By Brian Vezza, Director of M2M Solutions, Wind River
Within the next few years, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) devices will account for more than half of all connected devices shipped annually. Think about that for a minute. There will be more M2M devices shipped each year than PCs, cell phones, tablets, set-top boxes, and gaming platforms put together. There are already hundreds of millions of M2M devices (if not over 1 billion) at work in sensors, smart meters, industrial control systems, SCADA devices, video surveillance, smart buildings … the list goes on. But ask 100 business executives to tell you what M2M is and you’ll get 100 very different answers. Ask those same executives what M2M means for their business, and those who follow the space will say that it will make their businesses smarter.
I can’t think of a technology that is so potentially transformational for business, and yet so poorly understood as M2M. It’s time to bring some clarity and focus to M2M so that businesses can transform the “promise” of M2M and smart solutions into real business results.
So I’ll start with a quick review of what M2M is and where it fits in the big picture of today’s technological landscape.
Making Sense of Data to Make Systems Smarter
To understand M2M you first have to grasp a key concept: The Internet is no longer a network of computers. It has evolved into a network of devices of all types and sizes, all connected, all communicating and sharing information all the time: cars, refrigerators, smart phones, toys, cameras, medical instruments, industrial systems, even trees embedded with sensors.
In this “Internet of Things,” devices, systems, and machines don’t only communicate with humans; they also communicate with each other. And they can generate an enormous volume of data about all kinds of things: temperature, GPS position, speed, humidity, vibration, altitude, and so on.
This data can be used in all kinds of smart ways when it is collected, analyzed, and applied to products, systems, and services. In the medical arena, for example, M2M devices can provide heartbeat-to-heartbeat monitoring and give doctors the data they need to diagnose and treat people with chronic heart conditions. On the highways, M2M systems can provide dynamic traffic control to help prevent accidents and optimize traffic flow so that more people can reach their destinations sooner. On the factory floor, automation systems can use M2M data to more quickly and flexibly respond to changing tastes and preferences of consumers.
Smarter Business Models via M2M Devices
In short, organizations of all types can take advantage of the intelligence generated by M2M to build smarter business models, create new sources of revenue and competitive advantage, and often reduce costs by improving productivity. And once more companies understand the transformative potential of M2M, the misunderstandings and misconceptions about M2M begin to disappear.
It’s easy to see why M2M has been hard to embrace. Intuitively we know about “human” devices because we see them, touch them, or use them. When the Xbox, Kindle, iPhone, or tablet computing device hits the streets (or even before), we almost always have some idea of what the device is and how we might use it. With M2M, our experience is much more limited. Unless you have worked with telematics, industrial controls, the smart grid, connected health monitoring devices, smart buildings, embedded computing, or related areas, it has been difficult to learn about M2M beyond the hype and the buzzwords.
However, broader acceptance and adoption of M2M is clearly underway. The growth of connected devices is skyrocketing, according to multiple analyst reports. Forecasts of 20 billion, 50 billion, or even 1 trillion connected devices by 2020 have been made by Ericsson, Cisco, IBM, McKinsey, and other leading companies. If the 50 billion connected device forecasts are accurate, then M2M could be over 50% of all connected devices shipped as soon as 2015. And according to McKinsey Quarterly June 2010, “More than two-thirds of new products feature some form of smart technology.” McKinsey estimates that at least $3 trillion in current spending could be impacted by M2M.
The challenge for business leaders is that creating and/or implementing M2M with a do-it-yourself approach has been filled with potential pitfalls. Take something as seemingly straightforward as wireless connectivity. Should you use cellular, 802.11, 802.15.4, WiMAX, or satellite? If cellular, should you use 2G, 3G, or 4G? 2G may have wider coverage globally and lower costs, but will it be around for the life of your device or service? 4G has much higher bandwidth, but costs more. What coverage and technologies are supported by wireless service providers in your areas? You get the idea. With limited M2M rollouts this probably isn’t a huge issue, but at scale making poor choices now can cause huge issues operationally and financially. Making smarter choices can dramatically increase your value from M2M-based smart solutions.
Wind River is working to make it much easier for both device manufacturers and companies to adopt M2M. Last week at Intel’s Software Media Day and more recently at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), I spoke about M2M and some of its challenges, and described a few of the areas Wind River is focusing on to accelerate the adoption of M2M along with our partners, such as the Wind River Embedded Development Kit for M2M Smart Services, which was designed in collaboration with Intel, Kontron, and Eurotech. This is a broad space with almost every vertical market making use of M2M at some level. One thing that is common to just about every M2M implementation is that building a solid foundation today will put you in better shape for years to come.
In future blog postings I’ll explore some of these areas and how the many billions of smart connected devices, and specifically M2M, will need a common “kit” of capabilities. Once this foundation is in place, it will be much easier to focus on extracting value created by M2M devices, turning that into knowledge, and then into action.
I’m looking forward to further exploring M2M and helping us all realize the immense potential of M2M and smart solutions.
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Wind River is an Associate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance