Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Takes Off
Standards-Based Intel® Solutions Help Accelerate New M2M Product DevelopmentBy Cheryl Coupé, Contributing Editor
Sometimes referred to as the "network of things," the machine-to-machine (M2M) market by any name is poised for dramatic growth, and large companies – Intel included – are paying attention. M2M can be viewed as a collection of market segments that includes connected-consumer, e-health, telematics and smart grid applications. What all of these applications have in common are devices that need to be connected – ideally into a core network or the cloud – so that data can flow to be analyzed and used remotely.
M2M wireless Internet boom sees a few challenges
According to the market research firm iSuppli Corp., global revenue from sales of wireless wide-area networking (WWAN) modules for M2M systems will increase nearly sevenfold from 2010 to 2014, from $1.0 billion in 2010 to $6.5 billion by the end of 2014.
"Wireless Internet access for connecting people to each other or for connecting people to machines has exploded over the last decade, driven by the rise of mobile computing and smart phones," Francis Sideco, principal analyst for wireless research for iSuppli said in a release. "However, a new wireless Internet boom is shaping up in the M2M area. WWAN technologies increasingly are being used in M2M modules to enable new communication capabilities, in the process powering innovations and enhancing the efficiency of key markets like utilities and healthcare."
iSuppli’s data shows the largest markets today using WWAN M2M modules are wireless gateways and remote monitoring, but healthcare is the fastest-growing vertical; it is projected to consume 16.5 million units by 2014, up 155 percent from 2009. Other sectors include vehicle tracking, automotive infotainment, security, payment and ruggedized computers.
Despite its growth potential, the M2M market needs to address a few key challenges. One problem is the market’s fragmentation. Another is that many of the companies entering the market lack the expertise to integrate communication capabilities into their specific vertical-market applications. iSuppli believes that the M2M ecosystem can help speed up the learning curve if the industry shifts its focus toward solution-based, system-level collaborations, which contrasts with the current emphasis on individual component sales. At the same time, standards bodies from around the world – and from a wide range of industries – are beginning discussions on how to define M2M and what the implications of varying definitions are for that country or standards body. Ultimately, the hope is that a layer of standardization will help create efficiencies in the market and help address the common concerns around security for these connected devices.
Intel addresses fragmented market with open, modular solution
Robert Hunter, strategic marketing manager for the Intel® Embedded Group, agrees. He’s seeing a wide range of M2M companies that have similar technical capabilities but that are so focused on specific vertical markets that there’s little overlap between them. "That tells me there’s continued fragmentation in the market," Hunter explains. "If we had a more efficient, more common way of doing some of these similar mechanisms, we could expect greater empowerment of individuals to innovate because they don’t have to build from scratch. That’s the reason Intel is in there with open, modular, off-the-shelf solutions, because we see what has happened in many other industries."
Hunter describes Intel’s recent acquisitions as strategic moves that support its M2M activities. Those include the wireless solutions business of Infineon Technologies AG– now called Intel® Mobile Communications – as well as Wind River Systems and McAfee. Along with Intel’s core processing capabilities, "that all combines to create a very compelling package that is connected, managed and secure," says Hunter.
Currently, as companies realize the opportunities in adding connectivity to stand-alone devices or sensors, they are creating their own solutions, which brings opportunities for innovation but is also expensive. "Intel’s standard playbook is that we look at the market and we try and find a place to encourage platforms from our ecosystem partners that meet the needs of our customers," explains Hunter.
One such solution is the M2M Smart Services Developer Kit recently announced by Kontron and developed in collaboration with Intel. The kit is a deployable Intel® Atom™ processor-based,services-ready system that uses a standard COM Express®-compatible Kontron computer-on-module and includes a M2M system carrier board and an AV board to support headed configuration use. The kit provides simple ‘plug & play’ capability to help designers develop and test their application’s connectivity and performance, then quickly deploy. It supports 802.11a/b/g/n wireless local-area network(WLAN) and 802.15.4 wireless personal-area network(WPAN) for rapid development of wireless connectivity solutions. 3G WWAN is either pre-installed or easily enabled by dropping in a pre-certified PCI Express 3G/4G module for further broadband connectivity. The Kontron M2M System is preloaded with a 90-day free trial of Wind River Linux 4.1 and includes a Wind River LiveUSB drive that provides the software stacks and drivers to support immediate wireless connectivity testing.
"Designed as a production-ready solution that helps to accelerate smart services deployment opportunities, Kontron is simplifying M2M application development by providing connected computing M2M intelligent devices based on Intel® architecture, as well as the infrastructure building blocks to enable M2M technology data from the point of collection through the cloud to the point of aggregation and decision," said Dirk Finstel, CTO of Kontron. "The Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit works out-of-the-box, and its extensive capabilities allow the developer to test the smart services application in a connected environment that will be similar to an actual deployment."
Extensibility a key consideration for M2M designs
While today’s M2M device developers may be considering low-end processors and single-purpose operating systems to meet basic product needs, they may find themselves pushed into extensive redesigns if they don’t look ahead to future requirements. Hunter sees the systems in the M2M space moving from single-device, single-purpose to single-device, multiple-purpose. As the market continues to evolve and as the cost to incorporate connectivity continues to fall, he expects to see more general-purpose operating systems in those devices, managing multiple applications and standard protocols for I/O and security – which may require a more robust compute engine.
There may also be requirements for real-time analytics, especially in supervisory, control and data acquisition(SCADA)applications in which large amounts of data are being collected but may not need to be constantly transmitted. If those types of systems evolve to manage video transmissions, site security or other applications, they’ll require a general-purpose processor and operating system. Hunter anticipates that many M2M devices will quickly evolve as users find new ways to apply them – and the limiting factor could be compute power. "That’s why we see Intel relevant in this space," says Hunter, "because we have compute cores that start fairly low and go into fairly significant in terms of compute power."
Cheryl Berglund Coupé is editor of EECatalog.com. Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review, and Windows Developer’s Journal. She has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. Berglund Coupé has held a variety of production, technical marketing, and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.