Plumbing or solutions?

March 6, 2014

PipesDevice connectivity platforms for mobile operators have been discussed for years. There have been two primary platforms on the market – Ericsson and Jasper – with Ericsson more focused on the ability for the operator to manage M2M business efficiently and Jasper having been more focused on adding solution partners to their platform thus to their mobile operator customers. Up until now most mobile operators have had one of these platforms and in many cases an in-house alternative somewhere. But at MWC Telenor Connexion announced that they add Jasper to their Ericsson platform (once acquired from Connexion). According to Per Simonsson, CEO at Telenor Connexion: “Deploying services from the two leading platform providers ensures greater flexibility and enables us to collaborate with new partners and operators in global deployments“. I believe Telenor Connexion has a clever long-term strategy to become technology agnostic when it comes to platforms and bearer technologies in order to get a strong position for global business and to become flexible in supporting customer’s changing needs over time.

This announcement caused some stress here and there since some operators used the situation of being the only Jasper customer in a market as a differentiator. This is of course not a sustainable way to create a position in a market and it was only a matter of time until the opportunity would have been gone anyway.

I have always argued that mobile operators should refrain from a GSM-only approach in M2M and that they should be aware that Jasper’s business model is quite comparable with an MVNO from the operator’s point of view: The operator get some additional traffic but might loose the relationships with partners and customers and once and for all become a pure connectivity provider. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but most mobile operators active in M2M state that they don’t want to become just a connectivity provider. Yesterday I read that Jasper is launching the world’s first commercial end-to-end Global SIM product based on Giesecke & Devrient (G&D) technology. It’s is aimed at the IoT market and will allow enterprises to remotely manage embedded SIMs over the air (OTA).

The ability to change operator over-the-air is a necessity in M2M and I saw a GSMA demo at MWC 2012 demonstrating this. Mobile operators who don’t have the ability to go down the verticals and applications in M2M thus “outsource” partnership and business development, might be stuck with plumbing when the OTA provisioning is in place. I see only two main roads ahead for operators (including the M2M MVNOs): invest and get engaged in applications, solutions and verticals or provide the connectivity. And anyone getting involved in applications and solution, service enablers or operators, need to use a connectivity agnostic approach like Telenor Connexion.


Inspiring examples: Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems – TPMS

September 23, 2013

TPMSVehicles with wrong tire pressure cause accidents and consume excess energy. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) were developed to prevent these issues. The first passenger vehicle to adopt tire-pressure monitoring was the Porsche 959 in 1986 and today it is becoming a legal requirement in more and more countries. Car manufacturers have been introducing different TPNS systems more or less voluntarily but in the United States, as of 2008 and the European Union, as of 2012, all new passenger car models released must be equipped with a TPMS. Similar laws are on their way in Asia-Pacific.

TPMS are definitely complex from an engineering, communication and product point of view and the combined investment, including equipment in garages and motor vehicle inspection sites, the sensors in the tires and the receiving part of the in-car system is very big. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US estimates that 660 fatalities and 33,000 injuries each year are attributable to crashes caused by underinflated tires (Bob Ulrich, Editor, at Modern Tire Dealer) so it seems like well working TPMS can help save lives, money and the planet. But every system like this is always a potential hacker target and Rutgers University and the University of South Carolina released a joint study some years ago indicating that they had succeeded to hack a car through the TPMS.
In any case, this is a typical M2M application – it’s been around for years, many of us have them, they are not SIM-based and they deliver on the three M2M promises: safety, sustainability and efficiency.

Mobile World Congress 2013

March 3, 2013


MWC2013Mobile World Congress 2013 is over and some 72.000 visitors and 1.700 exhibiting companies have gone home. The new location – Fira Gran Via – was more “professional” and space, logistics, food, etc was better. But on the other hand, it is far away from down town Barcelona which made people spend much more time in the traffic. And at a couple of occasions the traffic turned really bad.

I have obviously not seen everything and met everyone so my conclusions have no trace of science:

The over-all impression was quite boring rather then exciting. Devices, boxes, antennas and software architectures all over the place and the devices really look the same. Is this a sign of commoditization? The very serious fact that Europe is seriously behind in LTE usage (4% of subscribers world-wide acc. to GSA) should make a lot of Europeans nervous. Our entrepreneurs in the European mobile industry might start move to the US like IT entrepreneurs have done for many years.

The value of MWC continues to be the interaction between people from the same industry across the world why parties and sub-events continue to be important. The 5:th Swedish Mobile Association-party on Monday was spectacular again and my job as bouncer was as easy as all previous years.

There is a growing number of visitors and exhibitors from other industries mainly due to M2M. I guess there were 20 more or less connected cars to look at but I also found exhibitors like Assa Abloy with their connected locks in a small both. I believe this increased focus on what to use the mobile network for is a good development – maybe the event should be divided in two: building and operating networks – using networks.

M2M was everywhere but the heavily promoted GSMA Connected City part of the event I unfortunately found quite dull. In the far end of Hall 3, few visitors, a lot of screens with presentations and no real energy or “heat” (if we exclude the Gangnam Style dancers from KT). And I couldn’t find anything about OTA provisioning of SIMs which was demonstrated by GSMA last year. Connected cars was clearly the most discussed topic in M2M followed by mHealth. I believe it is a sound development that focus on M2M itself disappears (no customer has ever asked me for M2M) and that we start discuss real problems with real customers. The industry needs to be able to create value for the huge SMB market and not only the multi-nationals, consumers and governments. That is the key challenge for M2M today.

Ericsson’s Key Note event Tuesday night was a highlight: well structured and executed with M2M and Networked Society as a leading theme. And finally Vestberg invited Avicii on stage and then they launched a new song right there, XYOU based on a crowd-sourcing process. The thing I really liked was that they showed the Twitter feed from when Avicii entered the stage and when they played the new song we could see it spreading over the Internet on another huge screen. Well thought through and executed! I’m not sure everyone in the audience understood what was going on but my 17 years old daughter was really impressed already by the SMS I sent her.

My choice of coolest product at the show was also in the Ericsson hall. Under the banner “Windows of Opportunities” they demonstrated four connected windows solving real problems. My favorite was the one for skyscrapers which generates electricity from light coming in. I hope they have solid patents in place!

Personally my highlight of the week was outside of MWC. I was invited by Prof. Aninyda Ghosh, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the great IESE Business School, to give a speech on Parallel Entrepreneurship. I enjoyed every minute!


M2M the third wave of mobile communication

November 7, 2012
Yesterday was a good day for M2M. TeliaSonera’s M2M Symposium 2012 was a well organized full-day event in Stockholm with almost 30 exhibitors, over 300 conference delegates and a number of great speakers. Telia’s CEO Lars Nyberg stated that M2M is the third wave of mobile communication with massive impact on society and businesses. Hans Dahlberg, Head of M2M Globally at TeliaSonera dressed this in numbers and expect one billion connected devices in the Baltics and Nordics by 2020, with 100 million of them using a SIM card. He also announced that TeliaSonera signed an agreement with Ericsson to implement the Ericsson Device Connection platform (EDCP) to prepare for the market take-up.
This was a good day for M2M since it manifested continuous development of the M2M market. But several speakers said that the M2M questions now have reached the board rooms which I believe to a large degree is wishful thinking. Decision makers need to understand the potential implications of M2M to their industry and business but unfortunately few do that today. But we are working hard to evangelize them and I gave my pitch about “data being the gold of M2M” also yesterday.

More on mobile M2M

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).

What will be the impact on M2M of announcement to shut down 2G?

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.


M2M for the rest of us?

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.


M2M over the top, so to speak

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.


Local M2M Gateways

April 12, 2012
The mighty mobile industry is a major force behind M2M today. They have what it takes to connect things, they need to find growth beyond the six billion active SIM cards today and they are promoting the concept of M2M aggressively. But at the same time it is quite obvious that a lot of things will be connected without SIM card. We already have a lot of connected devices in the PSTN network, many electricity meters are connected using PLC or other wireless network technologies than the mobile networks and wireless technologies like W-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and RFID are already used in many applications. Different technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, new ones are coming to market while old ones are fading away. But the concepts of wide area and local area networks remain. Generally speaking it takes technologies optimized for LAN or WAN to build cost and capacity efficient networks. Sometimes even a shorter range network structure is needed like a Personal Area Network.I believe the mobile networks will be used for some connected devices, especially moving things or if one want to avoid dealing with Firewalls. But more so as the preferred WAN solution for things connected to a local area network solution. I have come across estimates that one out of ten connected devices will have a SIM card and I think that could be a reasonable estimate. If Ericsson’s “50 Billion connected devices by 2020” would be reality, 5 Billion of them would have a SIM card. That is a lot more SIM cards than the 108 Million mobile M2M SIM cards that Berg Insight estimate are active today world-wide. But what about the other 45 Billion connected devices? How will they be connected and managed and how will relevant data generated by these devices become easily available for application developers and integrators?

The most immediate challenge for the M2M industry is to establish a rich assortment of M2M services enablers in order to make development and maintenance of M2M application more resource and time efficient. M2M Service Enablers will have different features and specialities and they can be deployed in three different ways: on top of operator connectivity services, as in-house solutions or in independent service providers.

But another very interesting area to be addressed is how to connect devices in a local infrastructure in order to enable resource efficient development, maintenance and monitoring as well as a structured way to deal with relevant data. I use to refer to “Local M2M Gateways” and I have started to look for clever ideas and solutions in the market. I am convinced there is room for a whole range of different products optimized for different situations, still providing a quite standardized interface to M2M Services Enablers. In some cases we need to connect locally using only one technology and in other situations we need to support a mix of several technologies. Connecting sensors or things with sophisticated embedded systems put different requirements on the Local M2M Gateways. The choice of WAN-connection, with or without backup, is yet another area where we will need different solutions. And whichever solution we end up using, it has to be cost efficient, easy to deploy and maintain and robust. These will be important tools when helping organizations to design relevant M2M solutions to meet their challenges and opportunities.


M2M and SIM cards

February 8, 2012

With the GSM mobile phones came the SIM-card (Subscriber Identity Module) 1991 turning a subscription into a tangible thing that could be removed, put into another phone and stolen. Users could bring their GSM identity to another phone without involving the operator which is very convenient. By removing the payment relationship from the subscription and adding possibilities for pre-payment a brand new and very popular type of mobile service was invented. Adding some memory available for the user made it possible to bring data, typically phone numbers, along with the SIM card to another phone.

In the early days of mobile M2M operators sent single SIM cards in envelopes which added an administrative issue to the already complicated task of deploying M2M solutions. Today we have a range of solutions to deal with SIM cards for M2M deployments. Making SIMs smaller is important in the handset market and in some specific cases we can leverage this development also in the M2M market, but most often the size doesn’t matter. With iPhone4 came the micro-SIM and next in line is nano-SIM measuring approximately 12 by 9 millimeters, 30% smaller than the micro-SIM. The thickness of the nano-SIM is reduced about 15%. The standardization of the nano-SIM is expected to be implemented through ETSI by the end of the year and the first nano-SIM phones will probably hit the market 2013. This will help phone vendors create thinner devices and free up room for additional memory and larger batteries but unless we are dealing with really small devices, this will probably not be important for the M2M market.

A much more interesting development for the M2M market is the over-the-air (OTA) SIM update, accepted by GSMA earlier this year. This will enable device manufacturers to sell devices with SIM cards included from factory and provision the subscription afterwards in a secure fashion. Apple, Google and others have been pushing in this direction for obvious reasons but some mobile operators were quite negative to the idea. Now it seems like the M2M players are making this happen first. Industry expert Northstream predicted that the SIM cards will disappear in the cloud maybe already this year. In the M2M market this would make life much easier for vendors of things with embedded M2M connectivity. The M2M connectivity could be built in at manufacturing, associated with a specific operator at the local resellers and expensive field maintenance could be avoided as well. The OTA SIM will bring a lot of transparency to the mobile industry removing practical and financial barriers thus making life easier for everyone involved.


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