I’ve been talking for years about the need of a network to connect “cats, bikes and smoke detectors” in order to reach the billions of connected devices people talk about. The only thing it needs to provide is heart beats, position and events, thus very very little data. The requirements are very cheap connectivity, very small and light hardware and tiny power consumption so batteries can last maybe 4-5 years. This infrastructure will complement the other ones we have and it will allow me to connect my dog for maybe 10€ a year without any over-night charging of batteries.
Today’s initiatives are signs of a developing industry. Building blocks are put together into candidate platforms and architectures. As always most of them will fail over time but still it is an important part of growing up. Let’s look at a couple of recent M2M “teenager activities”:
- Telefónica and Telit cooperate in M2M Air, providing managed M2M services globally
- Etisalat group just joined KPN, NTT DOCOMO, Rogers Communications, SingTel, Telefonica, Telstra and VimpelCom in the M2M Multi-Operator Alliance
- Ericsson and SAP announced a partnership at MWC and talk about the M2M Eco-system
- Satellite operator Orbcomm acquired MobileNet who provides custom mobile data solutions for the heavy equipment and railroad industries
- Wipro and Axeda announced a strategic alliance to provide services and end-to-end solutions to help organizations connect with any asset, leverage machine data to enhance business processes and develop new innovative enterprise applications.
- TeliaSonera, France Telecom-Orange and Deutsche Telekom collaborate to increase the quality of service and interoperability for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications
- Claro Brazil joins a growing list of Jasper Wireless operator partners including AT&T, América Móvil, NTT DOCOMO, Telefónica, VimpelCom, KPN, SingTel, Etisalat, Telstra, Rogers, CSL and more
- Several operators including TeliaSonera, Swisscom, XL and have signed up with Ericsson to use DCP for improved M2M service delivery
- AT&T has several M2M initiatives including AT&T Control Center together with partners like Jasper Wireless, Axeda, Sierra Wireless and SensorLogic.
- Airbiquity and China Unicom are teaming up to provide telematics services for the Chinese automotive market
- Vodafone Vehicle Connect and Towers Watson’s ‘DriveAbility’ programme will accelerate the pace at which insurers can get new services to market, and at a competitive cost
So operator’s M2M business is growing quite rapidly but from small numbers. In a fairly well-developed M2M market like Sweden, M2M subscriptions are roughly 20% of all mobile subscriptions today. But still most of the market potential is untouched. Policy-driven markets like smart meters, big global markets like connected cars and consumer oriented stand-alone solutions are all fairly well addressed. But small business is big business also when it comes to M2M, and these companies are only addressed by independent Service Enablers, developers, integrators and turn-key solution providers. The alliances, partnerships and M&A activities aren’t reaching that far. A company connecting 100 of their “things” per year in maybe 25 countries across the globe is simply of no interest to any of the large players. The same goes for ,a company who want to develop a specific application to connect 25 of their “things” in a country, unless they are filthy rich.
Success in SME will come from successful platform support for specialist service enablers, developers, integrators and turn-key solution providers. That has little to do with technical issues and a lot to do with trust and business models. This has to be resolved before M2M will grow up.
There are many reasons why M2M solutions will hit society, businesses and people with enormous power. Most of them relate to what happens when we connect things and put computing on top but one specific force is democratization of development tools – a similar brutal force that Basic and Hypercard gave to the PC industry, and that Apple provided the mobile industry with the App-concept. When thousands or millions of developers get going, innovation, specialization and competition happens big way.
Arduino is an open well documented physical platform developed 2005 in the Olivetti town Ivrea, Italy. It is a platform which collect, compute and communicate data which makes it the perfect prototyping tool for students, hobbyists and professional developers to realize their device ideas. Today the affordable and easy to use development kits can be bought at the Radioshacks of the world. Nobody knows how many Arduino developers there are but over 300.000 boards have been sold, the ratio of cloning is currently estimated to one per original board and Arduino skills are more and more often requested in CVs.
Arduino supports Windows, Mac OS X and Linux and there are a number of boards available. They are really affordable and pre-assembled Arduino modules cost less than $50. The community is rapidly growing and it’s easy to join by for example following the Arduino blog.
Among the companies using Arduino for their tools and services are Google and Telefonica. And the more I dig into the world of M2M the more spectacular examples of Arduino projects I find. Imagine this: a 14 year old boy in Chile developed an Arduino machine which post a Tweet when detecting an earthquake and now this alert is sent to some 30.000 followers on Twitter.
This is only the beginning. The opportunities are massive but some risks are also involved. Many companies will experience difficult competition from unexpected directions and some will leverage these forces to strengthen their position in the market. Governments will see completely new solutions to old and difficult problems. And consumers will be offered new innovative services, many of them replacing products we buy today.
I’m fortunate to work and live in the middle of this period of great change!