The rise of machine-to-machine

As the M2M market expands to take advantage of the Internet of Things, Kate O’Flaherty examines where the technology is being used and how it is transforming the way we go about our daily lives

The rise of machine-to-machine

The evolution of M2M technologies continues to have a dramatic effect as an increasing number of new markets emerge.

M2M is expanding rapidly and with it the technology it uses. A growing number of businesses are taking advantage of the Internet of Things, while smart cities, smart homes, smart grids and smart meters have become common terms.  

Government services including e-health and e-education are rapidly expanding industries, and smart cars that can call the emergency services or monitor vehicle insurance costs are set for UK roads.

M2M is helping to reduce operational expenses and improve efficiency and service, according to various industry sources. Wireless sensor network platform provider Libelium’s document, ‘50 Sensor Applications for a Smarter World’ (see box at end), claims that more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

Multiple SIMs

The firm’s document refers to smart cities where sensors will offer services such as ‘smart parking’ to find free parking spots in the streets. Climate change, environmental protection, water quality and CO2 emissions are also areas expected to benefit from efficiencies gained through M2M.

Philip Cole, co-founder and VP of sales and marketing at M2M managed services provider Wireless Logic, points out that while today the consumer has on average three SIMs – a smartphone, laptop and tablet – sources predict that in five years, around 18 SIMs could be in use by each person, ‘whether knowingly or unknowingly’. 

He adds: ‘And with increased bandwidth and the arrival of 4G we’ll see more organisations turning to mobile solutions for 24/7 no-fail back – up to fixed-line connections. This is only the beginning and we see huge potential working with telcos to deliver a range of resilient backup applications.’

Cole says the firm has also seen ‘dramatic growth this year’ in areas such as electronic signage, e-health and smart cars. He adds: ‘Just look at the number of variable messaging signs for the Olympics and healthcare – we are working closely with diabetes monitoring, and pay as you drive insurance – this will change the face of insurance, particularly for young drivers.’

This year Wireless Logic, which partners with most major mobile networks across Europe, is on target to have over one million SIM subscriptions, reveals Cole, demonstrating how fast the M2M space is expanding. 

Next to North America, the UK market for M2M has experienced unprecedented growth in the last three years, he says, ‘despite the current economic climate.’

And M2M’s benefits are many, adds Cole. ‘Better productivity, massive efficiency gains, and new levels of asset monitoring intelligence and control are all pushing organisations to restructure their communication platforms.’

As for the technology, Dr Erez Manhaimer, VP of marketing at technology provider Alvarion, says that IP infrastructure today is secure enough to handle all the variations of M2M communications. ‘It is capable of assuring a diverse quality of service, networking flexibility and the growing need for capacity associated with these applications,’ he says.

He adds: ‘Cities that have installed an IP network to connect municipal buildings are discovering more ways to use their IP infrastructure to serve their residents and generate revenue for the municipality.’

Smart homes

Alongside ‘older’ applications such as video surveillance, Alvarion predicts developments in the mobile/nomadic applications and in extending the IT reach for mobile workforce connectivity, location-based applications, and unmanned vehicle control.  

Meanwhile, in the utility sector, M2M is expanding far beyond the introduction of smart meters to the creation of smart homes, wider smart grids and smart cities, according to Andy Slater, director at smart communications specialist Sensus.

Machina Research forecasts that M2M connections in the utility industry will grow from 100 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2020. Not all of this growth will come from smart meters, says Slater, as the introduction of smart grid sensors, switches and connected devices within the home will also be a factor.

One example of a successful smart home is Japan, says Slater, which has created a home energy management network (HEMS) that connects to both the utility network via the smart meter and the internet for advanced features. A number of manufacturers have already started producing home appliances that are ready to connect to these HEMS networks, supporting features such as Demand Response, he adds.

Slater says: ‘The interconnection of devices and sensors is adding a level of intelligence to both the management of the distribution networks concerned and the consumer in helping them use these ever more costly and finite resources wisely.’

The connected smart home is becoming a reality, agrees David Ranjit William, AVP, solutions and offer management at Aricent Group. He predicts that the market will start increasing significantly, saying: ‘These services will continue to grow and since they rely on communication between machines we can expect to see significant growth in the M2M market.’

As such, the firm has continued to increase its year on year investments in M2M by approximately 10%. Mobile operator Vodafone agrees that the market is growing rapidly. Kim Byberg, head of M2M for Northern Europe, says: ‘Some of the most recent industry reports suggest that the M2M market was generating around €91bn back in 2010, but it’s growing incredibly quickly. We expect to see a dramatic breakthrough in M2M applications over the next five years as more organisations realise what they can do with this technology.’

Bright future

Byberg claims that regulation has played a key role in M2M’s development. He says: ‘For instance, Europe is aiming to cut its CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to levels in 1990, so we’re seeing a lot of growth in M2M technologies that can help organisations to reduce their carbon footprints.’

He adds that the operator is now seeing applications for M2M technology across several different industry sectors, with connected devices such as surveillance cameras, personal tracking devices, and home energy use monitors and management controls starting to appear on the market.

The possibilities for M2M are endless, with the average consumer set to benefit greatly. Wireless Logic’s Cole says: ‘As to the future, it’s extremely bright. In Europe alone, today the market is estimated to be worth 30 million connections and growing. Year on year growth is breathtaking.’

M2M expansion: the challenges

M2M is a very diverse market but there are challenges, according to Shai Tourchin, product manager at roaming capabilities provider Starhome. 

He says: ‘An operator may have lots of machines in his network and not know about them. One of the challenges is for operators to discover how many machines would be in their network and what is their usage profile. If they know how many machines they are using they can reduce their costs.’

The first issue is discovery, says Tourchin. Following this is activation: machines often need to be activated in large numbers and for this operators will need security and fraud detection capabilities.Then there is the issue of network coverage.

‘The SIM card is installed on a device that moves from one place to another and sometimes the coverage will be bad and the device won’t change network automatically,’ he says. ‘Our solution can do steering to change from one network to another. This is something a machine couldn’t do by itself.’

He adds: ‘The cost saving is more significant the more machines that are in the network, as the bigger it is, the bigger the cost savings.’

The technology

Smart meters support Personal Area Network protocols such as Zigbee, RFID or Bluetooth, says Aricent Group’s David Ranjit William. These devices may communicate with the cellular network through M2M gateways. Other devices offer direct cellular connectivity and support one or more technologies such as 2G/3G GSM/GSPRS, CDMA, EDGE, and HSPA. 

Meanwhile, Wi-Fi, satellite and DSL are other options for connectivity. Some devices are able to connect using multiple access technologies, which can be useful as a means of redundancy or for optimising the connectivity.

Andy Slater at Sensus adds: ‘Almost every device now being produced has some form of communications built into it. Things that one would have just not considered five years ago are now being made “network-ready”. Home appliances and even motor cars are coming with wireless communication capabilities. Wi-Fi and other low power wireless networks like Zigbee and Bluetooth are becoming endemic, even expected by society.’

However, in order to continue to expand, M2M has to evolve from a focus on connectivity to using data intelligently, says Slater, adding: ‘Communicating data is a crucial element in creating any intelligent application. However, currently the focus of the industry often falls on the “connectivity” question rather than how the data can be used to create applications and information that can be used wisely.’

Libelium – 50 Sensor applications for a smarter world  

Smart Cities

01 Smart Parking

02 Structural Health

03 Noise Urban Maps

04 Traffic Congestion

05 Smart Lightning

06 Waste Management

07 Intelligent Transportation Systems

Smart Environment

08 Forest Fire Detection

09 Air Pollution

10 Landslide and Avalanche Prevention

11 Earthquake Early Detection

Smart Water

12 Water Quality

13 Water Leakages

14 River Floods

Smart Metering

15 Smart Grid

16 Tank level

17 Photovoltaic Installations

18 Water Flow

19 Silos Stock Calculation

Security & Emergencies

20 Perimeter Access Control

21 Liquid Presence

22 Radiation Levels

23 Explosive and Hazardous Gases

24 Supply Chain Control

25 NFC Payment

26 Intelligent Shopping Applications

27 Smart Product Management


28 Quality of Shipment Conditions

29 Item Location

30 Storage Incompatibility Detection

31 Fleet Tracking

Industrial Control

32 M2M Applications

33 Indoor Air Quality

34 Temperature Monitoring

35 Ozone Presence

36 Indoor Location

37 Vehicle Auto-diagnosis

Smart Agriculture

38 Wine Quality Enhancing

39 Green Houses

40 Golf Courses

41 Meteorological Station Network

42 Compost

Smart Animal Farming

43 Offspring Care

44 Animal Tracking

45 Toxic Gas Levels

Domotic & Home Automation

46 Energy and Water Use

47 Remote Control Appliances

48 Intrusion Detection Systems

49 Art and Goods Preservation


50 Fall Detection

51 Medical Fridges

52 Sportsmen Care

53 Patients Surveillance

54 Ultraviolet Radiation

Source: Libelium (for the full document go to

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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