M2M and the need for speed

The FCC wants gigabit internet in every US state by 2015

One of the most attractive characteristics of the anticipated M2M explosion is that its applications and modules  will be based on older network technologies. Speak to anyone looking to promote M2M and they’ll tell you that it offers operators the opportunity to carry on monetising networks that are nearing the end of their useful life as platforms for consumer services.

The economies of scale built into GSM mean that M2M modules built to function on these networks are cheap and plentiful. CDMA modules are more expensive according to carriers, because of the royalties due to Qualcomm on each unit, but they’re still cut-price compared to the cost of modules that work on advanced 3G networks, let alone LTE. So M2M should be cheap to provide in great volume, making it the perfect antidote to dwindling growth in the ‘human’ market.

But this isn’t the only way of looking at the situation.  Another reason for the appeal of M2M is that modules could have life spans far exceeding those of the average smartphone, which is streaking towards obsolescence as soon as it’s first fired up. Carriers involved in early M2M deployments suggest that static modules for applications like remote metering could have usable lives of up to 15 years. Seen against that backdrop, maybe the deployment of 2G modules doesn’t look like such a bright idea.

If metering companies have to do a truck roll to every deployment in five years’ time to upgrade their modules to more modern technologies, they’re going to incur significant costs that they might feel ought to be borne by the carrier that sold them a service with a limited lifetime.

Furthermore, if there’s one thing the last five years has taught us, it’s that we have no idea what kind of services and applications will be possible or plausible in another five. Smart meters could be used for all sorts of other things by 2016, but the possibilities could be limited by deploying older, slower technology.

It’s a view that was put forward recently by Brian Higgins, executive director for LTE ecosystem development at Verizon. “You want to make sure you’re getting the right technology in place for the next ten years so that, tomorrow, your device can take advantage of capabilities that you’re not envisioning today.”

The problem with this approach, of course, is that it recasts M2M as an expensive deployment option. So what’s the answer? Will slow and steady win the race, or does M2M have a need for speed?


  1. Avatar Amin Karim 24/05/2011 @ 3:05 pm

    What about survival of iDEN technology in M2M environment? Is there are in room for iDEN to survive and ride on this new platform?

  2. Avatar Mike Hibberd 24/05/2011 @ 3:22 pm

    Hi Amin, I’m not sure there’s a great deal of scope for iDEN in M2M. I recently visited Sprint Nextel’s M2M Collaboration Centre and the guy in charge was talking about how powerful the spectrum that iDEN occupies could be if only it were used for another technology. Sprint badly needs to streamline it’s technology portfolio, and iDEN, which was dismissed as a “1.5G PTT technology” looks like a candidate for retirement.

  3. Avatar Bill Chard 26/05/2011 @ 9:29 am

    The article presents valid arguments both for using existing 2G and 2.5G networks to support M2M and for switching to a more scalable Long Term Evolution (LTE) network based approach

    I suspect in the end there will be some M2M devices/applications hosted on older networks, where the application doesn’t demand speed and may only generate low revenues per device (like utility meters). However, there will also be cases where newer 3G or LTE networks get used, if performance is particularly key, for example, or in verticals where innovation is expected and a legacy network technology could become a constraint.

    Whichever network technology is used, it is important to recognise that M2M devices are different from the phones that make up the majority of devices on today’s networks, and they need to be managed differently.

    Many M2M devices are infrequent transmitters. This means that they need to connect to the wireless network a few times a day, week or month, will often connect for a short time and may only send small amounts of data. So, operators need to avoid wasting money and resources by permanently allocating network database capacity and numbers to these devices.

    Other M2M solutions may, however, be static. Operators need to be aware that this is a fragmented marketplace. To address it efficiently, therefore, they will need to deploy platforms that are able to adapt to varying requirements for managing and communicating with M2M devices.

    There are also significant benefits in deploying separate M2M and voice network infrastructures and in treating M2M devices and SIMs differently: both to avoid the danger of cross-segment disruption and to mitigate the risk of SIMs from M2M devices being misused for other purposes.

    Bill Chard, VP Product Management, Evolving Systems

  4. Avatar Moiz 02/06/2011 @ 12:47 pm

    I firmly believe m2m makes sense with GSM , it will just be a question on the uptake of things like voice over LTE , Voice over IHSPA etc , and it at all the GSM networks will be threatnend , but baseed on the throughput needs for most m2m cases we see today is even low by GSM standards.

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