There are big markets, such as GPS. There are really big markets, such as smart grid. And there is machine-to-machine (M2M), which has to be huge, since those other sectors-and scores of others-are subsets of it.
The new year dawns with M2M growing, and growing quickly. "Today, globally, there are 61 million M2M connections," says Steve Hilton, head of Enterprise Research for Analysys Mason. "In 10 years, in 2020, there are going to be around 2 billion."
The difficulty of conceptualizing two billion connections becomes easier via example. Don Wallace, president and CEO of M2M Data Corp., is a vendor to the oil, gas and wastewater industries. The company's M2M sensors measure a million variables on 10,000 "assets," or pieces of equipment in the field. (A single device may support more than one asset. A pump's engine and compressor, for instance, are monitored by different sensors and, thus, are more than one asset.)
Traditionally, Wallace says, the only way to make sure that all the gear is operating correctly was to send somebody to check. This meant that equipment was not being monitored most of the time. It also meant that personnel had to be dispatched to remote locations. M2M does the job better and at radically lower costs.
Not surprisingly, M2M sensors and Ethernet networking increasingly are integral elements of the devices themselves. "In the last five years we have gone from carriers being largely uninterested because it involves a small amount of data [to] huge adoption of the technology," Wallace says. "Five or ten years ago, if somebody spoke about Ethernet in an Allen-Bradley PLC device, people would laugh. Now it is standard."
The main point isn't the specifics of what Wallace is using the technology to accomplish. It's that M2M has integrated itself so deeply into his field that sensors are being built in at the factory. This suggests how rapidly M2M is becoming mainstream.
M2M Data Corp. has a relatively narrow scope. The overall potential of the M2M market comes into focus with the recognition that such communications platforms make the same intuitive sense in scores of other industrial and commercial applications. Factor in the myriad of consumer uses-from e-readers to telehealth and beyond-and the two billion connections Hilton predicts for 2020 makes sense. Indeed, his prediction may begin to sound like an underestimate.
Everyone Agrees: M2M is Growing
Tobias Ryberg, a senior analyst for Swedish research firm Berg Insight, also sees the movement, but measures it a bit differently than Hilton. "We currently see strong growth, particularly in North America, driven by a combination of industrial and consumer applications," he wrote in response to e-mailed questions. "AT&T and T-Mobile currently see their M2M subscriber bases increase by 10 to 20 percent per quarter, while Verizon and Sprint are slower. M2M and connected devices now account for 5 to 10 percent of all cellular connections in the U.S. and several European countries."
There are coalescing forces behind M2M's progress, says Sam Lucero, practice director for M2M Connectivity for ABI Research. He says that carriers are getting on the bandwagon in a more aggressive manner than before when they took an arm's length attitude. Lucero calls their increasingly direct involvement a "real significant inflection point" in the evolution of M2M.
Lucero points to ways in which M2M is becoming mainstream, such as in legal and regulatory moves. An example is markets-he cited the European Union and Brazil-that mandate road safety and embedded theft alarms that rely on M2M technology. In the United States, Lucero sees federal regulations in 2005 and 2007 and the stimulus as key enablers.