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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