Gary Audin
Gary Audin is the President of Delphi, Inc. He has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security...
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Gary Audin | November 21, 2014 |


Why Cell Providers Need to Prepare for M2M

Why Cell Providers Need to Prepare for M2M As the number of IoT endpoints grows and the amount of M2M communications explodes, watch for cellular networks to pick up a chunk of the traffic.

As the number of IoT endpoints grows and the amount of M2M communications explodes, watch for cellular networks to pick up a chunk of the traffic.

As I discussed in a previous blog, IoT Impact on Wireless, the cost of wiring and the need for endpoint portability makes wireless networking the preferred choice for connecting the rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT) and the machine-to-machine (M2M) communications it's creating. In that piece, I focused on Wi-Fi networks. Now, let's explore the impact of IoT on cellular networks.

In a recent intelligence report, "Cellular M2M forecasts and assumptions: 2010-2020," mobile operator group GSMA attempts to predict the number of cellular connections that will be carrying M2M data (see sidebar for a definition of M2M connection and more). Given the exhaustive list of M2M possibilities, it's projection for cellular connections is big -- after all, someone creates a new use of M2M every day.

What's What: A Quick Glossary

  • Internet of Things, or IoT: Describes the interconnection of multiple machines, devices and appliances (endpoints) connected to the Internet. The Internet connection will be through multiple network technologies. The endpoint devices include smartphones, tablets, and consumer electronics. Other candidate endpoints include vehicles, sensors, and monitors supporting machine-to-machine (M2M) data communications.
  • Machine-to-machine, or M2M: A subset of IoT, M2M describes the use of applications generating or receiving traffic between two or more machines. M2M technology wirelessly connects machines, devices, and appliances over communications channels. The goal of M2M is to deliver services with limited direct human participation, thereby transforming these endpoints into assets that open up a range of applications for businesses and consumers.
  • M2M connection: Mobile operators and regulators report on their M2M connections, but what the operator defines as a connection varies. The GSMA defines an M2M connection as such:

    "A unique SIM card registered on the mobile network at the end of the period, enabling mobile data transmission between two or more machines. It excludes computing devices in consumer electronics such as e-readers, smartphones, dongles, and tablets."

  • -- Gary Audin

    Some of the M2M applications in use or under development are:

  • Automotive -- including vehicle tracking, fleet management, maintenance requirements, component failure, recalls, vehicle insurance, speed camera alerts, and electronic toll payments
  • Agriculture and environment -- including remote monitoring of equipment, animals, crops, greenhouses
  • Consumer electronics -- including cameras, photo frames, gaming devices and pet and children tracking devices
  • Healthcare -- for monitoring, prevention, diagnosis, health worker empowerment and wellness/fitness applications (there's very likely an early application where early detection and prevention services can reduce healthcare costs)
  • Construction, manufacturing, transportation, and storage industries -- including asset tracking and management, and remote monitoring of machines (another early deployment where the businesses can produce significant cost-reduction advantages)
  • Public sector/government -- for the delivery of services such as traffic monitoring and reporting, parking permit machines, traffic signaling, and street light control
  • Retail and finance -- delivering connectivity to ATMs, point-of-sale devices, vending machines, and advertising displays
  • Security -- for home and small business, security alarms, fire and gas alarms, remote video surveillance, and home automation
  • Utilities -- for smart meters, either point to point or at the point of aggregation in electricity, gas, and water sectors
  • Few enterprises will be immune from deploying some M2M communications.

    Headed Toward Billions & Trillions
    As I mentioned, and as you can see below, the GSMA has attempted to predict the number of cellular connections that will be carrying M2M data.


    The red line describes the anticipated connection growth under existing business and government conditions. In the report, however, the GSMA says that certain changes can significantly increase the number of M2M connections. These changes would be in:

    • Government policies
    • Increased standardization, such as APIs rather than vendor specific (e.g., Cisco vs. Apple)
    • Low cost, standardized solutions
    • Better security and deployment
    • Operator business models

    These connection predictions DO NOT include computing devices in consumer electronics (smartphones, e-readers, tablets) and other types of M2M connection technologies that support the greater world of the IoT. So the connections the cell providers have to support when every connection is counted will easily grow into the trillions.

    Impact on the Cell Providers
    Cell providers will have to invest heavily in their infrastructures. More licensed frequencies have to be opened by governments. The transition to IPv6 will have to be accelerated. Providers may have to establish some interface and protocol standards to reduce the number of endpoint options to a manageable number. Their business models will have to be modified. New pricing plans at low cost need to be introduced, otherwise it may be too expensive to support M2M endpoints.

    Many M2M endpoints will be monitoring mission-critical endpoints. These endpoints will probably need to have permanent connections to ensure that they have communications and won't receive a "no service available" notification. These endpoints will also have to either be polled or keep sending "keep alive" messages to ensure that they are still operating properly. This type of service is not what cellular networks were designed to support, but will be required for M2M communications.

    Overall, providers will have a difficult time adapting to the M2M explosion while supporting existing customers and the other IoT applications. There may be some anarchy stimulated by the provider customers before all of this settles down. It could take five years or more to get this right -- assuming no other big thing comes along!


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