Machine-to-machine (M2M) is one of the most potent concepts in telecommunications. While an average session is relatively minor - it doesn't take too much connectivity power for a refrigerator truck to tell a central computer that everything is cool (so to speak) or for a GPS unit to report that a car has moved 100 feet - the sheer volume of traffic has service providers excited.
Berg Insight, a Swedish firm, tracks this market. In late May, they released numbers for the first quarter of 2012 that suggest solid growth.The story at TelecomEngine said that "year-on-year growth rates are stabilizing at around 15-30%."
That's a nice number on which to stabilize. The story notes that carriers don't all track their M2M activities. Of those that do, AT&T is the leader with 13.3 million subscribers, which is an increase of 25 percent compared to the year-ago quarter. It is unclear from the report, however, precisely how a "subscriber" is defined. Vodafone has 7.8 million subscribers. Berg estimates that China Mobile - which doesn't report M2M - has 15 million subscribers.
Berg reports that T-Mobile USA has 2.7 million subscribers at the end of the quarter. Verizon Wireless is thought to be in the 7 million- to 9 million-subscriber range. The company announced on June 1 that it is acquiring Hughes Telematics' M2M services and applications company for $612 million.
That's the macro view. This story at Connected World is a good illustration of both how useful the technology is and how ubiquitous it can become. The story details how Shelburne Vineyard in Vermont is using the technology. It says that the company uses sensors distributed in the field from vendor MicroStrain to transmit data about temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture, leaf wetness and solar radiation to a cloud called SensorCloud. Staff can be alerted if certain measures are exceeded. The point is that even a small vineyard in Vermont can generate quite a bit of M2M traffic.
It won't be easy. Fierce Wireless: Europe editor Paul Rasmussen points out that the traditional and M2M businesses are so different that carriers are building separate divisions. Indeed, the only commonality is the fact that they run over wireless networks, he writes.
Despite the undeniable complexities, it is a business sector with a bright future. Deutsche Telekom in late May launched an M2M Marketplace. It is a worldwide marketplace in which manufacturers and dealers can sell hardware, software and applications. The marketplace is free now; charges will be introduced on July 2.