Call it Machine-to-Machine (M2M), Internet of Things (IoT) or Pervasive Internet, the time is coming when most “things” will be interconnected. It will not take a person and a browser. We will have thing-to-thing communication. Then humans will tap into the data–or more likely analytics or “intelligence” from the data–for use in understanding or controlling processes.
I have touched on the phenomenon at times. Lately on this blog regarding some new ideas. I also asked my friend Jim Pinto for his thoughts for columns in Automation World which he did in October and in November.
Last week I noticed an article in GigaOm by John Horn who is president of RACO Wireless. He proposed two things that could doom this whole Internet of Things movement.
The first is complexity. “Right now, large enterprise M2M projects still often take up to three years to complete, and typically require at least a $25 million investment, according to the research firm Maravedis-Rethink. It’s a big reason that M2M adoption for many businesses is still in a semi-holding pattern, with few committed to building it into their business plans.”
Isn’t that often a problem with automation in general. If we are not careful, the complexity of the technology scares off management. A significant trend I’ve noticed over the past five years is making automation solutions easier to implement. So, I think over the next few years that we’ll see engineers tackle this problem.
Horn’s second situation is the sunsetting of 2G networks. “Unfortunately, simplicity isn’t the only thing holding back the growth of M2M right now. In fact, the very future of some M2M applications is being challenged, thanks to the mobile industry’s migration to 3G and 4G networks. In the process many are simply shutting down their existing 2G networks, stranding customers who have M2M applications that rely on them. I recently heard of a small boutique in the Midwest that relies on a 2G network to process credit-card payments. Without notice, its 2G cellular service was shut off and suddenly the shop’s point of sale device was non-functional, leaving a vulnerable small business scrambling to find options.”
The first M2M applications I heard about–and this goes back 10 or 11 years–was all about cellular as the broadband. In fact, it was cellular companies themselves pushing the idea. They needed a new market, they thought. (Of course, then came smart phones, so data requirements grew quickly.) One problem is that the typical sensor-to-sensor or machine-to-machine communication involves only a little data. So, first, I think the cellular companies will chase the larger consumer smart phone data market. But everyone who has implemented 2G systems are looking at upgrade–and that’s never fun. That alone may force manufacturing proponents to look for alternative broadband technologies to cellular.
I think the Internet of Things is here to stay and will continue to grow. We have many reasons to continue to develop automated data communications from our many sensors, controllers and other devices. But it will be like everything–the actual technologies used will continue to morph.
Thinking about the Internet of Things really gets me excited, primarily because I have only a few devices I want to get talking to each other right now. My intuition is telling me that the starting point – where I'm most flexible about the number and types of devices as well as the types of data I want them to communicate – is the best place to be when automating a network.
This is an emerging capability that may allow small tech companies to compete against the big dogs in a big way, and I can't wait to see who will emerge as the new Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg of M2M networking.