capabilities such as "Embedded Mobile" and "Internet of Things" (indicating a network that links everyday objects), - or "Spime," a word coined by author Bruce Sterling to describe an object that can be tracked through space and time throughout the lifetime of that object.
The advent of mobile communications has helped M2M expand from wired environments into the growing wireless communications arena, allowing the deployment of devices to new and previously unavailable areas. This is helping drive new services for operators and enterprises, and more traffic onto networks.
Further advances include two-way communications with the devices, which are expanding from sensing-only to being able to deliver full monitoring and control capabilities.
Notable segments for M2M technologies are healthcare, transportation, consumer electronics, utilities, and industrial applications. Example M2M applications include vending machines reporting inventory levels, machines tracking shipments, utilities using smart metering, and healthcare workers using feed-back sensors to determine a patient's condition.
M2M Market Trends
The M2M market is not new and has had significant growth over the years from Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies, however, the market segment of communications through mobile and WiFi networks is still in a relatively early phase of development in M2M.
A number of chip vendors are working on devices that have mobile wireless communication capabilities aimed at the M2M market. The delivery of these will further accelerate the M2M market and the delivery of new services.
Over the last few years the traditional M2M market, primarily in the enterprise segment, has been growing. According to the Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA) "This is a market that is projected to grow at over 30% CAGR, attaining unit shipment levels of about 90m units/year in 2012".[GSM World, "Market Opportunity", GSMA] This means service providers will continue to see an increase in the number of devices connected to their networks.
Figure 1 shows M2M shipment forecasts. [GSM] These figures do not take into consideration the many new market segments where M2M will start to be deployed in, such as healthcare and consumer electronics.
Figure 1: M2M Shipment forecasts- source GSMA
To date, a large part of the market is consumer-driven with top deployments in the areas of smart metering, vehicle tracking, and security solutions. This is coupled with the fact that until recently the larger mobile service providers have shown little interest in M2M. Service providers now realize the growth opportunities for new services that are available with M2M without a huge capital investment because the network already exists. Service providers can continue to increase their connections even in a time when growth is slowing down for personal communications devices due to large market penetration. M2M over wireless means more data going over the wireless networks which means new and increasing revenue streams to the service provider.
Two examples of service providers joining in the M2M "business": Sprint recently announced two M2M initiatives that will help businesses to manage their M2M development and devices, and Telenor, a company that has been supporting M2M for a number of years, acquired early M2M service delivery adopters in 2000 and started Telenor Connexion in 2008 to work in the M2M areas.
M2M technology is still evolving, but based on use by volume, the potential is significant. For example, in healthcare worldwide, approximately 860 million chronic disease patients benefit from monitoring devices and/or sensors; utilities use approximately 200 million energy meters; and in transportation approximately 75 million cars are served by traffic monitoring devices.
Benefits of M2M
The benefits of M2M are broad ranging. Having detailed, up-to-date information from sensors allows for the best decisions to be made- be it related to a waste water treatment plant or healthcare services - it helps ensure that the most appropriate action can be taken in a timely fashion.
M2M can make a big difference in delivering improved performance, streamlining operations, improving customer experience, and by delivering up-to-date information, supporting the delivery of new services. By improving information flow, M2M enables better service delivery for consumers, such as:
- Environmental monitoring using smart meters on pollution levels or energy consumption allowing decisions to be made that mitigate issues and manage networks based on need or demand.
- Connecting ATM machines to clearing houses or banking computers. Often this will not be done via IP links due to security constraints.
- Connecting swipe card terminals and other electronic payment systems to POS concentrators.
- Traffic monitoring and adapting the traffic flows based on needs and circumstances at the time.
- Remote monitoring of patients, allowing healthcare workers to react as necessary to any changes in a patient's condition.
The ability of M2M to enable such changes supports
- Better, faster and more efficient processes
- Timely decision making
- Return on investments
For the last few years for mobile-based communications, SMS has been the favored approach for M2M, and is seen as the next growth area for Short Message Service (SMS) communications. The pervasiveness of GSM mobile networks ensures that the communications ability is "always on" when needed (see the following figure). The following are some benefits of an SMS approach for M2M:
- The immediacy of SMS allows for speedy delivery of the information
- SMS is cheaper than data services over mobile networks
- IP communication over mobile networks may not match SMS for speed until Long Term Evolution (LTE) has been rolled out
- IP or "data" communications over the network are more expensive than SMS communications
Figure 2: M2M enabled by SMS communications
The pervasiveness of SMS and its capabilities means that cheap, mobile-connected devices can be deployed to deliver data over affordable networks. Once transmitted, the data is received by an SMS Gateway and passed on through the network to a recipient where it possibly can be aggregated with information from other devices, and then acted upon by applications or individuals. By aggregating messages at the recipient point (possibly creating a situation where messages are mixed with all other messages on the network) instead of at the SMS Gateway, service providers are losing performance and revenue.
By using the SMS Gateway, specifically designed for aggregating SMS data, the service provider can better manage performance on the SMS delivery for the M2M market. Both the management of the messages through the network and the aggregation of the data are potential growth areas for service providers.
Future directions for M2M will include IP communications and more complex devices where the two-way communications capabilities will include areas of Person to Machine (P2M) and Machine to Person (M2P). These will involve more complex interactions, and attention to user interfaces will be of notable importance.
Traditional wired communications M2M capabilities are still deployed, and they require a device to call into a central point, which has modem capabilities establishing the connectivity for the transfer of information. New deployments would generally steer away from such communications unless time is not an issue when establishing connections and transferring data. Many Point of Sales (POS) and automated stocking systems, which update to a central point over night, use this technology.
Machine to Machine is an important and growing area of communications. Dialogic has been involved in this space for many years, delivering the low level communications capabilities and APIs for the development of these systems. As communications move to IP, Dialogic will continue to maintain a focus to support these capabilities for the future.