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.
Keeping track of things can create a lot of value. It has already been exploited in various ways to keep track of things like goods, cars, boats, kids, containers and pets. But combinations of weight, cost, size and technology have been limiting the use significantly.
I always claim that as long as we know what we want to achieve, we have technology today to solve it. In the case of real-time tracking, spectacular progress has been made over the last few years. Let me share an exciting example.
A traditional way to track birds has been to secure an RF transmitter on the bird and manually detect the radio beacons by using at least two receivers with directional antennas on ground. This difficult and all manual process is disturbed by bad weather and each individual bird needs to have a transmitter using a unique frequency. The poor data provides little information about each bird’s movements and life.
Today birds in the Balkans are tracked real-time by using an ultralight and ultra-efficient M2M-solution sending information every ten or five minutes to a monitoring central. The solution on the bird includes a GPS receiver, solar panel, battery, an accelerometer, a micro processor and a GSM module using GPRS to send the data. The weight of the gear is 70 grams, the dimensions are 90 x 46 x 15 mm and it is supposed to work for at least 3 years.
Animal tracking devices must in general weigh less than 5% of the animal’s weight so the solution can be carried by birds heavier than 1,4 kg. But there is already an effort to bring down weight of the tracking device to 25 grams for birds heavier than half a kilo.
Now the researchers can leave their rubber boots and directional antennas at home to focus on understanding the great information collected. And the important efforts to protect rare birds hopefully give better results. But what could be tracked in your organization to create value and maybe change the game?
The key deliverables of M2M are efficiency, security and sustainability. M2M can also deliver convenience which mainly is relevant for the people involved. Well designed M2M implementations often deliver across all of these areas.
Public bus transportation is an important part of the transportation system. To pick the bus should be safe, energy-smart and help improve efficiency in the city. And except for peak hours when buses might be full, the ride should be convenient. But even though buses are quite similar the drivers have different driving style. A recent study at the University of Lund concludes that it is more dangerous to go by bus than by car in cities. Injuries from traffic accidents with buses are rare but a lot of people hurt themselves when they fall during the ride, when jumping on or off the bus or at the bus stop. This is one area where the driver makes a difference. Energy consumption, impact on traffic flow and convenience for the passengers are other areas where the bus drivers knowledge and style makes difference.
The public bus company in the city of Borås in Sweden are now installing a M2M system in the buses which measures how well the drivers drive. The metric used is passenger comfort and a lamp indicates performance: red means poor, yellow is ok and green is great.
I like this a lot since it’s an easy way to improve something in many different ways. Just by showing the performance the drivers will improve their driving – it is an old truth that what is measured gets better. The project makes the company and it’s employees aligned to what is considered important. And last but not least, the “red drivers” get training and the “green drivers” a bonus. What a wonderful way to make things better.