Photo of C. Douglas Jarrett

At the end of March, Intel, IBM, AT&T, GE and Cisco announced the formation of “the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the Internet of Things, to ‘improve the integration of the physical and digital worlds.’ ”

The Industrial Internet means different things to different people, but most would agree the concept encompasses wireless connectivity supporting the transfer of data from machines to software applications on a real time or near-real time basis and, possibly, directing operation of the machines; and, potentially, the analysis of this data to determine useful correlations, trends and anomalies (“big data analytics”).  Operators of the electric transmission and distribution networks and oil and gas companies operating SCADA networks are longstanding members of the Industrial Internet.

The threshold business question for all M2M applications is whether the various elements deliver the desired end-to-end service in a reliable, secure and economic manner.  These elements include the wireless access option(s) and wireline backhaul arrangement to the data processing resource; the purchase, installation, and management of the remote RF devices; the smartphone, tablet or iPad app (if applicable); the application software or software suite; the data processing resources (cloud-based or maintained by the M2M user); and, the rights in the collected data.

The collection and analysis of the data and metadata generated by the Industrial Internet raise competitive and privacy concerns.  Suppliers and operators of Industrial Internet remote RF equipment and applications must address cyber security broadly, including cyber-related supply chain breaches.  These concerns will be discussed in a later entry in this series.

Another basic question is whether the end-user will act as its M2M systems integrator or look to an end-to-end services provider that offers a complete or near turn-key solution.  Many M2M services pioneers—that continue to maintain a strong market presence, such as Silver Spring Networks and Aeris—provide near turn-key solutions, typically acquiring the commercial wireless services to provide the wireless access component, sometimes in combination with other spectrum resources.

The purchase, installation and management of the RF devices and wireless access component options are closely linked.

RF Device Considerations.  All devices must have an FCC equipment approval to transmit on the proposed frequencies.  RF devices transmitting on commercial wireless services must be approved by the carrier or its authorized agents, as well.  Unlike smartphones and tablets, M2M RF devices operating on wireless carrier spectrum are rarely subsidized by the wireless carriers.

Related considerations are RF device warranties and software licenses, and the installation, management and repair of the devices.  Approaches for assessing supply chain cyber integrity are being implemented.  The time required to deploy or replace thousands of RF devices is a major consideration for large scale M2M deployments.  Another consideration is whether the particular devices have reached or are approaching end-of-life status, such as devices designed to operate on Sprint’s discontinued IDEN network or AT&T’s 2G network.

Wireless Access Component Options.  There are three broad categories of spectrum for M2M applications:

  • Spectrum licensed to the end user;
  • Unlicensed spectrum;
  • Commercial wireless carrier spectrum;
  • Combinations thereof.

Interestingly, many Industrial Internet applications may never traverse commercial wireless networks or the public Internet.

Two primary considerations associated with the wireless access component are availability and reliability.  As a rule, commercial wireless carriers do not offer service level agreements pertaining to availability or priority access; wireless coverage is not guaranteed.  Part 15 of the FCC’s rules explicitly state that devices transmitting on unlicensed spectrum are not protected from harmful interference.  From the perspectives of reliability and availability, licensed spectrum options with adequate bandwidth to support IP-based services or hybrid licensing options such as those currently applicable to 3.65 GHz assignments are often preferable.

Another consideration is cost.  Commercial wireless service pricing may prove too expensive for a large-scale deployment or drive a wireless access solution that consists of some combination of commercial wireless service and unlicensed spectrum or licensed spectrum.  The wireless carriers’ 2-3 year contract term, pricing structures, and early service termination liability service that apply to generally available wireless service are poor fits for many Industrial Internet applications.