M2M’s Revenue Promise Drives New Focus on Smart Services

June 22, 2012
M2M holds the promise of enabling intelligent data gathering and sharing among literally billions of connected devices. So how do designs evolve to take advantage of this promise? The answer lies in smart services that provide the autonomous device management.

The growth of connected devices is fueling a societal shift changing the way people work, live and think. Embedded OEMs and designers are at the forefront of this shift, thinking creatively and developing new M2M (machine to machine) systems that take advantage of a connected world. M2M holds the promise of enabling intelligent data gathering and sharing among literally billions of connected devices. This includes embedded CPUs that can be networked with the goal of connecting devices, systems and processes to create transparent control of human and machine transactions. But once designers embrace this broad concept, how do designs evolve to take advantage of its extended promise? The answer lies in smart services, or applications that provide the autonomous device management required for efficient, cost-effective and highly intelligent M2M deployments.

Autonomous manageability enables new ways of interacting with users, as well as new vehicles for delivering services. Revenue potential is significant when communication is always on, yet the complexity of deploying such systems can be daunting. Developers must fine tune a multitude of design, processing and communication factors in order to assure connectivity, and at the same time achieve an acceptable level of economic efficiency with each deployment. The challenge of serving a new market area with needed solutions is significant, but not insurmountable when working with the right tools and partners. Today, those challenges include electrical design and security complexities as well as costs. This is due to fragmentation of preferred wireless communication protocols and a proprietary M2M value chain, which functions in sharp contrast to the standardized hardware and software environments characteristic to Internet protocols. Although it is anticipated that fragmentation will be reduced as the space matures, the M2M landscape today represents an uphill climb for developers who are intent on creating services that deliver concrete value. Ultimately, their forward progress and innovation will be given a needed boost by the growth and availability of standards-based embedded computing platforms that simplify development of smart services.

Standardized Platforms Nurture Development of Smarter Devices

A brief look at trends in how data is gathered and shared for intelligent application helps explain the need for standards-based platforms. Using wireless, fixed networking and hybrids of the two, connected devices achieve a global network as a powerful domino effect. Device functionality and usage models are commonly split among three categories. Indirect nodes and sensors provide monitoring services, frequently using ZigBee or Wi-Fi wireless communications. Direct nodes operate in a standalone capacity, using a range of radio technologies to send and receive data from the Cloud. Gateways aggregate sensor data and similarly use a range of technologies to transmit information. These methods allow M2M networks to collect data to be acted upon in a timely manner for profit – smart services, in turn, create actionable environments for applying the information in real-time enterprise business applications.

Using a "Swiss Army Knife" scalable edge node/gateway system, OEMs can semi-customize these complex systems to ensure that any unnecessary M2M features are removed. This approach reduces costs without requiring major design efforts. By simplifying the development process, designers are relieved of having to master complex wireless technologies for connected computing. By using an application-ready systems platform based on state-of-the-art Intel® Atom™ technology, smart service developers can streamline development by readily supporting 90 percent of the world’s software. This includes devices incorporating standards-based architectures, replacing the earlier focus on purpose-built devices - in turn reducing dependence on single vendors, enabling more easily scalable solutions and building a faster path to smart services revenue.

Get Ready for More

A series of hurdles remain for effective and widespread M2M deployment. Regional operators may delay deployments based on their need to certify every device in the network. Global deployments might require assistance of MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) to expedite and streamline the process. Further, mass provisioning needs to become simpler and incorporate devices other than SIM cards. Protection of sensitive customer data is imperative and may require complex settings designed to restrict or allow access based on how the data is being used in real-time. Customer service representatives will be managing thousands of M2M devices, and the devices themselves must perform 24/7 for lengthy deployments. Yet as important as these issues are to overcome, standards development is at the heart of the M2M designer’s perspective.

While most consumers probably do not consider their washing machine, thermostat or vehicle navigation system a connected device - those devices and their ongoing data services are generating benefits for users and revenue for providers. All this furthers the likelihood of M2M suppliers flooding a new and evolving market. Standardization is essential in this evolution, fueling competitive designs that not only meet application needs but also keep designers doing what they do best.

In the foreseeable future, fixed-function devices will become passé and devices must be smarter from the outset - ready to play an important role in delivering intelligent services to the end user. Consider the home thermostat that automatically communicates with the energy company for reduced usage and costs, or the smart grid energy management used by a multi-national company in real-time to diagnose and reduce carbon footprints by country, region, building and department. These smart services, or the effective use of embedded Internet to deliver intelligent consumer and business services, represent significant new revenue streams for providers. And with potential to build long-term business in industrial and building automation, manufacturing productivity, renewable energy, healthcare and more, the financial gain goes to innovators who get there first with standards-based intelligent devices and increasingly smarter services.

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