M2M branches beyond one-to-one links

-December 10, 2012

This article is part of EDN's Hot Technologies: Looking ahead to 2013 feature, where EDN editors and guest contributors examine some of the hot trends and technologies in 2012 that promise to shape technology news in 2013 and beyond.

Machine-to-machine technology made great strides in 2012, and I expect an explosion of applications in 2013, making M2M the top hot technology to watch.

M2M is no longer a one-to-one connection but has evolved to become a system of networks transmitting data to a growing number of personal devices. The power and time necessary to transmit between machines has plummeted, even as business opportunities blossom across a broadening range of applications.

Today, sophisticated and wireless M2M data modules boast onboard GPS and such embedded features as M2M smart cards (MIMs, or machine identification modules) and embedded Java. The combination of technologies raises the bar.

Applications are multiplying rapidly based on the dramatic improvements in reliability and accuracy that often result when human intervention is removed. There have been several examples over just the past few months. Vodafone Ltd unveiled a number of advanced M2M technologies for smart meters and smart homes, demonstrating simple management of multiple connected devices through a single mobile application. The company’s Global M2M Platform, running on IBM Corp’s SmartCloud Service Delivery Platform, proved that a washing machine and other smart-home devices could be operated via mobile, becoming more intelligent with wireless Internet.

Telit Wireless Solutions’ advanced M2M modules are monitoring groundwater worldwide for rural and municipal water departments and boards as well as mining operations. Schlumberger Water Services’ Diver-NETZ wireless system manages groundwater monitoring and integrates field instrumentation with wireless data and communication management capabilities.

A recent report by GlobalData indicates that M2M may become an important element in the reduction of healthcare costs and the delivery of high-quality medical care to remote locations. The US Federal Communications Commission recently initiated steps to dedicate wireless spectrum to medical body-area networks that use sensors worn on the body to transmit critical patient data to a control device for remote patient monitoring.

Figure 1 AT&T and Alere collaborated on a mobile-health solution that lets diabetes patients manage their disease in real time and on the go.

Companies are collaborating to address the market. AT&T and Alere Health, for example, this year released a mobile diabetes-management solution that sends data via a mobile device to medical personnel and real-time feedback to patients (Figure 1). DebMed, for its part, is bringing M2M to life by equipping hand-soap and hand-sanitizer dispensers with RF technology that provides real-time compliance to track and report on the sanitizing habits of medical personnel.

Pulling technologies together, integrating their complexity, and making them speak to each other intelligently are no longer aspects of the future. I expect that in 2013, we’ll see an amazing number of hot applications and even hotter breakthroughs. It will be an exciting year.

Also watching:

  • Seamless solutions for data offload. En route to the 25 exabytes/year of traffic estimated by 2015, Wi-Fi and small-cell technologies will play important roles (Figure 2). Small cells, in the form of indoor femtocells and outdoor pico- and microcells, provide coverage and data offload, improving the capacity of the network. In 2013, we’ll find these technologies jointly existing in indoor and outdoor spaces.

Figure 2 Operators can leverage Wi-Fi access points and strategically placed small cells to offload traffic from the macro network (courtesy Radisys Corp).

  • Sensor fusion. This is yet another area where changes are taking place at breakneck speed. Not only is the “fusion” aspect challenging on its own, but the rapid evolution of the sensors themselves adds to the mix. Fusing ever-smaller motion sensors, 3-D environments, and augmented reality, for example, depends on continually overcoming stability, noise, jitter, and the remaining weaknesses in the individual sensors.

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