When considering cellular connectivity, M2M has always been mainly about using low data rates. The aim for M2M solution designers has been to get the required information from a remote device using the least amount of bandwidth feasible for the job. Now that is beginning to change, but not in a uniform way. So why the interest in a high data rate technology like LTE?
In some markets there is now a forced move to 3G and even 4G as 2G networks are switched off to refarm the spectrum. As part of enabling this, higher bandwidths are being made available at low prices and this has raised the prospect in the market of creating richer M2M applications using more, cheap bandwidth rather than continuing the struggle to use the minimum. There are growing instances of considerably more bandwidth now starting to be used by some M2M applications and there is every prospect that this will continue. As part of this, there is increasing interest in using LTE for these.
Most M2M applications do not need that higher bandwidth though. Then there is the idea of the Internet of Things – possibly billions of sensors producing huge amounts of data, but the bandwidth required for each sensor is tiny.
What is often overlooked is that LTE is not just about high data rates, but low ones too. Because it is based on OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) and on IP, the air interface can be split into several narrow band channels having different bandwidths. Release 8 permits channel bandwidths of 1.4. 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz with no fundamental change to the radio architecture. Allowing bandwidth to be assigned in a very flexible way could make it ideal for M2M and IoT applications.
This is where LTE-M (the M is for M2M) is heading, as outlined at a recent event by Sierra Wireless who are very much involved in developments in this area, initially through their acquisition of part of Sagemcom. See here for the original EU-funded project covering this. This is increasingly being referred to as Cellular for IoT and – intriguingly – may also cover local mesh networking as well as traditional cellular switching, all aimed at being low cost, low power and low data rate. There are still various options being discussed for this but the goal is for very low cost modules (under $5), very long battery life (more than 10 years) and low data rates . . . over existing cellular infrastructure. All of this can be two-way communication, unlike some other narrow band options. Too good to be true? We will have to see, but 2016 should see this start to come to market.
There is a tendency to think of Wearable Technology as directed entirely at the consumer market. This is not the case though. Increasingly, Wearable Technology is being used as part of business processes as well. Why? Because it can enable big improvements to knowledge transfer, increase productivity, add new security and a host of other benefits in the work environment. It can be fun too.
Last year, Beecham Research published a new Wearable Technology Application Chart showing 7 key sectors and 28 different application groups where there were current products on the market. Today, we have published our new report on this market which includes a revised chart that now shows 8 sectors and 34 different application groups. Follow this link for a free download of the new chart. The new report is also available at this link.
The new sector is Business Operations and we have now included it as a separate sector partly because of its growth potential and also partly because it can now represent an important stage in the evolution of new product ideas. Take Google Glass for example – Google’s mobile head-up display. Condemned as a fashion faux pas in the high volume consumer market for its geeky appearance, that same device is now being used for customer service applications where it allows staff to offer a more personalised experience. Function matters more than style in business. Virgin Atlantic is one company trialling Glass for this.
Other examples include Motorola’s Laser Ring Scanner, a bar code reader designed to be worn on the index finger, and Walt Disney World’s use of MagicBands throughout its resorts and theme parks providing a room key, park entry and money access.
In the work environment, fashion styling is not such a must have as in the consumer space. The emphasis is on improving business processes. If it looks great that’s a plus, but it’s not such a barrier if it looks a bit clunky. That means early designs that may not be ultra sleek have an opportunity to be tried out and perfected in the business environment first before being subjected to the style pressures of the consumer market – where, if anything, style matters more than function.
The business market for wearables is already large. As detailed in our latest report, we calculate it is about a third the size of the consumer market and growing strongly.
It seems to have become a received wisdom that, for M2M and IoT applications in the future, all the processing of remote machine data will take place in the cloud. But is that really the case? As far as we can see, intelligent devices at the edge are getting more intelligent – not less. So what’s really going on?
This issue was explored in detail in a recent white paper by Beecham Research for Oracle. Follow this link to download.
Firstly, this is not just an esoteric argument. It does matter where the intelligence for applications actually is. It matters for security, for power requirements, for data flows, for speed of response and for robustness of the solution. It has a big impact on the architecture of the solution and therefore for the support of it.
The thinking goes that M2M – and in particular IoT – is all about lots of dumb sensors out there with their data being sent to the cloud for processing. So where are all these dumb sensors? Most of them are currently attached to machines. In the future, even more will be attached to those machines, but in addition they will be in the environment immediately surrounding those machines as well. Why? At the moment, to monitor what is happening, but in the future we will need more sensor points in order to optimise performance. Therein lies the true opportunity – moving from remote monitoring to performance optimisation. In other words, automated control.
Sensors will in future be everywhere. No doubt about that. Good times for sensor manufacturers. So where will the data from these be processed for performance optimisation, or for traffic control or a myriad other real time applications? At the centre? What if the network goes down – does everything stop? Does it really make sense to send all data to the centre for processing, then send it back to remotely control a machine or device? How fast is the response time for that sort of solution?
Clearly a more robust solution is to have processing at the edge and at the centre, in a hierarchy. At the edge for speed of response and robustness, while at the centre perhaps for support, maintenance and Big Data analysis. One of the key new opportunities that IoT is aiming to address is sharing data between applications to create cross sector service opportunities. Depending on the application and the requirements, that might mean intelligent devices at the edges of networks connected not just to the Internet but to other devices as well. Business value will come from using the large amounts of resulting data and acting on it quickly, as closely and as automatically as possible, to create new services.
In other words, the future for efficient and effective cloud processing for IoT is to have huge amounts of processing at the edge as well. That’s where it gets a bit more complex . . .
Announced today (see this link for more details) – Telit Wireless Solutions acquires ILS Technology, a leading provider of a ready-to-use, off-the-shelf, cloud platform to connect enterprise IT systems to m2m-connected devices and machines for business-critical use.
This is a deal designed to bolster Telit’s previous acquisitions of GlobalConect – which formed the basis of module management services in m2mAir – and CrossBridge Solutions which provided connectivity solutions for the North America market. Both of these acquisitions covered network layer services associated with connectivity management so the acquisition of ILS Technology provides a complementary acquisition for application layer services.
On the face of it, this is both a bold and logical move by Telit to expand its services offering. It represents a critical move up the value chain from supplying modules, remote module management and connectivity to providing application support as well – in other words, supporting the management of the M2M data flowing through the connectivity. It also provides a common thread linking CrossBridge Solutions connectivity for the North America market and Telefonica/Jasper Wireless managed connectivity elsewhere – all provided as elements of Telit’s m2mAir.
ILS Technology, previously part of Park Ohio, has been mainly operating in the industrial applications environment to date using primarily fixed line connectivity (but some cellular as well) so some work will be required to move this more into the cellular environment. We await further developments on this with interest.
There is a lot of discussion going on right now about when the next smart watch will appear. Samsung is expected to launch their Galaxy Gear smart watch at the IFA show in Berlin next week. The apparent aim of doing this is to trounce Apple, who may or may not launch their rumoured iWatch at their own event on September 10 in San Francisco.
In view of this and some pretty optimistic forecasts that have been thrown together recently, it is worth exploring the question – who really wants a smart watch?
Over the last few years, it has become increasingly apparent that use of wrist watches is declining – especially in the under 30 age group – in that less people are wearing them. If you use a watch just for telling the time, then your mobile phone is often just as handy and if you take your phone everywhere, why bother to wear a watch?
Females are much less likely to wear a watch than males. When they do, it is often more of a fashion accessory and the form factor is often extremely important – it must generally be small and stylish, or look like a piece of jewellery. At the same time, ownership of smartphones among females is shooting up compared with that of males – to the point where in some countries like the UK there is now a higher percentage of female ownership of smartphones than male ownership.
Even among males, watches appear to be worn less these days than was the case even a few years ago. For those that do, style is also increasingly important. While some want a big and chunky watch, others want something more refined and perhaps less feature rich. In other words, people want to choose what they wear and their choices are very different.
Against this background, the smart watch is aiming to disrupt the watch market by adding a lot of new features and apps. Will this be sufficient to change what people want to wear on their wrists though? How different will they look? Will everyone suddenly want to wear basically the same thing or will they want to choose between many different style formats? If these products are physically quite large, possibly with wide straps, how appealing will they be to the large majority of the target buyers?
Beecham Research’s new report on Wearable Technology (Wearable Technology: Towards Function with Style – follow this link for more details) explores these issues using a new methodology of fashion profiles – 35 of them. In this market, it is not just a question of early technology adopters and late adopters. It is all about aspiration and style, who wants to wear what and why. Smart watches are aiming to introduce many new features and applications under the headings of communication, fitness, personal security, retail, wellness and others. Important though these undoubtedly are, unless these new products address the aspirational and style needs of their target users they are unlikely to actually be worn. For the Wearable Technology market to really take off, it is not in fact the technology that will make the sale. It is how it looks and the different options available to change that appearance that will really count.
We recently conducted a survey with Oracle of the M2M/IoT market to see what people are expecting regarding application intelligence for connected devices over the next few years. Does it need to increase? If so, is this at the network center or at the edge? What are the implications of this? We presented the results at a webinar on June 27 – available here if you missed it and want to catch up on it.
Not too surprisingly, everyone in the survey reckoned that application intelligence for connected devices needs to increase in the next 3 years. Perhaps more surprisingly – in view of the increasing interest in cloud-based services – the vast majority of these also thought that greater intelligence will be required at the network edge. In other words, forget the idea that edge devices will stay the same or get dumber with all the intelligence for applications migrating to the center. It’s not going to happen like that. Why’s that then?
Firstly, the survey found that a full 81% of those expecting more application intelligence being required were expecting the need for real time decision making at the edge to increase. Why? M2M has always been about real time data, but it has also been about sending that data from a remote device or sensor to a data server typically at the center for processing and subsequent distribution of information. So why the greater need for more real time decision making at the edge? In our view this reflects a move towards optimization of operations rather than just monitoring them. This not only needs more data, it needs it more quickly. That’s of course very consistent with the ideas behind the Internet of Things.
In line with this, respondents also expected a greater need for local data storage at the edge. In addition to all of this though is the greater need for solution security right from the edge all the way through to the center. That also requires greater intelligence at the edge.
It’s all happening at the edge then. Is that the whole story? Catch the next webinar in the series in October for more on this.
The IMC (International M2M Council) was finally launched at the CTIA show this last week, after much discussion and meetings in Europe and North America over the last 18 months. We see this as a significant and very welcome new trade organization – one that is dedicated to giving an international voice for the M2M/IoT community and does not view M2M through the narrow perspective of a single technology, product category or vertical industry. The key aim will be to bring together vendors who collectively form the M2M Solution Provider community with Adopters of M2M solutions into a single membership organization. We believe it will be highly complementary to other regionally-focused M2M organizations, notably the increasingly successful M2M Alliance in Germany. Founding members of the IMC are Deutsche Telekom, Digi, Kore Telematics, Oracle, Orbcomm and Telit with more to follow soon we believe. See the website for more details – www.im2mc.org
Elsewhere, a trend we have mentioned before was very much in evidence at the show this year: the shift in focus from connectivity to extracting value from connected device data. While device connectivity will always be important – crucial even – it is becoming more accepted in the market as a given and something to build on. For the last four years, Beecham Research has drawn a distinction between what we refer to as the network layer (managed connectivity) and the application layer (managed data) within the overall scope of M2M Service Enablement Services (SES) – M2M platforms. We also predicted long ago the necessary shift in focus that is now evident: towards the application layer that has more intrinsic value than the network layer. Expect lots of activity – acquisitions and new development announcements – in the M2M market centred around the SES application layer during the next 6-12 months! Such activity will lead the market to a whole new ballgame – of which more later . . .
The most interesting and practical new service we saw at the show was Telenor Connexion’s (www.telenorconnexion.com) Split Billing Suite, initially aimed at the Connected Car market but with lots of potential elsewhere as well – for example in the Smart Home environment. The principle behind this is the need to find a way of sharing a single network connection between many different and diverse services, each often being provided by completely different service providers. Think vehicle diagnostics versus in-car entertainment. How do you get two such diverse services to share a single connection out of the car, so you don’t end up with dedicated connections for each service that may well price both of them out of the market? Who pays for that single connection? How does each independent service provider get access to that connection? Telenor Connexion’s answer is to offer an intermediate service that offers deep packet inspection so that service packet streams can be separated out in real time and directed to each service provider independently. We think this is an elegant approach to a problem that the M2M market has been wrestling with for some time.
I took part in an M2M roundtable event last week in London. The gist of it was – the M2M market has promised so much, why is it taking so long to deliver? This is a question that keeps coming up, so worth exploring.
There were 15 participants in this closed event, many with deep experience in M2M, others with less – so a useful cross-section.
It was generally agreed that talk of 50 billion connected devices by 2020 and other similar numbers have set high expectations for M2M that are not particularly realistic. However, it has also focused minds on the possibilities, which is useful. In addition, M2M tends to be equated with cellular connections, whereas in fact M2M (and Internet of Things) solutions use all forms of connectivity, including fixed line and a wide variety of short range wireless options in addition to cellular, satellite and other wireless wide area network alternatives. When you also take into account the numbers of sensors that could usefully be connected, the overall numbers get very large, very quickly. It is then not particularly meaningful to focus on the precise numbers of connections there could be. Other factors become more important – like how to create value from the data generated by all those connected devices. There is no point in connecting devices just for the sake of it – doing so needs to create value that people are prepared to pay for.
In fact, M2M as a business solutions market continues to grow at a steady rate and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There are certainly a range of initiatives that can speed this growth up and many are in progress already, but the business market is limited by the speed with which companies can implement these solutions and the business process change this normally entails. In my last blog post I talked about the term Industrial Internet now creeping in as an evolutionary step to M2M. Championed by General Electric (GE), this is an approach that promises to make intensive use of data from very large numbers of remote sensors. We call this “M2M on steroids” because it is essentially about M2M business solutions with much more intensive use of data. By all accounts, this type of use is not far off and provides a further path for M2M business solutions growth.
But what about connected device solutions for the consumer? Are these taking off as quickly as they should be? The short answer is – not yet. Beecham Research refers to such solutions that are focused either directly or indirectly on the consumer as Internet of Things (IoT). Very rapid growth in numbers is much more a consumer market characteristic than a business market one.
The truth is – many of the IoT ideas need to be made a lot simpler than they currently are and consumers need to want them. At the same time, they need to make money for those who provide them – or at least, they need to provide value to their businesses. This is often not the case at present and the business models do not look very attractive. There is a lot more work needed for this potentially enormous part of the market to reach its potential.
We were in San Francisco two weeks ago, hosting our Digital Things executive brainstorm. This covered a lot of useful ground, including a discussion on how significant the concept of the Internet of Things actually is. Participants ranged from the highly practical – from a background in what works in the M2M market today and what tends not to work – to the aspirational – can this help humanity as a whole?
The general sentiment, as expressed in the instant voting, was that the Internet of Things truly represents a huge new opportunity and not just a new way of looking at existing trends. There were also dedicated sessions on business models for IoT, IoT platform requirements and on Big Data. You can see the agenda for the event at this link. Next stop – London, where we will be discussing a similar agenda on June 6.
It is certainly the case that much of what is being discussed right now regarding the Internet of Things is consumer related. A lot of the business models associated with consumer connected devices do not work very well at present. This is in contrast to those for business related connected devices – usually referred to as M2M – which generally do work and have increasingly proved to be highly effective. There is a lot that needs fixing in the consumer connected devices segment.
However, the term Industrial Internet is now creeping in as an evolutionary step to M2M – see our Snaps newsletter article this month on Big Data at this link as an example – and this promises to be hugely significant. Championed by General Electric (GE) and, using slightly different terms, also by Cisco Systems this is “M2M on steroids” as indicated in our newsletter article. The prospect is that – through much greater awareness of how machines are operating in their overall environment – much greater optimization of operations are feasible. This means a lot more sensors and the creation of a lot more data, with data analytics techniques being increasingly used to provide timely and precise information. This promises both further refinement to already-proven M2M business models as well as the introduction of new ones, and potentially substantial disruption in high use segments of the M2M market.