Getting one's arms around machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is a challenge. The only thing that people are certain of is its promise. M2M lacks both a beginning point and a definition that is narrow enough to be useful.
M2M has long been with us. A GPS system that suggests that you turn left in 500 feet or that tells you that it is recalculating because you weren’t clever enough to take its advice is an M2M system. Thus, the move to M2M has started and its great expectations will be fulfilled gradually.
The definition of M2M is equally fuzzy. There are almost limitless ways in which M2M can be used, from sensors that find leaks in oil pipelines to those that sound alarms when a heart patient’s blood pressure passes a certain threshold. The use cases are so fundamentally different that it’s difficult to think of the category holistically.
With all those caveats notwithstanding, it’s safe to say that M2M is a rising star. For end users, M2M offers a world of functionality – in big things and small – that will make their lives safer and easier. Carriers will benefit by having a reliable and stable revenue flow. Vendors will be happy because they will get to make and sell a lot of stuff.
M2M may also save the planet. It is the logical place for the world of telecommunications and IT to most fully meet the green sector. M2M could be the linchpin that provides the information that enables radical reductions in carbon emissions.
Panelists at an M2M session at the week’s VERGE Boston weren’t shy about the potential, according to GreenBiz reporter Harry Stevens:
The sustainability implications of M2M are immense. With applications in fields as varied as energy, building management, transportation, and agriculture, M2M has the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 9.1 gigatons annually. That's equivalent to the 2010 emissions of India and the United States combined.
Though that passage is general, most of the story focused on savings on in-building environmental systems. The idea is that slapping an M2M sensor on every heating and cooling element in a building will send an enormous amount of data to analytics engines, which, according to the story, will optimize performance.
The promise of M2M was on full display this week. Frost & Sullivan released a report on the European market. The press release says that Europe is at the forefront of M2M deployments. The report looks specifically at the market in Germany, France, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Subsequent reporting will be done on other countries.
The lead analyst is quoted as saying that the drivers are both services mandated by government and value-added offerings from service providers. The future looks bright:
The next waves of M2M applications are expected in healthcare, industrial automation, and consumer electronics. There will also be steady demand for security and remote surveillance, retail and other process automation applications. However, for the surge to occur, further consumer education is required. M2M telcos must continue to provide consulting services to build use cases and define an acceptable return on investments.
M2M is not static. Channel Partners’ Khali Henderson posted a long and very well written piece focusing on the sector’s current dynamics. She presents estimates from various sources on future growth and outlines the approaches of Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. The current market dynamic, she said, features shrinking costs, use of the cloud, more involvement by mobile operators and efforts to simplify the diffuse supply chain.
The promise of M2M is slowly and subtly starting to be realized. The future likely won’t have dramatic spikes in usage. The upswing is more likely to be gradual – and ongoing for decades.