In the 1970 science fiction thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project, two giant supercomputers from the United States and Soviet Union secretly join forces to take control of the collective nuclear might of the two countries. In the film, the two machines discover each other's existence, communicate back-and-forth, share their collective data, and cut their human creators out of the process. It is the ultimate example of machine-to-machine communications, or M2M.
We're obviously a far cry from that scenario. Machine-to-machine communication is still relatively in the early stages. But technology and industry standards are starting to evolve to make it viable. Interest in M2M is also on the rise, driven largely by advances in mobile technology and wireless communication. Some have called it "The Rise of the Machines."
One recent report even predicted there will be more machines connected to the Internet in the next decade than there will be humans. That report didn't explain how we would pull off such a massive 1:1 rollout, however.
What we do now know, however, is that "In the enterprise space, M2M adoption is driven primarily by the push to improve operational efficiencies and customer experience, i.e., proactive customer service via the remote monitoring of devices," explains King-Yew Foong, an analyst with Gartner Group, in an interview. "There has been a lot of interest in M2M in the transportation, logistics, healthcare, and the utilities sectors."
Gartner Group defines M2M communications as being:
...used for automated data transmission and measurement between mechanical or electronic devices. The key components of an M2M system are: Field-deployed wireless devices with embedded sensors or RFID-Wireless communication networks with complementary wireless access includes, but is not limited to cellular communication, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, WiMAX, wireless LAN (WLAN), generic DSL (xDSL), and fiber to the x (FTTx).
Basically, M2M communications are technologies that enable both wireless and wired systems to communicate with other similar devices, on their own.
According to King-Yew:
From an infrastructure angle, the pieces are falling into place: widespread availability of mobile data services, and falling prices for wireless modules are key drivers. However, the challenge of developing viable business models, building ecosystems and security remains to be addressed. The market is very fragmented at the moment and standards need to emerge.
The good news: "Major standards development organizations have recognized the need for standards to drive M2M growth," King-Yew says. Those standards are in the works. "In the meantime, some telecom service providers have already come together to offer a common platform to gain an early initiative."
Another research company that is following the growth of M2M is Aberdeen Group. According to research associate Stuart Rowe:
With the billions of 'smart' devices that will be connected in the not-too-distant future, M2M is on an explosive growth path that will generate huge amounts of data. One can readily draw a connection between this evolution and the need to apply analytics to derive benefit from Big Data.
Telecommunications has certainly taken the lead in the M2M space. The wireless analyst firm Berg Insight recently predicted that M2M connections will grow to approximately 187 million by 2014.
Rowe predicts that M2M will ultimately touch on countless facets of business processes as it grows in popularity.
"Analytics and BI, dashboards (mobile and otherwise), central repositories for data, industry-standard protocols, and trained staff are all on the horizon for those on the path to M2M evolution," Rowe concludes.
So what's next for M2M?
"Over the next 12 months more industries will sign up, and costs will come down," Andrew Borg, research director in the Enterprise Mobility and Collaboration practice at Aberdeen Group, tells me. "We are also seeing a rise of common standards across carriers."
— David Weldon is an experienced editor, writer, and research analyst, with over 30 years of experience in the communications and research fields.