Brian Terhune

While the term M2M may be new to some, the technology has been an integral though obscure factor in industry for decades. Enabled by the development of smart phones, and the component miniaturization and wireless capabilities that made them possible and affordable, M2M technology has rapidly evolved to generate a far reaching electronic product market. M2M is no longer merely an option in product development; it has morphed into a requirement for a significant percentage of the projects Stilwell Baker undertakes.

An early example (circa 1960) of M2M communication allowed wired systems to communicate with various devices. For example; a SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system that monitored pressure in industrial facility and alerted a central computer if the pressure was out of limits. With the advent of wireless connectivity, everything changed. One of the main drivers for the evolution of M2M communication has been the significant drop in price of the wireless connectivity, sensors, and processors that are the foundation of all M2M product development.  With this drop in expense, development of M2M devices is now more accessible to an expanded number of organizations and consumers. In a 2012 report, the Economist Intelligence Unit predicted that over 50 billion wireless M2M devices will be connected (globally) by 2020.

M2M wireless networks are emerging in a growing number of industry segments. On-Star is one example of a well-known M2M implementation in the automotive industry. Other implementations include fleet management or asset tracking. When you use your credit card to purchase a product, or time at the parking meter, you are using M2M.

 M2M Applications by Industry M2M Applications
Automotive Passenger vehicle anti-theft/recovery, monitoring/ maintenance, safety/control, entertainment
Transportation Fleet management, trucking, courier, asset tracking, telematics, manufacturing and logistics
Utilities/Energy Smart grid, meter reading, electric/powerline, gas/oil pipelines and water tank monitoring
Security Commercial and home, fire, police, medical alert, surveillance and burglar alarm monitoring
Financial/Retail Point of sale, ATM, kiosk, vending, lottery, digital signage and handheld terminals
Health Care Medical monitoring, remote diagnostics, medication reminders and tele-medicine
Public Safety Highway, bridge, traffic management, homeland security, police, fire and emergency service
Source: Heavy Reading and Pyramid Research, 2012

In our experience,  M2M system development  and managing integration with the infrastructure required to support it is as stimulating as it is challenging. Each sensor or remote device must be integrated with a wireless module and connected to a network. Usually this means integrating the device for use with a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) such as Verizon, or AT&T for example. Module selection is also dependent on whether or not the MNO will allow the device to operate on their network. The module has to pass certification testing (in addition to PTCRB & FCC certification) that confirms it will operate as intended on the respective network. Device and network security must be incorporated into the end-to-end solution to protect the M2M implementation. Custom software applications to link the remote device to the central server of the business may also be necessary.

Before long, many of us could be residing in the realization of Bill’s dream — smart homes — thanks to the evolution of M2M technology.