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This is the first in a series of entries on Machine-to-Machine (“M2M”) communications.  One definition for M2M is “RF devices associated with/connected to physical assets, communicating information to or from the physical assets and, potentially, directing or controlling operation of the physical assets or processing a transaction.”  Leading M2M consultants include ABI Research and Yankee Group.

Google’s Nest thermostat, utility smart grids, E-readers, residential security services, the GM OnStar service, DOT/ITS Connected Vehicle technology, e-medicine devices, wireless point of sale devices such as Square, some ATM arrangements, and wireless asset tracking services are all examples of Machine-to-Machine (“M2M”) communications

M2M is sometimes used interchangeably with the phrases “Internet of Things” or “Internet of Everything.”  A convenient but imprecise distinction is that M2M relates to communications associated with business (non-consumer transactions and data) and that Internet of Things is more typically associated with consumer devices.  E-medicine and connected vehicle technologies straddle this line.

M2M is the more inclusive term: “Internet of Things” and “Internet of Everything” suggests incorrectly that M2M communications necessarily transit the public Internet.  The major wireless carriers offer customers the choice of routing M2M communications from the carriers’ wireless access networks to the customer’s data center via the customer’s MPLS or private line service, as well as the public Internet.

While M2M is often associated with commercial wireless service, this is not always the case.  Many smart grid and pipeline telemetry networks utilize privately licensed or unlicensed spectrum due to concerns over commercial wireless service reliability and availability. Satellite-based M2M offerings have a noticeable market presence, as well.

The major elements of M2M arrangements may be summarized as follows:

  1. RF devices attached to physical assets/devices;
  2. Device management (provisioning and monitoring of devices).  If transmitting over a wireless carrier’s network, the RF devices are certified but rarely subsidized by the carrier;
  3. Wireless connectivity to the remote RF device via a (i) wireless carrier, possibly through a mobile app (on a smartphone, iPad or tablet), (ii) unlicensed spectrum, or (iii) licensed spectrum, or (iv) a combination of spectrum resources;
  4. Wireline backhaul service (from a wireless aggregation point to the data processing center);
  5. Cloud-based or customer managed data processing that manages the M2M data, generates reports or other outputs, processes the POS transaction, or causes or directs the physical asset (via its associated RF device) to act;i.      The M2M provider (including self-providers) may employ data analytics to derive other trends or information from the data collected from M2M devices.
  6. Security for wireless and wireline transmission (encryption); and,
  7. Intellectual property rights associated with M2M service (wireless technology, data processing software, and devices), privacy rights in and security of the data, and applicable restrictions on the transfer of data, including location-based information, to 3rd parties for behavioral advertising or other uses.

A single provider may offer an end-to-end M2M service, including approved RF devices and data processing software.  This is common among critical infrastructure companies such as utilities and oil and gas pipeline operators and for some consumer-based verticals.