IoT, IIoT, M2M: Big Technologies with Fuzzy Definitions

Carl Weinschenk
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Creating an App-Centric Network for the Internet of Things

Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is a key enabler of many of the higher-profile platforms that are revolutionizing industry. These include cloud services, the Internet of Things (IoT), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

How these technologies fit together is important, but unfortunately, it’s not completely clear as to how they do. Jojo John Moolayil, a data scientist at Flutura, does a great job of delineating the differences between the IoT, M2M and the IoE (the latter is the Internet of Everything, a term Moolayil says was coined by Cisco). His point is that the main differentiator between the IoT and M2M in the past was the network on which the data traveled. M2M tended to be on wired or cellular networks, while the IoT utilized Internet Protocol (IP) networks.

As time passes, the differences, which were relatively minor and a matter of when the technologies were developed, are fading. Moolayil writes:

Today, many industries have heavy engineering machinery that communicated on an IPV4/6 network and form a network called as Industrial Internet or sometimes they are still called M2M. Hence the difference between these two are bare minimum. There are enough cases where they are used interchangeably.

In many cases, there is no consistency in how vendors, service providers and analysts use these terms. For instance, 451 Research found that the cellular IoT and M2M connections will increase from 252 million last year to 908 million in 2019. The story at First Post says that the firm cites reduced hardware and bandwidth costs, cloud-based middleware and data platforms and general awareness of the technologies’ benefits as drivers.

Although these growth figures are impressive, they should be taken with a grain of salt. Analysts in all sectors generate highly specific numbers, most likely for marketing purposes. (It’s more impressive to say that that the widget category will have a 459 percent compound annual growth rate from now until 2020 than saying that it “will grow steadily.”) That’s true in the PC sector, the tablet sector, the small cell sector and all others. Most categories, however, are very well defined at this point. The nebulous set of definitions around cellular IoT and M2M means that the numbers are even less certain.

The same can be said for a study from Vodafone. A report by eWeek said the carrier found that more than a quarter of businesses around the world use M2M, and that the portion jumps to 93 percent in the Americas. Also, 41 percent achieved a return on investment (ROI) within six months.

There is no question that all of the technologies under this broad umbrella—the IoT, the IIoT, M2M, cellular M2M and others—are growing. It’s also clear that there is a tremendous amount of overlap among them and that precise definitions are fuzzy. For this reason, quantifying the growth is impossible.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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