Although still in early stage, customers are eager for solutions to connect everything

Wireless sensors in garbage trucks, french fry fryers and shipping containers are some of the ways Canadian telecom operators are using machine to machine (M2M) communications today to gather data for improving business processes, a Toronto conference has been told.

“M2M is using wireless technology to make the impossible possible,” Bernard Lord, outgoing head of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), told industry personnel and businessmen.  It’s “a critical next step not only for our industry but for many other sectors” that “will improve lives of Canadians and continue to create strong economic prosperity.”

Ericsson Canada CEO Mark Henderson, said that by 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices (including smart phones). “The idea that anything that can be connected will be connected is not a dream. it’s a fact.”

Connecting vehicles, streets, buildings and machines “will radically transform virtually industrial segment we know while at the same time helping society solve many of the problems of today such as globalization, the growing aging population, urbanization and climate change.”

“It will be an extraordinary revolution and it will come very quickly.”

M2M — sometimes called the Internet of Things or the Internet of Everything — already has some leading examples such as General Motors’ OnStar in-vehicle systems and the smart meters increasingly being installed by electrical utilities around the world. Home monitoring is an up and coming area, which may be the reason Google recently paid over $3 billion for Nest, a company that makes remotely controlled thermostat.

Businesses and the telecom industry meanwhile are thinking of more ways to connect almost anything that has the potential of capturing data.

“Most segments of industry have realized adopting M2M is critical to improving their core businesses and competitiveness,” said Henderson. “Those too slow to do so may fail.”

It’s not, however, a mature technology yet. Bill Crago, vice-president of technology at Huawei Canada, told the conference that today M2M is a fragmented industry where players need to come together to make applications and systems work together. Most M2M systems now transmit over older and slower 2G and 3G networks, no problem because often the packets are small. But eventually M2M will need 5G networks, he said.

But in he end, he warned, M2M solutions have to mean value to the customer.

While equipment makers contribute to solutions — Ericsson, for example, has a cloud-based hosted M2M service that Bell and other carriers around the world subscribe to — it falls to the carriers to stitch together end to end offerings of sensors, installers and billing systems.

Eric Simmons, general manager of Rogers’ M2M division, told the conference of a partnership with SAP that is about to market a solution for vending machine operators that includes analytics on inventory and sales and offer coupons to regular buyers who pay with a mobile wallet.

Sometimes it’s a multi-party dance, he said. For example, for straight telematics that transmits vehicle data back to the manufacturer or dealer, the maker has to strike a deal with a carrier. For a service like OnStar the car owner pays extra to that service provider. For an in-vehicle wireless entertainment system the owner pays a carrier, which may involve a package that includes the family’s smart phones.

“The biggest challenge has been getting all of the pieces together to enable us to front-end a solution to customers,” he said in an interview  – including the sensors, the hardware the software, the platform, the application developers, the installation companies, the billing system. Rogers started two years ago.

Today, Simmons, said, while the market is still in the early adopter phase because there’s so much potential that hasn’t been explored, businesses are past wondering if the technology works.  “Every customer I talk to sees the value and wants to put solutions in place …they’re buying today.”

His M2M division has a staff of 100, plus a sales force. Last August Rogers had over 1 million M2M connections, and is projecting to do 55 per cent year over year growth this year.

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