December 7, 2012
At the local area network (LAN) level we have a lot of different wired and wireless alternatives for M2M connectivity. But at the wide area network (WAN) level we have few options. There are a lot of legacy solutions using the fixed switched phone network (PSTN and fixed broadband Internet access is the dominating way to connect LANs to the Internet. The mobile industry is positioning themselves as the obvious solution for wireless WAN connectivity. The mobile operator alternative includes the cheaper and low capacity 2G option, 3G and the emerging high-capacity and low latency LTE option. 2G is still by far the most utilized option with more than 90% of all M2M subscriptions. Satellite communication provides an almost complete outdoor coverage and is a frequently used alternative especially for tracking.
But there are potentially other alternatives for M2M WAN connectivity. Entrepreneurs are working on the idea to build a dedicated M2M network designed to connect billions of devices in a cost efficient and high quality fashion. One of the most interesting today is Sigfox in France who has designed and built a wireless network optimized for M2M using ultra narrow-band modulation techniques. They started roll out earlier this year and plan to have France covered by the end of this year which is amazing. Sigfox uses unlicensed spectrum (868 MHz in Europe and 915 MHz in the US) normally used by cordless phones. With open sight distances up to 40 km covered and when compared with GSM, for the same level of coverage, Sigfox’s solution requires around 1,000 times less antennas and base stations. The impact on cost is massive – it is 100 times less expensive to build, install and operate. They claim they will have France covered with some 1000 transmission sites. The radio modules embedded in the connected things are tiny and consume 1/50 of the power typically consumed by a cellular M2M module. With such low power consumption batteries could last up to 20 years before recharging or replacement is needed.
The Sigfox network is designed to connect millions of devices that only send messages occasionally – maybe once a week or once a year. The position of the object is included and data is encrypted. The bandwidth is only 100 bps which allows transfer of only small messages. And this will likely be the most common type of connected object why volumes could be very large and economies of scale could help Sigfox bring down cost to a couple of dollars per module. They predict that their efficiencies in running the network will enable them to connect devices for a couple of dollars a year.
Now you might wonder what type of mushrooms they have down in Toulouse. But already now they have announced that Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings is a customer using Sigfox to connect their billboards and MAAF Assurances just announced an agreement for their innovative connected objects’ household protection service, they have suggested to ETSI to make their proprietary UNB technology a standard and in September Intel Capital led their €10 million B round.
Friends, this is for real and companies like Sigfox have the potential to change many games onwards. Connected objects without hassle for a couple of dollars a year sounds attractive, doesn’t it? Bonne chance!
September 17, 2012
The recent announcement from AT&T that they will shut down their 2G network latest year-end 2016 has been discussed a lot lately. It is safe to say that mobile operators in developed markets will continue transitioning their handset users and networks towards 3G and 3G LTE. But mobile operators in general have a growing number of M2M terminals in their networks and they know that over 90% of them are using 2G modules today. Many of them are recently deployed and expected to run without intervention for maybe another five to ten years. Going there, changing SIM, terminal or in worst case the entire device is a very costly thing to do. This is probably why mobile operators in general don’t talk about when they plan to terminate their 2G networks. And I don’t think we will see many announcements like the AT&T one for the next few years, especially not in Europe. Also, let us not forget that many operators in developing countries only have 2G so it will definitely be around for quite some time.
Over the air provisioning of SIM-cards will solve some of the 2G sunset problems but if you need another module in your terminal it will obviously not help. One or two operators in a market, or why not an MVNO, can gather all the 2G terminals and continue service them until the bitter end. The remaining operators would lose some clients but free themselves to go wild on 3 and 4G.
More and more new M2M solutions are using 3G and 3G LTE now. This is natural especially when applications are data rich and require low latency. At Qualcomm IQ last week in Berlin, Steve Mollenkopf, President & COO Qualcomm, stated that one million new 3G connections are added each day. Most of them are not M2M but it means that 3G network capacity and coverage is rapidly improved around the world. And modules and components are coming down in price as volumes grow. And even 3G LTE is spreading. According to Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) 96 operators have launched commercial LTE services in 46 countries so far. But the recent announcement of iPhone 5 reminds of the fragmented frequencies of 3G LTE which needs to be taken into account when looking at a specific M2M 3G LTE solution. 3G LTE uses frequencies between 698 MHz – 3800 MHz, divided in 25 bands for FDD (Frequency division duplex) and 11 bands for TDD (Time division duplex).
August 8, 2012
AT&T just announced that they will shut down their 2G network no later then January 1 2017. They want to free up spectrum for mobile Internet network capacity. “Well in advance of this change, we will reach out to our relatively small percentage of 2G customers and offer them options to meet their needs” says a spokesperson to Fierce MobileIT. According to Berg Insight AT&T had 13.1 million M2M subscribers by the end of 2011. It is often stated that the 2G share of the M2M subscriptions are bigger then 90%. I don’t know the AT&T mix but it is likely that at least half of their 13 million subscribers use 2G.
PricewaterhouseCoopers recently made a study and found that 60 percent of wireless operators plan on decommissioning their legacy networks over the next five years. Their study would suggest that more operators would like to make similar announcements as AT&T.
M2M terminals are often expected to be operational 5-10 years which makes the choice of network technology difficult. From a capacity point of view 2G is often enough and 2G modules are cheaper than modules supporting 3G and 4G/LTE. Coverage of the 3G networks are often not as good as the 2G networks. It is far too early for LTE networks to take over. Support for circuit switched connections which are required when moving terminals from the fixed phone networks (PSTN) to mobile networks is only available in 2G. It will be interesting to see what AT&T’s announcement will do to customers, regulators and other mobile operators. And what about countries were mobile networks are all 2G?
I believe this is a challenge for the development of the M2M market. As far as I understand it, AT&T will have to subsidize the remaining 2G M2M customers to replace terminals or loose the customers to other operators. This new situation for ongoing and planned M2M projects might delay or in worst case kill them if the up-front investment becomes substantially bigger. This news also explains why M2M customers need over-the-air provisioned SIMs.
June 4, 2012
ABB acquires the Wi-Fi mesh pioneer Tropos Networks to strengthen its Utility Communications product group. California based Tropos Networks has delivered a large number of wireless metropolitan and campus networks over the last ten years or so and I would even say that they made Wi-Fi mesh a viable metro network solution to the market.
This acquisition by ABB is very interesting and underline the grande potential for especially smart grids but also other private network applications. Tropos has deployed private networks for applications like meter reading, ITS, mobile workforce, public safety, telemedicine, parking meters, etc.
M2M is required to solve the efficiency problems, the security issues and the sustainability challenges in the world. And many of these applications will use private networks for financial and/or security reasons. Each of these areas will develop to become ICT systems in the size of the Internet which is why really large global players invest early on. I suggest you keep an eye at GE, ABB, Siemens, IBM and similar players.
Interesting move ABB!
May 18, 2012
M2M solutions using Mobile operator’s networks are growing quite aggressively. According to Berg Insight we have some 110 Million M2M SIM cards active today. But even if this impressive growth continues we will never reach the connected society within my life time unless generic, cost efficient, easy to install and use alternatives comes to market. It is not primarily a matter of communication technology – it is a matter of connectivity together with services enablement making it cost efficient to develop applications. Such solutions will use fixed or mobile wan connections to connect to the Internet.
At May 16 I stumbled over the first potential solution to the “M2M for the rest of us” solution – Electric Imp. They just left stealth mode introducing a line of Imp cards that can be installed on any electronic device to put it online and control it. The cards connect to the Internet and a cloud based service using Wi-Fi. In their own words: “take the best implementation of hardware, firmware and cloud service, build them into a single mass-produced product, and apply them to any device in the world”. The word Imp is borrowed from Arpanet’s Interface Message Processor. Developer preview Imp cards and developer kits will be available this summer and Imp cards will retail for $25 when available in the market. Electric Imp claim they have invented a solution for configuring Imp devices for Wi-Fi networks in seconds using iOS or Android smartphones.
I find this exciting since it sounds like Electric Imp has what it takes: a generic, cost efficient, easy to install and use solution for connecting things to the Internet. As an evangelist and investor in the early Wi-Fi days I am also exited to see bets on Wi-Fi in the M2M field.
Electric Imp has a great idea, strong founders, capable investors and address a massive market opportunity. Their success will be determined by how fast they will get hardware vendors to adopt their platform and put Imp-slots in their devices.
April 24, 2012
Services like Skype and Spotify utilizing the Internet just as a connection are often referred to as over the top services or OTT. Consumers normally love them but operators typically have a more complex view of them: great since they create demand for their IP services but not that great if they replace services the operators charge for. Most M2M applications are really tiny in terms of traffic generation which explains why over 95% of the mobile ones still use 2G. For mobile operators M2M is more of a subscription business than a data business today. It is hard to estimate how M2M solutions will impact data volumes since it’s a combination of actual applications and volumes of connected devices.
I always claim that the M2M consumer market is a great place to look for innovation and interesting examples to bring to the business market. One example is what could be referred to as M2M OTT, where vendors of connectable devices use people’s ordinary mobile devices to connect to the Internet and an application in the cloud or elsewhere. This can make the device cheaper and smaller to manufacture and use. By using for example Bluetooth to connect to the phone and leverage the existing subscription and data plan. Data from the device can be made available to an application somewhere typically adding no cost to the user. And no new revenues but more traffic to the operator. There are many examples of this in the consumer market today and the personal health and fitness segment is one worth looking at. A mix of books, trends, research, services and products has created a rapidly growing movement and industry. Dr David B. Agus’ bestseller “the end of Illness” and the sleep monitor Zeo are good examples. The Zeo is a complete system taking sleep analysis out from the labs. By connecting a Zeo headband to an iPhone or Android phone via Bluetooth, the sleep data collected is made available to an app for reporting. But the sleep history data is also made available to the user’s account at mysleep.myzeo.com where analysis, backup and other services are available.
Using the mobile devices for local collection and presentation of data and access, over the top, to an application and services in the cloud is a model we can use in other situations. There are obviously downsides having to deal with Bluetooth, phones running out of power or stolen etc. But for some applications this is a great model maybe also in the business environment. There is simply not one or two models for M2M but many, and it is important to carefully look at all possible approaches available when implementing an M2M project.
March 23, 2012
A key challenge for the M2M industry right now is to enable time and resource efficient development of specific M2M applications to industries or even companies. As soon as the interesting devices are connected in a proper way, data needs to be collected, organized and combined with other relevant data in order to provide useful information to new or existing applications. Devices need to be monitored, alarms have to be taken care of and maybe even transfer of money needs to be handled. This is what is done in M2M Services Enablement systems – the key to successful M2M deployments.
The Services Enablement systems can be deployed in three different ways: as extensions to operator connectivity offerings, as independent services from a third-party or as an in-house service to support M2M initiatives. It seems obvious that devices in many cases will be connected using a mix of technologies which further complicates this issue. It is my experience that we always end up in different communication technologies for wide area networks, local area networks and personal area networks/short-range communications. And even though wireless most often is preferred when feasible, also fixed networks will be used onwards. Needless to say, it is challenging to build a Services Enabler solution and to choose which solution to use in a specific situation.
We need to make it easier for potential customers to understand and decide which type of solution to use in order to accelerate deployments of real M2M solutions. Six Swedish companies just joined forces under the name of “Swedish M2M Service Enablers” in an ambition to start work together on educating the market on the importance of Services Enablement solutions and to try establish some common language and even APIs. The collaboration is also an attempt to market the companies to customers and partners abroad. Please visit http://www.swedishm2m.se to read more about the initiative or take a look at the press release issued today at http://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/view/pressrelease/swedish-m2m-services-enablers-initiative-launched-to-jointly-promote-swedish-companies-with-world-class-solutions-744720
January 31, 2012
“I would say that 2G is not going away anytime soon, but if you are concidering new M2M installations today I would definetly recommend going with 3G compatible devices and to use 2G/3G compatible SIM cards. There is no guarantee of a maintained functionality in 2G networks looking ten years down the road (a normal life span for many M2M installations), and 2G CAPEX and OPEX will decline with all operators. Even if you take a slightly higher investment initially using a 3G device you will avoid the risk of having to exchange both SIM card and modem during the life span of your installation. Besides, prices on 3G modules are dropping and are rapidly approaching similar price levels as 2G units. This is of course dependent on the life span of you M2M installation and the amount of data you need to transfer. From an operator point of view, I am curious of which industry will first make use of 4G networks and M2M to rapidly transfer streaming video for specific surveillance tasks or other data intensive applications.”
Martin Svensson, M2M Product Manager, Tele2