An Introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Connectivity Today
Guest Blog: Trystan L. Bass, Aeris
Most Internet of Things (IoT) projects are motivated by a need to reduce operating cost or increase revenue. Occasionally, legislation compels companies to deploy machine-to-machine (M2M) applications that support the new law’s data needs. Mobility is an obvious factor driving cellular adoption in markets like transportation. Desire for competitive features may inspire IoT applications in consumer high-tech. But whatever the specific purpose, connected IoT/M2M devices can give your business the data needed to streamline workflows, predict necessary maintenance, analyze usage patterns, automate manufacturing, and more.
The Rise of M2M Cellular Connectivity
The backbone of any IoT/M2M deployment is the network itself. Today, this is usually a cellular network, but the earliest machine-to-machine networks were wired. Factories have long used wired systems for data acquisition, security, and various types of monitoring. These early applications tended to be purpose-built – each industry and company developed its own devices and software systems from scratch.
By the 1990s, wireless radio technologies broke machines free from those wires, and more M2M functions were possible in industry and even for consumer products. OnStar was one of the first connected-car features in 1995, offering a mix of service and entertainment options. Fleet and container tracking solutions similarly made use of mobile telemetrics for the trucking and railroad transportation industries.
By 2008, changes in cellular technology introduced digital cellular networks with features such as Short Message Service (SMS) and General Packet Radio Services (GPRS). However, there are two competing types of digital cellular, CDMA and GSM, and different industries sided with each one. The automotive and trucking industries chose CDMA devices, while the alarm and security industries picked GSM. In December 2016, AT&T will be shutting down its 2G GSM network, so alarm and security systems using the network have to upgrade or switch cellular systems. Despite this complication, the future holds promise for many wireless data technologies such as wider adoption of 4G/LTE. Also, short-range data transport methods, such as ZigBee and 6LowPAN, may augment long-range cellular in some applications.
How the Cloud Is Impacting Today’s Businesses
Once IoT/M2M devices are connected via digital cellular networks, businesses need a place to process the vast amount of data these devices collect. In the past, one factory or one small company’s worth of data might be analyzed on a local server. But today, with hundreds or thousands of devices tracking millions of data points 24/7, the cloud is the only place big enough to manage all that information.
Big Data and IoT analytics convene to deal with mobile device management, solutions testing, predictive analytics, data visualization, and other backend IoT/M2M processes. Many Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendors use cloud computing for IoT operations, providing diverse businesses with the tools necessary to deal with M2M deployments.
Industries Taking Advantage of IoT/M2M Cellular Networks
Instead of asking where IoT/M2M is being used, you might try asking where it isn’t. The potential for businesses becoming more efficient and building better products with the data produced by connected devices spans most any industry you could think of.
For example, the 500,000 long-haul trucks on the Aeris network use customized M2M fleet telematics solutions to enhance delivery performance, increase service radius, reduce payroll, and cut down on idle truck times. In the utilities market, “smart” meters delivering automated readings over IoT/M2M networks like Aeris provides could save an estimated $20 billion worldwide by 2020, versus manual meter readings. These automated meter readings are more accurate as well, resulting in fewer billing enquiries and improved customer care. Even seemingly old-school industries like restaurants are finding ways to be more efficient and improve the bottom line with networked devices. Restaurants using IoT connected tablets attached to dining tables are letting guests place orders and pay bills. Early studies have shown these systems can boost appetizers sales by 20% and dessert sales by 30%.
M2M in the Wild: Real-World Applications
When you hear about IoT and M2M in the news, wearable consumer devices and connected homes get a lot of attention. But the less sexy headline is that B2B uses for IoT/M2M deployments are making big impacts around the world. Here are some examples that may not be as cool as a gold-plated smartwatch, but they’re more about saving time and making money.
Dundee Precious Metals is using IoT/M2M systems, with the help of Cisco, to connect its end-to-end mine operation and improve both efficiency and safety in a notoriously dangerous industry. For example, these mines now feature location-tracking applications to automatically ensure a site is cleared of personnel before blasting. Connected systems and the data they produce also boost Dundee’s mine production from half a million tons to two million tons per year.
Microsoft’s IoT/M2M systems are helping manufacturer KUKA connect factory robots with back-end monitoring systems to build Jeep Wranglers. The streamlined process can adapt to design changes easily and now ships a complete car body every 77 seconds.
Many governments are getting in on the act and using IoT/M2M to build efficiency into their processes and save taxpayer money. In a public-private partnership begun in 2013, the London City Airport is using IoT applications to improve passenger flow and customer experience. Sensors around the airport aggregate real-time data that passengers can access through a smartphone app to avoid long lines and quickly connect to different forms of transport around the airport.
The Current State of IoT/M2M and What’s Next
At least 1 billion devices are currently connected to the Internet, maybe 10 billion, depending on which report you read. More are connecting every day and for various purposes, that’s certain. If your organization has an IoT/M2M deployment, this will generate increasing amounts of data that will need to be crunched. New and better analytics systems will have to be developed, not to mention cloud storage space to deal with all the data.
According to Cisco’s Internet of Everything 2013 report, the highest percentage (27%) of value in future IoT revenue will be in manufacturing. “Smart” IoT/M2M-enabled factories alone could reap $1.95 trillion in profits between now and 2022, thanks to sensors incorporated into machines and processes. The potential in most industries is just as great, although challenges related to interoperability standards and data security remain.
Current devices also must be built to last, whether it’s a connected car that can receive over-the-air updates or a remote patient monitoring device compatible with the next-generation of cellular networks. Once equipment is installed and in the field, employees and customers will be relying on service for years at different levels of importance. Business needs to plan for the future from the hardware up.
So how are you approaching your IoT/M2M project? How will it reduce your business’ operating costs or increase your revenues? Are you planning analytics to take advantage of the Big Data these connected devices will generate? Because, starting now, one thing is clear — the number of connected devices, and the benefits from the data they gather, will both be enormous.
(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/Maxiphoto)