Making Strides In M2M
By William Atkinson
Machine to Machine (M2M) involves data communication between machines. The technology requires devices capable of replying to requests for data, a communications link, software, and software intelligence.
M2M applications are gaining popularity in enterprise infrastructure management, data centers, the oil and gas industry, manufacturing, facilities management, transportation and fleet management, healthcare, insurance, vending, building automation, and security systems.
According to ABI Research, these connected communication devices, as a product category, are experiencing rapid growth. Mobile operators are no longer providing connectivity solely for mobile handsets. They are expanding their offerings to include new M2M devices such as portable navigation devices (PNDs), connected digital cameras, and e-readers. According to ABI Research estimates, there will be as many as 2.5 billion connected devices used worldwide by 2014, and about 1.5 billion of these will fall outside the handset category.
Berg Insight, a Sweden-based analyst firm, reports that 1.4% of worldwide mobile network connections were used for wireless M2M communication as of the end of 2009. In the U.S., such connections made up 4.3% of all mobile network connections; in the European Union they accounted for 2.4%.
In the next five years, Berg Insight projects that the total number of wireless M2M connections will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.6%, reaching 187.1 million connections by 2014. By then, M2M's share of the total number of cellular connections is expected to reach 3.1% worldwide. In addition, new M2M initiatives launched by major mobile operator groups are expected to have a positive influence on demand, stimulating new large-scale projects.
According to Juniper Research, the number of mobile connected M2M and embedded devices will rise to almost 412 million globally by 2014, with several distinct markets accounting for the majority of increase. These include utility metering, mobile connected buildings, consumer and commercial telematics, and retail/banking connections. (Healthcare monitoring applications will begin to reach the commercial rollout stage around 2012.)
One organization finding success with M2M technology is S.A.F.E.R. (Search and Find Emergency Responders) International. The not-for-profit organization based in Waconia, MN, provides specialized search-and-rescue services for people with Alzheimer's, as well as other cognitive impairments, such as autism, traumatic brain injuries, or Down's Syndrome, who are at risk of wandering off.
Mario Cortolezzis, who is Co-Founder / Executive Director of S.A.F.E.R., began the organization after his autistic son Dante wandered away from home in April 2005 and soon ended up splashing in the ice-cold water of a nearby lake. Fortunately, a passer-by happened to spot the four-year-old boy and alerted authorities.
"After we created S.A.F.E.R., we began to look for some techology that would help us with what we wanted to do," explains Cortolezzis. One technology that the organization came across was offered by EmFinders.
In specific, S.A.F.E.R. offers EmFinders EmseeQ cellular transmitters. With the technology, individuals who are at risk of wandering off wear a specially outfitted band on their wrists or ankles 24 hours a day. The transmitters are able to work inside buildings and other places where GPS does not.
"We realized it would be a perfect fit for many of the other options that we offered, to provide emergency responders with the upper hand when looking for someone," explains Cortolezzis. S.A.F.E.R. sells the EmFinders product to families and other caregivers.
Lisa Brodsky, Director of Business Development for EmFinders, explains how the technology works. "People who are at risk of wandering away wear a durable, water-resistant device," she says. The transmitter in the device puts out a silent radio signal, which can be tracked with a directional antenna. "When someone goes missing, the caregiver calls 911. EmFinders's emergency response center then remotely activates that device. The signal from the device then goes to the local 911 dispatch center, which provides the person's location."
EmFinders also provides detailed information about the person to emergency responders, such as age, sex, height, weight, and medical conditions, so that responders know specifically whom to look for, and how to care for them once they locate them.
EmFinders technology uses a cellular network offered by KORE Telematics, a specialized M2M wireless service provider.
Another company finding multiple benefits with M2M technology is Alarm.com in Tysons Corner, VA. The company provides 100% wireless security systems for homes and businesses.
"One benefit of wireless technology is that there is no reliance on the local phone line," says Alison Slavin, VP Product Management with Alarm.com. This not only eliminates problems that might occur if phone lines are down, but also eliminates vulnerability to phone line cuts, which is something that intruders frequently do before breaking and entering a residence or business.
When the company was launched in 2000, management began looking for ways that it could wirelessly connect a security system to an operations center for alarm notification, and also wirelessly provide information to the end user (homeowner or business owner), so they could know everything that was going on in their home or business in real-time.
Currently, end users have this type of access via the Internet (to the company's website), as well as via mobile applications running on iPhone, Blackberry, and other devices.
In 2000, according to Slavin, there were no GSM networks available, so Alarm.com began using two-way pager networks operated by companies such as SkyTel. "When we wirelessly connected a security system, we had to use a two-way pager radio, which was running on some custom code that we wrote," she explains.
In 2006, the company launched its current offering, using GSM. "The primary GSM networks are AT&T and T-Mobile," says Slavin. "We use T-Mobile and have a close partnership with them. They have always been leading edge when it comes to the infrastructure requirements."
In the future, Alarm.com plans to utilize M2M technology to expand beyond security to services such as energy control monitoring (remote controlling of thermostats, turning lights on and off, and so on) also using the T-Mobile network.
M2M's Share of total worldwide wireless connections
Source: Berg Insight, December 2009
M2M Growth Rate
25.6% CGAR Of M2M Connections Worldwide, 2009-2014
Source: Berg Insight, December 2009
M2M Outlook, 2014
There will be 412 million mobile connected M2M & embedded devices worldwide
Source: Juniper Research, December 2009