Machine-to-machine communication reaching tipping point - report

By Graeme Burton
29 Apr 2012 View Comments
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Services from healthcare to energy will change over the next decade as machine-to-machine communication facilitates more sophisticated automation.

The shift will be led by a combination of improved network communication, smaller and lower cost embedded devices and the development of common standards.

Further reading

However, privacy, security and the risk of network congestion will need to be overcome, while technology standards and streamlined regulations are also a prerequisite.

These claims are made in a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), entitled Rise of the Machines. It is based on interviews with technologists across industry, including Dean Keeling, director of smart homes at British Gas; Richard Hutchinson, general manager of usage-based insurance at Progressive Insurance; and Marc Sauter, head of global M2M business development at Vodafone. The report was sponsored by software vendor SAP.

Machine-to-machine communication, also known as "the internet of things", is where a device (such as a sensor or meter) captures an "event" (such as temperature or inventory level), and then relays it through a network to an application. This translates the captured event into meaningful information (for example, items that need to be restocked).

3G and 4G mobile technologies have helped bring almost ubiquitous network access for devices, as well as lower costs and faster data communications; while the price of the appropriate sensors, microprocessors and wireless technologies has also dropped dramatically, in many cases to little more than a pound or two.

However, there is still a considerable amount of experimentation on the technologies that needs to be done by both vendors and end-user organisations, as well as work in thrashing out open standards to guarantee interoperability.

One of those standards might be message queuing. Using the open-source advanced message queuing protocol (AMQP) as a transport mechanism for data communications, for example, Smith Electric Vehicles can send millions of items of telemetry data from its vehicles all over the world back to its datacentre in Washington, Tyne & Wear, in the UK.

The advantage of using message queuing for such an application is the guaranteed delivery of the message, even if network availability fails.

"The early adopters are starting to come forward with the success of their deployments, and many of them have a complete return on investment within two years," said John Keough, a machine-to-machine analyst at Yankee Group.

Other analysts suggest that the market for machine-to-machine devices will boom over the next decade. Machina Research is forecasting market revenues of €714bn (£580bn) by 2020, a near-eight-fold increase from €91bn (£75bn) in 2010.

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