With the cost of pushing bytes through wireless or wired networks dropping, the idea of plugging everything into the Internet has become increasingly attractive.
Thus was born the so-called ‘Internet of Things,’ or the ‘Connected World’ or machine-to-machine (M2M) communications in which nothing can be denied an IP address — vending machines, natural gas pipelines, shipping containers, home water meters, cars and trucks, municipal sewer valves — the list goes on.
Ideally, the data being gathered helps organizations be more efficient – automatically regulating production processes or tracking inventory, for example.
All you have to do is dream say telecommunications operations, network equipment makers and solution providers.
Canadian IT companies are seeing opportunities in the business world, including Redline Communications of Markham, Ont., which makes radio transmitters and gateways used in oil fields; Montreal’s iMetrik Solutions, which makes wireless devices for vehicles used by insurance companies or fleet management systems; and major carriers Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp., each of which have M2M divisions.
“Every industry vertical is looking at ways to use wireless machine to machine,” says Chris Emery, director of business development for Cisco Systems Canada’s service provider products.
The potential markets are only “limited by your imagination.”
–iMetrick sells a device being used by an insurance company in Ontario to offer discounts to good drivers by tracking how the vehicle is being driven;
–Cisco has experimented setting up a Wi-Fi network with a California vineyard that connects data from humidity and temperature sensors. The vineyard was able to boost the price of grapes because it could show that data to wineries;
–Telus has looked at an application that remotely monitors heart pacemakers that sends readings to a clinic.
Jim Senko, vice-president of small business solutions at Telus, said his carrier estimates in three to four years there will be over 4 million M2M connections (or devices with wireless SIM cards) in the country, more than double the number today.
But like all dreams, reality sometimes intrudes.
As Michele Pelino of Forrester Research pointed out in an interview, at the moment M2M is a bit hobbled because many solutions are industry-specific or made for specific applications.
So, for example, a solution for a vending machine can’t be applied to a natural gas pipeline. Also, many wireless solutions are assembled by telecom companies and only run on their networks.
“Obviously there is a lot of opportunity when you start thinking about this idea of connecting all these items objects and assets across industry sectors and business processes,” she says. “But how do you get from here to there?”
This year Forrester surveyed just under 1,800 telecom decision makers with more than 20 employees in North America and Europe and found more than half had no plans to implement M2M solutions. Only eight per cent have actually installed such systems.
Still 24 per cent are planning M2M solutions, another five per cent are piloting solutions and another 32 per cent are interested in the possibilities.
“Over the last few years we’ve seen machine to machine really take off because the networks a lot more faster, prices of modems have come down,” said Nauby Jacobs, Bell’s vice-president products, services and content.
Bell is the first Canadian carrier to join the Global M2M Association, a group of operators whose networks cover 28 countries that promise interoperability of wireless M2M solutions.
Forrester’s survey found organizations have a number of concerns, the first being security of the data as it’s being captured and then stored, and overall cost of solutions being the second.
There are other challenges as well, says Forrester: Incorporating and analyzing the mass of real-time data from sensors may require changes in business processes in organizations that are more difficult than technology implementations.
The research firm advises organizations to think about M2M with what improved business outcome is expected, and then look at whether the technology exists to do it.