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In most sectors, machine-to-machine (M2M) deployments focus on individual verticals (such as automotive, energy and healthcare) with little commonality and reusability. In essence, custom solutions are created for each vertical. The challenge is how to scale up to manage billions of devices across verticals and applications cost effectively, and with appropriate quality of service (QoS) and security. Progress is being slowed by technology fragmentation, a lack of industry-wide standards and complex device on boarding processes. Progress is also being hindered by consumers who do not yet fully trust M2M solutions with their devices and data.
Network operators are well positioned to help the M2M industry address these challenges and move forward. With platforms that allow them to merge their trusted remote device management and on boarding expertise with standardized M2M functions, network operators can reach more devices and verticals, deliver more value to customers and secure a stronger role in the M2M market.
Adopting M2M technology in mass market applications inevitably means that the overall cost must come down. Many mainstream application opportunities demand low average revenue per user (ARPU) levels that make custom integration work cost prohibitive. A key reason for this custom work is related to pairing up devices with the target applications. The tight coupling between device and application results in fragmentation in the device market, which means that the critical volume to drive down cost is lacking and the cost to switch or upgrade hardware is high. To break this spiral, the coupling between device and application must be loosened to allow for more flexible mix and match. The industry has proven over and over that this is achievable with well-defined (and sometimes de facto) standards. Secure, managed connectivity is critical to enable this decoupling, and the network can play a big role here. The burden on application developers can be reduced and device equipment manufacturers can simultaneously work toward establishing standards, thus driving economies of scale.
The Internet of Things or M2M solutions are about collecting data to create insights. These insights can be monetized in many different ways, including streamlining operations, reducing cost, and improving quality and customer satisfaction to mention a few. To realize these benefits, enterprises must earn trust from data owners, often end consumers. For example, we trust network providers and credit card companies to act with high integrity, be transparent about how our data gets used and implement well-defined processes and state-of-the-art technology to protect our privacy. Is it not more than reasonable to expect the very same from companies offering M2M services? Would you want to see the data from your fitness tracker device get compromised and used against you?
The fragmentation in the M2M industry has resulted in many inconsistencies around how devices are on boarded, how devices communicate with networks and applications, and how data is recorded, encrypted, transported and shared. Often the choices made and potential consequences are not transparent to consumers.
Embarrassing headline stories of how M2M data was compromised have broken trust and have affected market adoption overall. To gain the trust that it can responsibly manage access to sensitive data, the M2M industry needs to establish clear best practices and standards and be transparent to consumers. Data is the new gold of the 21st century. It requires and deserves the same level of focus, protection and integrity, starting not in the cloud but at the source—the sensor or device that generates the data.
Technology Enablers and Standards
Driven by mainstream needs around broadband Internet and smart devices, industry solutions for how to securely and remotely manage large numbers of connected devices have been established over the past decade by standards organizations such as the Broadband Forum (TR-069) and Open Mobile Alliance (OMA).
The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) combined this foundation with industry-proven technology for secure data encryption (Datagram Transport Layer Security or DTLS) and bandwidth-efficient protocols optimized for small messages Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) and created the Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) protocol. LWM2M addresses the core industry challenges around small clients, including efficient communication, on boarding, integrity and security.
The LWM2M standard uses lightweight protocols to simplify the management of low-cost or constrained M2M devices. These protocols minimize overhead to reduce the cost of cloud– device connections. They also safeguard data by establishing secure encrypted connections. They ease the integration of constrained devices by supporting clients with small footprints and low resource needs. Finally, they provide device management functionality alongside data connectivity to ensure that M2M network operators can enjoy the benefits of remote device management and data connectivity without having to establish a second connection to each device.
Not surprisingly, large companies and other standards bodies like one M2M are adopting this approach to improve the economics around M2M solutions.
Monetization of M2M is predominantly vertical. But ensuring that the cost of creating these vertical solutions keeps decreasing requires adoption of well-defined, reusable horizontal assets.
Large ecosystems thrive when roles and responsibilities are well defined. In mature markets we observe well-defined value chains with industry specialists. Managed connectivity is one of these components. And network providers are well positioned to create value beyond simple SIM connectivity by offering device management services for authentication, provisioning, configuration, firmware updates and troubleshooting.
Whether pursued by industry groups or individual players, efforts to create M2M device management standards will help the industry build horizontal solutions that can address many different use cases and verticals. Once all devices support the same standards, it will be much easier for M2M solutions to manage and communicate with them. There will be no need to build separate protocol plug-ins for each device type. Building applications will become cheaper and faster; data will be more secure. The end result of standardization will be an overall reduction of device-related costs and improvement of trust. The M2M industry is growing up and getting ready for mainstream adoption. The best is yet to come.