What is M2M?
Machine-to-machine communication is the ability of different devices to talk to each other and exchange information.
For example, you may have a sensor device such as a thermostat that needs to trigger an action when a certain level is reached. The information from the sensor is sent to another device, where it can be used to throw a switch or take an action to alert an operator to a problem.
Basically, it connects things to the web, allowing them to become part of an intelligent network. It allows key details to be sent without the need for human intervention, thus streamlining the way processes work, improving efficiency and cutting costs. That’s a simplified view but in the age of widespread computers and networks things are a bit more complicated.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication can now involve sending data over the internet to devices that are thousands of miles apart. This also means it’s expanded beyond one-to-one connections and information can be sent to many different devices in one go, or indeed a single hub can collect sensor data from many different sources.
The History of M2M
Interconnection of devices has been around for a long time and in fact pre-dates many of today’s computing technologies. Land-line communication is still common, whether by dial-up, broadband internet or ISDN links. Cellular communication is also popular and Siemens pioneered this is in the mid 1990s, developing a dedicated GSM data module known as M1.
M1 was used in early point-of-sale (POS) applications and in devices to allow the tracking and monitoring of vehicles. Early adopters were large multi-national companies such as General Motors, who were quick to see the potential offered by the technology. The latest mobile M2M units offer technologies such as built-in GPS that allow them to accurately report their position.
M2M can also be embedded into smart cards such as mobile phone SIMs, allowing it to be included in much smaller devices that can be used for applications such as tracking cargoes. We are now seeing a big expansion in the number of machines that are becoming M2M enabled.
In 2008 it was estimated that worldwide the number of mobile phone links used for M2M was some 47.7 million. By 2014 this is forecast to grow to 187 million, so the technology has taken off in a big way. The German market is particularly fast growing, with the 2.3 million M2M smart cards in circulation in 2010 set to more than double by the end of 2013.
Uses of M2M Today
Interconnected devices can be used to help performance and efficiency in a number of different ways. These include the production phase to ensure that components are delivered on time but also in finished products. For example, M2M can alert a manufacturer when a machine needs a service and can even highlight the faults that need to be rectified.
Another use of M2M is in the new generation of smart meters used by energy companies. These allow meters to send in their own readings at regular intervals and can alert the supplier to tampering or unusual activity.
The technology can be used in other ways to allow, for example, a central computer to update digital signage to display changing messages at different times of day or to update prices displayed at filling stations. Motor manufacturers have been quick to adopt M2M technology and it is particularly useful for electric cars where there is a high level of embedded technology already in the vehicle.
Ford, for example, has formed a partnership with AT&T to fit electric Focus models with a dedicated app and wireless connection.
This allows owners to monitor and control the car’s charge state and to plan journeys around the need to access charging stations. It can also be used to remotely trigger heating or cooling of the car prior to setting off on a journey.
M2M is also useful for fleet management, tracking drivers’ habits and journeys to optimise route planning and reduce journey times. It can be used to monitor driver behaviour and this is very useful not just for fleets but also for the insurance industry.
Motor insurance policies that use a ‘black box’ to check on driver behaviour are becoming increasingly common, especially for younger motorists. The technology can help the driver too, providing real-time traffic and weather reports tailored to the location of the vehicle.
The healthcare sector is another area where M2M technology is starting to make a difference. In patient care it can save lives, improve quality of life and cut costs. For example, remote monitoring can provide information on a patient’s condition whilst reducing the amount of time spent on hospital stays and visits.
It can help with assisted living for the elderly as well, allowing them to stay in their home for longer and enjoy a much better quality of life.
- License: Creative Commons image source
This guest post was contributed by Hudsone & Yorke; a company specialising in telecommunications, networking and IT consultancy.