Networks for M2M today

What networks are used for M2M applications today? We know a lot of applications use the fixed network (PSTN) but I lack data on that. I visited a friend with a quite small but modern grocery store the other day and beyond the main connection provided by headquarters for cash registers, computer systems, telephony etc, he has three separate PSTN lines to his shop: one for a video surveillance system, one for recycling machines and one for an alarm. When talking to a friend at a fixed line operator recently he mentioned that they have energy companies with water power plants with thousands of PSTN subscriptions for level gauges.

The 2G networks are by all means the most utilized mobile networks for M2M today. Beecham Research claims over 95% of M2M applications use 2G today. Good coverage, reasonable prices, limited capacity required, affordable modules and history explains this situation. And despite push for 3G from vendors and operators, not a lot is happening except for some specific applications. Vendors obviously want to sell new products and some operators want to re-use 2G spectrum or move users for other reasons. For people developing or operating an M2M solution a key question must be to understand when the time is right to change from 2G to 3G (if ever) and how to implement the change. A clear detailed roadmap could be a competitive edge for an operator. Interestingly enough some, primarily vendors and operators, already claim 4G is the way to go for M2M.

Most of Ericsson’s modules business ended up in ST-Ericsson some years ago and they re-entered in 2007 to provide cost effective broadband modules to be built into PCs. Quite silently they announced the end of their broadband modules business in December 1, 2011. The reason provided for the exit was: “our position on the market does not provide the scale we need to achieve the desired profitability”. I believe the actual size of the market for 3G modules also is part of the explanation. ABI claimed last summer: “USB configurations are outselling embedded modems by a ratio of more than three to one” and expected USB configurations to stay bigger until at least 2017.

3G has been around for some ten years now and in dense populated areas it is heavily utilized and 4G is starting to be deployed. But in rural areas most people relay on 2G (some even don’t have 2G) and in some developing countries they haven’t even started to deploy 3G yet. In the end of the day it is market requirements that decide when and to what extent networks will be built, upgraded and utilized, not operator or vendor desire. Still today most M2M applications don’t need much more than decent connectivity (I don’t include Pads, tablets and Smartphones in M2M), and for these to go 3G we need competitive coverage, prices and module prices compared to 2G.

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