Brian Terhune
M2M Communication

M2M Communication

While the term M2M (Machine 2 Machine) may be new to some people, it is becoming a larger part of our lives every day. Given that Stilwell Baker receives many inquiries related to electronic product development, it is interesting that M2M is no longer an option; it has morphed into a requirement. Because of this, it’s the perfect time for a three part blog series on the background of M2M evolution, where it exists today, and potentially where it will be in the near term.

An early example of M2M communication would be the technology that allows wired systems to communicate with various devices. For example, a SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system that monitors pressure in an industrial facility and alerts a central computer if the pressure is out of limits. M2M communication has evolved as wireless technology and has eliminated the need for hard wire connections, thus reducing cost and system installation time. Now a sensor communicates through a wireless network to the central computer. But the evolution didn’t stop there; the one-to-one communication was superseded by a system of networks that transmits data throughout the company and its partners. When a fault is detected, the maintenance company is automatically notified and dispatched for field repair potentially reducing facility downtime. Finally,  provide the infrastructure for individuals to communicate with their personal appliances (home security, heating and cooling, consumer electronics, automobiles, etc.) and the M2M market really starts to get interesting.

The infrastructure required to support today’s M2M market is vastly different than earlier configurations. Each sensor or remote device must be fitted with a cellular module. The device needs to be on a cellular network, hence a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) is needed (Verizon, AT&T for example). Module selection is also dependent on whether or not the MNO will allow them to operate on their network. In other works, the module must pass certification testing (in addition to PTCRB & FCC certification) that shows it will operate as intended on their respective network. Security of the devices and the network is another aspect that needs to be incorporated into the end-to-end solution in order to protect the M2M implementation. Custom software applications may also be required to connect the remote device to the central server of a business.

M2M wireless networks are already in use in various areas. According to a 2011 Pyramid Research report, M2M applications can be broken down by seven general industries: Automotive,  Transportation, Utilities/Energy,  Security, Financial/Retail, Health Care, and Public Safety. On-Star is one example of a well-known M2M implementation within the automotive industry. Other initial implementations include fleet management or asset tracking. When you use your credit card to purchase a product or at the parking meter, you are using M2M.

Part two of the blog series will focus on where we are today with M2M and detailed considerations regarding implementation and infrastructure.