How Did Machine to Machine Migrate into Internet of Things? (M2M to IoT)
The simple answer is “the addition of people”. IoT now has a very broad swath covering many vertical markets as well as consumer-embedded.
There’s an old adage in marketing that rapidly-expanding markets always segment. A hundred years ago, you had the car or automobile… but as the market expanded to cover trucks, buses and other kinds of transportation, the term ‘vehicle’ came into being to cover all segments including cars, trucks, buses and their sub-categories.
8 to 10 years ago, a new class of mobile was entering the market. It started when some companies began adding wireless modules to meters to eliminate meter readers having to walk from house to house and record the values of the meters, which then was input to the utility company’s computer system to generate a bill for services that was mailed back to the consumer.
When the wireless meter reading modules were added to a utility meter (water, electricity, gas), the meter could be read, and the values sent wirelessly to the utility company, which generated a bill that could be paid online. The order of operations evolved from “meter – to meter reader – to the utility computer – to the bill” to a more simplified “meter-to utility company”. This became known as “machine-to-machine” technology, which was shortened to “M2M.” This term was quickly adopted for situations in which one machine is communicating with another machine without human intervention.
A number of different M2M solutions were developed using wireless to connect one machine to another machine (often a computer system). Devices inside a factory were converted to send operating data to the company’s production system. A doctor entering a prescription in one computer (often a tablet) could directly send it to the patient’s pharmacy. Basically, M2M means that any device (meter, computer) can be set up to wirelessly transmit data to another machine (typically for processing).
M2M conference sessions, tracks… and even entire conferences… began to pop up in the industry. Universities began doing research on integrated M2M networks. M2M was the acronym that began to drive the new, hot market in mobile and wireless. The initial idea of M2M is still evolving and growing today. However, M2M has been subsumed by a new moniker that includes both M2M and other things, just as the vehicle vs car concept did 100 years ago.
Handheld smartphones, such as the iPhone and Google-based Android smartphone, became essential to business around 2010 – 2012. At that point, M2M networks had to begin factoring people back in the equation. This added a slightly different dimension to the original meter-reading scenario, as there was a middle receiver between two machines.
With that, the term ‘M2M’ didn’t really portray the process accurately.
British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) in 1999 while working at Auto-ID Labs. But, the term didn’t become popular until just the last few years. Typically, IoT is expected to offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems and services that extend beyond machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and cover a variety of protocols, domains and applications – including people. The interconnection of these embedded devices (including smart objects), is expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields, while also enabling advanced applications (like a smart grid), and expanding to areas such as smart cities.
Here is a figure from SRI Consulting that shows the technology roadmap for the Internet of Things (IoT). Advances in software will enable the fusion of sensors and agents to add intelligence to the network.
IoT will be around for a long time. It might be subsumed by something else in a few decades, but the acronym will likely be around for a long time because it’s such a catch-all kind of term.
I’ll throw in one more term that is a new subset of IoT: Fog computing. This is the term that’s used when there are so many elements in the network that it looks like a fog of devices and interconnections. A good example is a smart city in which tens of thousands of sensors, nodes, and switches all work together to help the city work more efficiently. The elements represent a fog that has to be managed in addition to the individual sub-nodes or smaller, special purpose sub-networks.
You’ll still see references to M2M when it is a focused effort of communication between two machines or a small network of machines. However, IoT has become the mainstay for most all connectivity between a network, often including people with smartphones in the mix.
It’s important for enterprises to seriously consider IoT opportunities, even if you think that your company doesn’t have a need. You’ll soon realize that most companies have the opportunity to collect data from sensors of some sort and then utilize that information using IoT methodologies to provide feedback that, in the end, helps the company run more efficiently.
In some cases, a deployment of sensors – even possibly an app on your smartphone – will generate a lot of information. As a result, it may take Big Data resources in order to make good use of the information. A hospital might collect heart rate data from a number of patients and, from that large amount of information, glean ways to recognize problems quicker and improve patient treatments.
While IoT might appear to be just a buzz word to some people today, those of us in the industry know that it’s quickly yielding methods that are helping organizations run more effectively or even launch a new line of business.
I’ll be writing more about many IoT topics in the weeks and months to come.