MWC 2013: New buzzword is M2M

At this week's Mobile World Congress, machine-to-machine is the new wave of the wireless revolution which involves getting devices to talk with other devices, with no humans in between.
Written by Nitin Puri, Contributor

With bring-your-own-device (BYOD) already implemented in some workplace, another buzzword making the rounds this week at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2013 in Barcelona, Spain, was machine-to-machine (M2M).

M2M refers to technologies that allow both wireless and wired systems to communicate with other devices with the same capability. It uses devices, such as sensors or meters, to capture events such as speed and temperature which are relayed through a network. This network can be either wireless, wired or a hybrid, and connected to a software application that translates the captured event into meaningful information to be extracted and utilized further.

The M2M phenomenon is part of the larger drive to create an Internet of Things (IoT), a global network that not only links computers, tablets and phones, but connects everything from bikes to washing machines to thermostats. Can you imagine a bathroom scale that lets you chart your weight on the Web, or a car that tells your insurance company how well you are driving? Better yet, how about a coffeepot that can be ordered from a tablet computer to start brewing or an Internet-connected alarm clock?

Vehicles have been forerunners when it comes to wireless connections. General Motors started equipping its cars with OnStar wireless calling and assistance services in the mid-1990s. At MWC 2013, it announced it was updating the service to support faster data connections, enabling services like remote engine diagnostics and upgrades to the control software.

Vodafone also has its own car application in Italy which allows an auto insurance company to know how much a car is being used and charges premiums accordingly. The car application can also score the driver based on the driving style, and provide advice on how to handle the car more safely.

Another example from Vodafone is in Groningen, The Netherlands. Trash containers that serve public-housing units now come equipped with sensors. The sensors alert trash haulers when they need to be emptied, saving on unnecessary trips, and reducing fuel use by up to 18 percent. Also in The Netherlands, Dutch authorities control street lights wirelessly, rather than with dumb timers. Energy is then saved by dimming the lights as required.

Once devices are connected, the next problem is getting them to talk to each other, and making sense of what they're saying. This is the real business opportunity in M2M. British firm Machina Research believes there will be 12.5 billion smart-connected devices, excluding phones, PCs and tablets, in the world in 2020, up from 1.3 billion today.

There's also the M2M Multi-Operator Alliance, which is a coalition of companies that includes The Etisalat Group, KPN, NTT DOCOMO, Rogers Communications, SingTel, Telefonica, Telstra, and VimpelCom.

The Alliance last year announced its intent to bring technology to market that would simplify the process of global M2M deployments, as corporations planning to roll out connected devices worldwide face an array of problems. These problems include, but are not limited to, the local coverage of some mobile operators, fragmented network landscapes and multiple SIM management platforms.

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