M2M and the Internet of Things: A guide

M2M and the Internet of Things: A guide

Summary: The Internet of Things will consist primarily of machines talking to one another, with computer-connected humans observing, analysing and acting upon the resulting 'big data' explosion. Here's how the next internet revolution is shaping up.


M2M uptake: who is using it, and who is next?

Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is growing in importance — but which industries have already adopted it, which are likely to, and how big is the market?

Machine-to-machine communication is seen by technologists, analysts and major companies across the world as the next great tool to revolutionise business. However, predictions for the size of the market vary and uptake, so far, has been limited.

In 2004, BusinessWeek predicted that M2M would be a $180bn market by 2008. If you believed that, you'd have been disappointed by a 2007 report from The Economist putting it at around $35bn. By 2010 the market had climbed to $120bn, according to information from M2M specialist Machina Research — two years late and still $60bn off the original BusinessWeek projection. The latest Machina Research report predicts the M2M market will grow from $200bn in 2011 to $1.2 trillion in 2022:


Any advanced technology is prone to false starts and an excess of hype. Wildly optimistic predictions were made for Segway scooters, for example, but the mass market never materialised. Similarly, we've been told for years that fusion power, quantum computing, strong artificial intelligence, robotic cars and electric vehicles are just around the corner. Again, none of these technologies have yet fulfilled their promise.

M2M is certainly happening, but the market is fragmented into numerous verticals. Right now there are around 110 million M2M devices connected to the internet, according to Juniper Research. By 2017 this is expected to climb to 400 million. The numbers bandied about obviously depend on the definitions used, however: Machina Research, by contrast, puts the number of M2M connections at the end of 2011 at two billion, and expects this to grow to 18 billion by 2022.

M2M is the next ubiquitous technology. Get ready

According to Frost & Sullivan, the areas driving this growth will be the automotive industry, with new 'smart' cars; utility companies with smart grids; healthcare and security, along with home automation. Machina Research, meanwhile, puts the top growth-driving vertical markets in the following order: intelligent buildings, consumer electronics, utilities, automotive and healthcare.

According to Cisco, the next nine billion or so devices connected to the internet in 2020 will use M2M technologies. Many of these devices will be used to link the physical world to the internet via sensors that take readings from their local environment and output the information up into the cloud.

For this reason, the entire field is being forced to grapple with questions around data preservation, communication and integrity — and far earlier than other similar technology sectors have had to.

Estimates of the size of the M2M market and its likely growth vary, but the widespread influence that this technology will undoubtedly have is concentrating the minds of all kinds of companies. Those whose M2M strategies succeed will have as much sway over our lives as smartphone vendors and mobile operators do today. M2M is the next ubiquitous technology. Get ready.

Jack Clark

Topics: Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things, Cloud, Emerging Tech, Networking


Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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  • Excellent article

    A clear, comprehensive and prescient piece on M2M. Nicely done. (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest, just an interested observer).
    Manek Dubash
  • Informative Guide

    An easy to read concise overview of the M2M market and opportunities. Extremely beneficial for professionals who have interest in M2M.
  • No such thing as an H2H internet.

    "A point worth stressing is that data transfer patterns in the M2M-driven Internet of Things will differ fundamentally from those in the classic 'human-to-human' (H2H) internet. "

    There's actually no such thing as an H2H internet.

    Protocols such as TCP/IP don't actually care about whether the ultimate destination connects to a human or not. They just transfer data from one point to another. They are completely agnostic as to whether it's upload/download biased, and they are completely agnostic as to whether there's a human on the other end or not.
    • H2H internet

      In one aspect you are correct, in another you are wrong. Humans require monitors, keyboards, complex operating systems with applications. This is largely why the Internet is somewhat not built for M2M. The Internet you have known until now technically is and was H2H internet. The time is now to consider an adjoining M2M internet with new controls. You are correct TCP/IP is not equipped. The internet was built for war and got many things backwards, yet everything built was necessary. Machines have the capability to get straight to the business and even do calculations in the data itself. I believe it foolish that a merger of man and machine not forecast to make BIG PROBLEMS but you cannot stop proprietors that wish to push their wares. Telecom can help, they may soon if we're lucky.
  • You Miss The Point

    H2H doesn't have anything to do with network protocols. It's an observation of network traffic patterns - completely protocol agnostic - and network topologies.
  • At the heart of it all.

    At the heart of all this M2M, or the internet of things, are "Embedded Systems" without which none of it is possible. Now tell me that RIM's acquisition of QNX, a world leader in embedded systems, and their development of the BB10 mobile platform wasn't a very forward looking move on their part. RIM has been positioning themselves to be a leader in M2M for years now.
    • M2M lead

      Somewhat consider how universality is now trumping individual language. As everyone seeks to be the M2M leader, again many new languages are born. One or a few will win and some will perpetuate as a road block to clear communication again. Even the government knows Open Source helps a lot and it will be a winner here too. Diversity has it's own advantage in the natural selection theory of things. If only we could stop the diversity explosions in every little thing we build. This fuels a lack of security so badly.
  • Mess-up of terms?

    Don't you think that M2M and the IoT should be treated as seperate terms? An M2M-connection via Zigbee or other short-range communication protocols does not need any Internet-connection. It may be related to the concept of the Internet of Things. However, these terms should not be used synonymously.
    Dieter Uckelmann
  • Yeah, as soon as full IPv6 gets implimented

    If only all the firbre optic cable were in use. That would allow full IPv6. Then every cow could have its own IP address. With US's medieval version of internet and lack of sound leadership, this is going to take the next 15 to 20 years to roll out. Then 10 years to shake out how to really use it. The current internet infrustructure is not ready for prime time.
  • One word. Skynet.

    Am I the only one who thought that when he read about M-to-M?

    • @ecohistorical: Nope. Sky net was the first thing I thought of as well!

      After skynet, I also thought of the matrix!
      • Skynet

        We are closer to Skynet than you might think. This is why we need a broad discussion on how to protect our assets from machines, people that might tinker with them. Multicasts should have rung some alarm bells from a viral capability standpoint as well. Exponential disease spreading all by a machine is threatening. I believe we can still outsmart machines if we are not foolish as to give them free reign.
  • get it

    M2M is a little difficult to me ,but this article make me get some ideas ,it's nice
  • Many organizations are desperately looking for effective ways to comply

    I agree that "The Internet of Things, powered by Machine-to-Machine communication, is already with us, but remains a massive opportunity.

    Properly implemented, it can retool large parts of the world for better efficiency, security and environmental responsibility — and of course it can generate potentially huge amounts of business for the IT companies that will build and run the systems involved."

    It "can generate potentially huge amounts of business for the IT companies that will build and run the systems involved" and it will be based on Big Data.

    Many organizations are desperately looking for effective ways to comply to new stringent privacy regulations.

    I think that there are several gaps in privacy that need to be filled and now Big Data is adding to this issue.

    A Big Crisis is likely to occur very soon:

    1. A Big Data security crisis is likely to occur and few organizations have the ability to deal with it.
    2. We have little knowledge about data loss or theft in big data environments.
    3. I imagine it is happening today but has not been disclosed to the public.

    I recently read an interesting report from Aberdeen Group that revealed that “Over the last 12 months, tokenization users had 50% fewer security-related incidents(e.g., unauthorized access, data loss or data exposure than tokenization non-users”. The name of the study is “Tokenization Gets Traction”. This type of measurable information about security should be communicated to management. Data tokenization can also add business value and increase creativity by allowing more people to have access to more data in a less risky way than before.

    Ulf Mattsson, CTO Protegrity, +1-203-570-6919.
  • This is the future

    I like the article, very informative. There are many m2m languages that he could have listed. I hope he discusses his thoughts on a merger of man, machine on one set of communication lines. Is this prudent? Will machines come to be a nuisance to humans on their own communication lines?
  • On security

    With security at new lows, violation of encryption looming as a real possibility I think more companies should consider keeping some specific content offline entirely in the interim.
    • Yeah, but...

      That makes perfect common sense, but the "Cloudies" won't permit such thoughtcrime. They want it all out there beyond your reach and control (unless they push it down on you). No?
  • CBB ~ Crippling Bandwidth Bloat

    Who gets the lion's share of the bottle-necked bandwidth... machines, corporations, or human individuals?? Might be worth watching closely, going forward standing still.