From fleet management and point-of- sales terminals to telemedicine and vending machines, the upside of remotely controlling networks and devices via integrated cellular radios that exchange data with other machines is driving a wide array of companies into the M2M space.
And why not? FocalPoint Group predicts that by 2008, M2M will represent a $180 billion-a-year business, while Harbor Research forecasts the M2M market growing at a 47% clip annually into 2011.
"M2M is all about creating new service opportunities. So, when you look at the M2M world, you look across several sectors – how they're connected and the services created by devices," says Robin Duke-Woolley, principal at Harbor Research. "We see over time the service opportunity becoming more important than the technology, and there are more innovative approaches driving more value in the M2M space."
M2M opportunities in emerging services such as health care, fleet management and a host of others being enabled through more than 300 devices, are driving the M2M market, Duke-Woolley notes.Branching out
"We are now beginning to see attention within the M2M market shift dramatically toward higher level, remote smart services and away from the technology underpinnings. M2M market development now is increasingly about business justification, addressing the implementation issues and service innovation," he maintains.
Much of the attention is coming from companies such as Sun Microsystems, Qualcomm and a fleet of networking companies eager to play in the burgeoning M2M market.
"In the M2M space, we're seeing opportunities across the board, so we're not just focusing on one market. Health care, for example, is an exciting space with lots of opportunities to make a difference. But it's also very complex and is a great example of how the development of business models is more challenging than the technology," says Tom Doyle, vice president of business development for Qualcomm's wireless business solutions division.
M2M is anything but a slam-dunk. "The pace of technology and integrating it into the wireless world is a real challenge. We have to help companies figure out how to implement and continually change the wireless technology over time," says Doyle. "Then, there's the issue of the disparate technologies and finding a seamless approach to rebuilding a network. It's important to have good implementation practices and appropriate business models, which are even more important than the technology."Tackling integration
Most experts agree that for M2M to reach its full potential, the business model and integration issues must be addressed. "Few companies really understand the complexities of embedded wireless and M2M. We're seeing a path to reducing those complexities, but the implementation is far more difficult than they expect," says Robert Shoenfield, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Aeris, an M2M wireless network operator. "M2M will explode once there's enhanced coverage and reliability of networks and when M2M gets into consumer electronics devices. But today, it's very challenging to implement M2M applications."
Despite those challenges, however, the transition to M2M and wireless exchange of data from machine to machine is nearing full throttle. Sun Microsystems's Sun Spot, for example, is pushing the M2M envelope.
"We're working with application developers with Java to bring new applications to the market quicker and looking at taking Sun Spot technology to the development community," says Bruce Baikie, telco industry marketing manager for Sun.
Sun Spot, which stands for Sun Small Programmable Object Technology and folds into Sun's M2M space, is a battery-operated platform created to enable the development of wireless sensor networks, robotics and personal consumer electronics, and is powered by a small Java 2 platform.
Monetizing the M2M technology is another issue, Baikie admits. "How do we monetize the M2M market and add value to see the revenue potential? And the backend integration is critical to M2M's growth. The market will struggle until those things happen."Going Niche
In the meantime, developers in the M2M space such as KoolSpan are pushing deeper into various niches within the M2M space. "As we looked into the emerging M2M space, we saw we had an embeddable, secure solution that allows devices across different networks to authenticate each other without limits to scale, and with the ability to connect disparate networks. It's called the 'M2M effect.' And in the enterprise space, the minute you move to cellular, you're talking millions of scale and all kinds of security issues where you just can't wait for a device to authenticate to the server," says Tony Fascenda, founder, CEO and CTO of KoolSpan, a provider of plug-and-play security solutions.
Yet at the end of the day, the upside of M2M and the inclusion of wireless into the mix are expected to far outweigh the pesky challenges facing M2M. "There are emerging markets globally such as points of sale, fleet management, utility metering, medical devices and IP-enabled remote video surveillance cameras, with great potential. We'll see a transition to IP-enabling applications with the trend toward everything on one chip. That's what we're selling to," says Alan Singer, vice president of sales and marketing for Connect One Ltd, a provider of IP controller chips to the M2M industry.Targeting the B2B market
Selling to the B2B market also is emerging as a vital part of the M2M business model, Doyle maintains. "The B2B market helps customers who serve the consumer market through their wireless consumer service. We're fostering growth in that market."
And the growth of the M2M market is expected to happen soon, he adds. "There's no silver bullet, and though the wave of new technology has happened, the wireless space is always creating new technology leaps. Now it's time for good implementation."
As for the emergence of M2M as a thriving, vital industry, once it settles the business model and implementation issues, and addresses the IP network, security and bandwidth speed bumps, it is expected to be a star revenue generator. Concludes Duke-Woolley: "When M2M started, there where considerable technical challenges and capability issues. But there's been considerable progress in the past few years. Now, it's really a business issue, and 70% of the revenue potential is going to come from service opportunities."
|Kuhl is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO.|