M2M- improving lives one application at a time

The adoption of machine-to-machine (M2M) applications has really come on strong during the past 12 - 24 months. Component, hardware and network costs have all decreased to levels that make the development and sale of M2M applications an attractive business opportunity across a growingly diverse set of vertical industries. In fact, Analysys Mason is predicting that the global market for M2M devices will grow to 2.1 billion connected devices by 2020, up from 62 million in 2010. The analyst firm is forecastingyear-on-year growth rates of between 36 and 52%, with connected device adoption in both commercial and consumer sectors.


The early growth in M2M can be directly traced to the need to improve business efficiencies, automate business processes and reduce costs. For these reasons, fleet management applications and remote sensor-based applications dominated initial M2M deployments. While the initial focus on the financial benefits of M2M applications remains a key driver, especially in the current economy, there is an increasing awareness of, and appreciationfor,the tangible ways in which M2M is improving society andfostering a higher quality of life. This article will take a quick look at some key areas where M2M is improving our lives on a daily basis.


Healthcare


Perhaps the most visible life-driven application is that of telemedicine. Also commonly referred to as telehealth, mHealth or mobile health, these M2M applications enable the wireless exchange of medical data between doctors and patients over geographic distances to deliver consultations, conduct exams or monitor real-time wellness metrics.  According to InMedica, the medical electronics market research group within IMS Research, the global market for telehealth is set to exceed $1 billion by 2016 and could jump to $6 billion in 2020.


While there are obvious economic advantages (i.e., reduction in the duration of in-patient hospital care) driving M2M growth in this market, telehealth is largely a means to improve patient quality of life, particularly those suffering from a chronic condition. With M2M-based monitoring in place, patients can go grocery shopping, visit relatives or even leave the country for vacation while these growingly sophisticated monitoring solutions continue to report critical patient-care data to their doctors.


In addition, telehealth is beginning to branch into other, non-critical areas such as wearable sports and exercise devices. While these M2M applications are primarily reserved for informational and recreational purposes, they are purpose-built to improve both the wearer’s quality of life and medical health. Bio-feedback for fitness and wellness improvement just got another shot in the arm.


Wireless Transactions


M2M is also accelerating consumer convenience when purchasing goods and services. Credit and debit cards are now available in more random and remote places than ever before. For instance, many parking meters in major metropolitan areas will now take both your quarters and a swipe of your credit card. Some locations enable you to top off the meters via SMS remotely and soon, you will be able to ‘see’ where parking spaces may be available on navigation systems courtesy of remote sensors in the parking spaces. Waiters, plumbers and pizza delivery personnel are now often armed with handheld card readers, eliminating the need for cash and the potential fraud incurred when giving out credit card numbers over the phone or handing your card to a service person. For staff, personal security is also enhanced, particularly for those in delivery.


The driving factor behind these types of wireless transactions is decreasing M2M data costs that allow micro payments without having to add burdensome “minimum” charges to end consumers – so now a taxi can process that $5 cab fare without having to charge your card a minimum of $10.


The wireless connectivity that powers a number of M2M applications is enabling consumers to truly operate in a “cashless” society. M2M-based wireless transactions are making it easier to purchase products and services at any location, from your doorstep to a movie kiosk machine.


Cost-saving Applications


Businesses aren’t the only ones relying on M2M technology to generate cost savings. A number of new applications currently hitting the market are helping consumers reduce traditional invoices such as car insurance and home security.


For instance, car insurance companies have always offered premium discounts for conscientious driving. Today’s insurance providers are using M2M to more precisely assess driver and vehicle behavior in real-time to support more accurate actuarial calculations. This truly puts consumers in the driver seat with the ability to turn safe vehicle operating habits into the instant gratification of “found” money. For the insurance providers, there’s a more direct financial incentive for its customers to drive defensively. Some research indicates that as much as 20% of all auto insurance may be based on pay-to-drive policies by 2020.


The home security industry is also moving to M2M connections to monitor for actions such as break-ins and fires. Basing these applications on M2M can help consumers reduce costs with instant alerts of potential threats, instead of constant connection to the security provider’s home office. Consumers also have the added benefit of controlling the security system directly from their smartphone.


Environmental Safety


One of the less-publicized consumer benefits of M2M technologies is the automation of environmental safeguards. M2M applications help make these safeguards more accurate and reliable. Previously, time and cost considerations often limited the monitoring that could be accomplished in environmental situations, with systems largely subjected to only occasional inspections by humans. Wireless devices now produce more stringent measurement of air quality, water quality, pollutant levels and wastewater treatment methods so that necessary action can be taken within seconds, not hours or days, of an exception-based event.  The presumption is that early detection can save valuable resources by preventing what could otherwise go undetected until the situation is grave and the threat to public safety significant.


M2M applications that monitor everything from water irrigation levels that prevent droughts to smart gas meters that prevent potential explosions to remote sensors deployed after natural disasters are all keeping society safer than it was 10 years ago. This provides peace of mind to business and consumers alike.


Challenges


The ongoing proliferation of M2M applications is not without its challenges. While the internationalization of M2M applications is certainly a positive sign, several challenges exist around cost-efficiently rolling out these applications across borders. Companies must often navigate multiple rate structures, tariffs and roaming agreements, time-consuming tasks that can become unmanageable. Satellite services are another emerging option in global M2M, forcing application providers to weigh price options and connectivity demands in detail.


Then there is the ongoing debate over 2G vs. 3G M2M cellular network services, leaving some M2M application developers to weigh the cost/benefits of increased data transport speeds, service delivery footprint, lifespan and costs related to the device hardware needed to support their solution. M2M solution providers must increasingly make a series of complicated service versus cost related decisions that they will have to live within the longer term.


In addition, a number of wireless carriers are still figuring out ideal pricing plans for M2M data services. M2M application providers need to ensure that their network usage pricing plans are very different than traditional consumer pricing strategies. Cellular and even satellite data pricing must meet the unique needs of every M2M application.


Conclusion


The growth in M2M applications and connected devices is undeniable. As more applications come online daily, consumers are certainly realizing the benefits that the technology offers. It may be a cliché, but M2M is a true win-win technology for both consumers and businesses.


About the Author


Alex Brisbourne has been president and COO of KORE Telematics since its inception in 2003 and has more than 20 years of experience in wireless, enterprise and fixed-line telecom industries. In his current role, he brings a uniquely qualified perspective from the front lines of applied machine-to-machine communications and embedded wireless. He speaks regularly at business and technology conferences and is frequently called on as an expert source for trade and business-related articles.

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