Developers are being required to support machine-to-machine (M2M) more often and meeting more ambitious requirements each time. I spoke with Olivier Beaujard, Vice President of Market Development for Sierra Wireless, about these issues and about their latest M2M development support.
Wong: Operators are increasingly looking at M2M - what role do you see them playing and what is their best route to market?
Beaujard: M2M is attracting greater attention from operators with dedicated organizations, teams, and billing plans designed for M2M offerings. There is a tremendous opportunity for operators to offer tiered services around specific market segments and increase their revenues. M2M applications allow operators to charge based on the type of data, rather than the amount of data. With an alarm application, for example, the customer will place a higher value on the immediate transmission of an alarm, while the monitoring or log file information can be sent overnight. Operators are starting to recognize this trend as offering a profitable alternative to the all-you-can-eat plans that have characterized the handset market to date. Some operators might look for larger role in the M2M value chain, not focusing only on connectivity.
Wong: Which industry verticals do you think offer the most potential for operators?
Beaujard: The expansion of wireless networks across the world in recent years has made it increasingly easy for M2M communications to take place and has thrust the technology into the limelight across a range of industries, including automotive, energy, healthcare and, more recently, the consumer space.
One of the most important areas for development is in end-to-end energy management. Countries won't solve energy consumption problems by simply building more power plants and monitoring energy usage. Sierra Wireless is ahead of the curve in this market, providing the M2M building blocks that simplify the development and deployment of wireless energy management solutions for industrial and residential consumers, substations, and power generation applications and forward-looking applications like charging stations for electric vehicles.
The automotive and transportation industries are other growth areas for M2M, with more models every year featuring a wide variety of connected applications, including emergency calling, diagnostics, navigation, infotainment, usage-based insurance, and stolen vehicle tracking and recovery.
Wong: From a telco perspective, what do you regard as the biggest challenge to M2M over the next 12-24 months?
Beaujard: Technology complexity and interoperability. There are a lot of complexities across the value chain, ranging from segment-specific technology requirements to service pricing. Reducing complexity and developing open standards will benefit everyone in the telecoms ecosystem and is key to unlocking growth. At Sierra Wireless we keep investing a lot in our R&D to ease the use of our technology to reduce the complexity.
Wong: Partnerships are key to being successful at M2M: what, specifically, can Sierra Wireless do to enable operators to profit from M2M?
Beaujard: Sierra Wireless is partnering with operators to offer one-stop-shop solutions. We offer the broadest portfolio of devices in the industry, covering a wide range of industry segments and applications. We also offer a services platform that ultimately does two things: it enables M2M applications to be efficiently operated and managed on the network, and it also can provide the opportunity for new revenue streams for network operators, through device management and application enablement services. Our partnerships with mobile operators bring the benefits of easier to use and shorter time to market solutions to our customers.
Wong: You recently launched a 3G version of your Open AT Application Framework - what benefits does this offer telcos?
Beaujard: Solutions for M2M markets on 3G networks are gaining rapid adoption in multiple markets worldwide. The Open AT Application Framework means that for the first time, M2M customers have a seamless path between 2G and 3G. Customers who have built 2G applications with the Open AT Application Framework can now use the same software and hardware to migrate their solutions to 3G networks, using Open AT to build their applications once, and deploy them in any market. The introduction of the Open AT Application Framework for 3G services, and the advantages it provides in speeding-up development timelines, will help accelerate growth and the 2G to 3G transition in the telecoms market.
Wong: From a technology perspective, what exciting future developments can you tell us about?
Beaujard: As we enter the next phase of M2M communications, Sierra Wireless has already collaborated with partners to develop next generation applications such as parking meters with power stations that let our electric vehicles know they're available and notify our smartphones when our car is fully charged, wristbands that monitor vital signs and contact healthcare providers if they detect a health issue, and connected commercial coffee machines that detect malfunctions and send reorder alerts, and can be remotely monitored and managed to ensure product quality.
Today's connected services are still driven almost entirely by people. In the M2M world of the future, services will be driven by the devices themselves—they will recognise each other, communicate with each other, and interact with third-party services that take advantage of their connectivity, with little human interference. As much as this connected services vision seems almost within our grasp, some fundamental changes must occur before it can be a reality, both in the way that devices communicate with each other and with the network, and in how network operators work with device manufacturers. We are entering the era of truly intelligent machines.
Wong: Can you provide more details on the Open AT Framework.
Beaujard: The Open AT Application Framework is a comprehensive software package for embedded M2M application development, offering a set of building blocks that accelerate the application development process, and allow for more streamlined and less costly product development. More specifically, Open AT consists of an M2M-specific operating system, a range of software libraries, and an integrated development environment based on Eclipse.
Because the Open AT Application Framework is designed specifically for M2M applications, it provides wireless services (voice call, data call, SMS) and TCP/IP connectivity, and gives access to hardware resources for which the developer would otherwise need an extra processor. What's more, developers can take advantage of a series of libraries offered by Sierra Wireless and third-party software vendors to easily add extra features and protocols, or enable programming in development languages other than C/C++.
The Sierra Wireless Developer Studio makes developing embedded cellular M2M applications easier and faster. Everything is integrated into a single environment, designed to run at high speed on a development workstation, so applications can be built more efficiently and processes like coding, debugging, target download, and target monitoring are more readily accessed and utilized.
Wong: Today's connected services vision seems almost within our grasp. What fundamental changes must occur before it can be a reality?
Beaujard: An important focus should be building a network ecosystem so that operators can rely on simple, scalable solutions to manage the enormous influx of new devices and subscriptions. They will also need to accommodate a much wider range of requirements as the variety of connected devices expands, which in turn should drive closer relationships with device manufacturers, application developers, and M2M service providers reselling their network connectivity services.
Currently, M2M applications in the marketplace are almost exclusively closed, "one-to-one" systems: one kind of device, connected to one kind of service, managed by one service provider. For rapid growth, an open-ended connected services ecosystem that supports a "many-to-many" model is required.
Another important approach is to build a greater collaborative effort between network operators, device manufacturers, and other mobile ecosystem players to address spectrum and capacity constraints and find solutions that drive the most efficient use of a limited resource.
Wong: What key areas can operators work on with device manufacturers, application developers, and third-party service providers to bring these services to consumers faster?
Beaujard: One is to help foster the implementation of more plug-and-play capabilities. Consumer devices need to be equipped with wireless communication and they also need a standardized, organized framework that enables them to discover other connected devices, broadcast their own capabilities, and recognize and use those of peers.
Sierra Wireless is also working in deep collaboration with operators to perform complete tests and certification of his technology on the operators' networks. These efforts bring a significant advantage to our customers who can rely on end-to-end complete certification.
Another area where operators are continuing to work collaboratively is to provide a scalable and secure services platform and operating portal. This benefits network operators and manufacturers alike, enabling developers to quickly add cellular communications to applications and create powerful, value-added applications for end customers.
An operating portal is a set of cloud services that supports deployment, operations and support tasks, including managing millions of cellular subscriptions, communications devices and their attached assets (such as components in industrial machines, telemetric devices in automobiles, and monitoring devices in a home or office), as well as end-user billing.