Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is not new. Fixed assets such as oil and gas wells have been monitored via wired lines for a long time. The interfaces and protocols were proprietary and applications were often just a simple connection between two devices.
With the advent and broad availability of mobile networks, it became possible to efficiently and easily connect mobile and remote assets (machines) with an enterprise’s centre of operations and computers (machines) – and thus the M2M industry emerged.
GSM wireless networks offer the only true global cellular standard with ubiquitous coverage throughout much of the world. When the industry emerged, M2M communication via GSM was limited to short messages and data calls. This was sufficient for some applications but the Internet showed that information exchange via packet data was much more efficient and there was a broad existing infrastructural base for processing packet data.
In 2001, Cinterion Wireless Modules introduced a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) module and with this step, made packet-based data communication available in the M2M marketplace. The availability of GPRS in GSM networks paved the way for broader use of M2M communication. By offering packet switched communication, GPRS bridged M2M technology to existing corporate information technology. Those proprietary fixed connections, which are costly to implement and maintain, were replaced with standard interfaces and cost-effective wireless-enabled equipment, making M2M technology the preferred choice for easy, realtime, cost-effective communications.
With GPRS technology in place, remote assets could be permanently connected without a call setup. This always-on link allowed realtime connectivity, opening a wide range of new possibilities. The benefit for enterprise was the availability of a standardised way to link remote and mobile parts of their operation with the centre of operations.
Today, M2M communication based on packet data is well established across a wide variety of different industries including oil and gas, logistics, transportation, utilities, POS, alarms and more. And GPRS was only the beginning. As GPRS networks evolved to EDGE (enhanced data rates for global evolution), Cinterion introduced a high-speed EDGE module, the MC75, to meet growing marketplace demand. EDGE technology enabled faster, more sophisticated solutions with higher data rates and new capabilities.
As networks further evolved to HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), 3G wireless networks were capable of delivering data rates and speeds that were once only available with DSL and cable modems. Again, Cinterion paved the way by launching HC15, the first HSDPA enabled module for complex, high-speed M2M solutions. GSM-based GPRS, EDGE and HSDPA are now well established standards and far outweigh all other cellular standards.
With ubiquitous and reliable GSM networks in place, more and more enterprises are turning to cost effective M2M technology solutions to improve business operations and solve business challenges. Yankee Group reported the combined 2007 US market for cellular M2M modules and service provider connections reached $1 billion in revenue with about 11 million units sold1.
Analysts agree that the market will continue to grow over the coming years. Predictions range from single-digit billions to hundreds of billions by the 2020-2030 timeframe. ABI Research expects a compounded annual growth rate of 31% until 2012 with 84,9 million modules expected to ship annually by 20122. Statistics aside, what is apparent is that M2M is alive and thriving with enormous room for continued growth for market leaders who have figured out how to survive the competitive landscape. And what is seen more and more is that designers are implementing M2M solutions immediately instead of just ‘thinking about it’. Case studies demonstrating impressive return on investments are stacking up and motivating customers across many vertical markets to join the M2M revolution.
For example, M2M technology is used to help utilities monitor and control energy distribution systems and improve efficiency. Advanced diagnostics can monitor and manage remote equipment in the gas and oil industry and even detect problems in pipelines before they occur. All this information can be transmitted in realtime to an operations centre where parts and service can be ordered in advance. M2M communication also revolutionised the metering industry by offering realtime data of energy consumption. This helps not only to manage energy distribution networks better but also offers the opportunity for new services and billing models. Overall, integrated M2M technology can increase competitiveness drastically and open up new avenues for business.
Secrets to successful M2M solutions
The core of any M2M solution is the wireless communication module, which comes in a variety of sizes and with different feature sets. Wireless modules are sophisticated, high tech devices designed to handle complex communications and operate under tough environmental conditions. The requirements and certifications for these devices are rigorous and choosing high quality components is crucial to successful implementations. Customers considering M2M should first clearly define the business goals of their M2M technology solution and then consider the following top tips for successful M2M implementations:
1. Consider the infrastructure – GSM, CDMA or both: Networks continue to evolve, but have not yet migrated to the same wireless standard. Careful consideration must be given to determine which infrastructure best meets business goals. About 75% of modules shipped in 2008 were GSM-based compared to 25% CDMA-based. Cinterion is the leading manufacturer of GSM modules and offers easy interoperability and integration support for CDMA modules by Kyocera Wireless, a leading manufacturer of CDMA modules.
2. Choose a trusted and proven team: The choice of technology partners and providers can make or break solution adoption success. RIM, Nokia and Sony Ericsson have all recently departed the modules market and cancelled product portfolios, leaving customers scrambling for new suppliers and solutions. Some customers were forced to abandon their M2M solutions altogether. Customers should choose technology partners that are stable, profitable and committed M2M industry leaders, who can guarantee that the product of choice will not become obsolete in the near future. There is huge risk to an OEM or end-user who chooses a partner or product with a short life that will not survive in the market.
3. Simplify the value chain: Integrating customised M2M solutions can be a tricky business, often requiring many players who must work cooperatively to bring a solution to market. Technology partners should be chosen who have experience working together and who offer integration and engineering support. Ideally, designers want a module partner who can provide the engineering support of a systems integrator along with the technology expertise of a device manufacturer and who has proven successes in either scenario. Cinterion Wireless Modules offers M2M ONE, a full systems integration service that offers one point of contact – from concept to implementation.
4. Experience = excellence: For the end-user, cost efficiency and ultimately profitability are dependent on the ability to meet implementation deadlines. Designers should select technology partners that understand the challenges and constraints of the given vertical market and that have a proven track record for integrating solutions quickly, efficiently and on schedule. Case studies should be asked for and references checked.
5. Choose the right device: Communications modules range from basic data-only devices to sophisticated high-speed modules capable of integrating data, voice, images, GPS and more. For instance, Cinterion offers modules that range in sophistication from GSM to GPRS to EDGE to HSPDA. Each module offers a range of capabilities and prices. It is important to select the right module and feature set at a price that makes business sense. Customers should not pay extra for unnecessary bells and whistles. On the flip side, they shouldn’t save pennies and miss out on a feature that can add muscle and utility to their solution.
6. Carrier consideration: Carriers offer a maze of different service plans with options to economise in creative ways such as programming non-urgent communications for off-peak times. When selecting an M2M solution and module, one should be considered that is pre-approved to operate with a preferred carrier. Pre-approval can speed the time to market by months and streamline the integration process, saving time and money. Cinterion modules are pre-approved to operate on major wireless networks around the globe. Additionally, customers can leverage their technology partner’s carrier relationships and engineering skills to design a solution that optimises off-peak network pricing.
7. Consider size: Big technology firms and manufacturers have greater resources for research and development and are better equipped to offer the latest cutting-edge technology. And because large companies have greater purchasing power and can leverage economies of scale, they are better able to pass the savings down to customers. On the device side, it is all about being small. Designers should choose a module that is small, compact and easy to integrate into whatever form factor works for the application – whether it is a simple tracking device concealed in a shipping container or pallet, or a dashboard-mounted sophisticated fleet management solution enabling high-speed Internet access.
1. Wireless Week, 8 April, 2008, www.wirelessweek.com/article-firstnews_april08_2008.aspx
2. ABI Research, ‘The Cellular M2M Module Market’