When mobile communicators began all calls were essentially P2P, or Person to Person. A wireless phone connected one person to another person in order to conduct a voice conversation. It was really just a wireless version of “Watson, come here I need you!”
Over time handsets became more sophisticated. Network speeds and coverage improved and we began to use our phones for complex and interesting tasks. It became common to use a mobile device not just to connect to another person, but also to a machine. The machine at the other end of the connection might be a Web server or a Mail server, for example, to view a webpage or read your email. Those are P2M communications. Perhaps you’d launch an app on your phone to view a warehouse or living room from a remote location using Dropcam. But the P2M term never really took off. We just referred to it as “all the really cool things kids do with their smartphones”.
As networks became robust enough to support sustained data links, it was only a matter of time before the connections evolved. Cellular started to connect remote or moving devices for the purpose of monitoring, alerting or controlling. We started to have “machines” at one end of a cellular connection, communicating with “machines” at the other end. This is what became known as M2M.
M2M was initially somewhat cost-prohibitive. You had to have a lot of resources (aka money) which meant the task you needed to perform with M2M also needed to be valuable. A monthly data connection was needed, likely around $50 per month, plus the need to buy and configure an expensive cellular modem. You then had to pay someone to figure out how to get all this equipment operating properly. This limited M2M to certain applications like monitoring pumping stations where large sums of money could be saved with early detection systems. Or monitoring ambulances where lives could be saved. M2M was limited to high-value uses where it was difficult or impossible to connect using traditional wired networks.
Then things changed. We saw an explosive increase in demand for cellular data fueled by smartphone, tablet and connected laptop usage. This drove the cost of a megabyte of cellular data down to a more manageable point for businesses. It became common to see M2M plans for $5 a month that could include 5 or 10 megabytes of data. To clarify, most M2M services send regular and measured bursts of key information, which is often a fraction of the Gigabytes of data used to watch Netflix on your tablet.
At the same time, cellular modems have enjoyed similar reductions in prices (and sizes) and are now being built into a wide range of business and consumer products. These products are so well designed that they take all or most of the work out of integrating and configuring them to perform useful tasks.
These price points have made M2M become much more accessible to modern businesses. A service company, for example, could now track their fleet of vehicles in real time to dramatically enhance the efficiency of their dispatch software or meet the requirement of lone worker legislation. Seeing new businesses like these adopt the technology meant that service providers could offer new packages. All of a sudden, providers began offering turnkey solutions packaging hardware and services into a $29.95 a month Fleet management solution.
Municipalities also started to deploy M2M in new ways like synchronizing traffic signals, dispatching crews to only dump full trash bins and giving transit riders more accurate bus arrival times. The updated technology combined with more accessible pricing began to help us create more efficient cities.
The applications for M2M connections are limitless. With all the tools and sensors in our world, we will start seeing more of them connected to monitoring and control systems. Each system will start to work more efficiently and effectively as they become better connected.
We’ll be writing more about M2M and its application in business and other aspects of technology. What M2M devices are you aware of in your business and how can that help you be more efficient? Tell us below in the comments and we may feature you in an upcoming article.