Is Machine to Machine Communication (M2M) Dead?
The Internet of Things or IoT is this notion that everything around us is connected and intelligent. Your coffee maker talks to the cloud which in turn tells it when to start brewing coffee based on when your alarm clock (which also talks to the cloud) is set. But what if your alarm clock just talked directly to your coffee maker? That’s the basic idea behind “machine to machine” or M2M communications which is the latest buzzword everyone’s getting excited about. Just how excited are people getting about M2M? CB Insights uses their powerful artificial intelligence powered “CB Insights Trends” tool to show us:
In the above chart we can see there are several other terms listed alongside M2M; mesh network and telematics. Let’s tuck into all this terminology so we can try to understand this space and separate the buzzword laden drivel from the tangible technological advances.
What is Machine 2 Machine Communication (M2M)?
The coffee maker talking to the alarm clock is a bit rudimentary. There’s no way you can peddle $500 an hour consulting fees with a technology that is that fundamentally simple. We need to find someone who is making money off of this stuff and see how they describe it. What we found was a company called M2Mi with the “i” standing for “intelligence”. You know how you make money from an acronym? Attach an additional letter to it and call it your own. An “e” is so early 2000s (ebanking, ecommerce, etc.). Typically an “i” or a “v” will work well.
This approach worked well for M2Mi, a company that “pioneered MQTT, and delivered the first M2M and IoT Platform in 2013“. M2Mi or Machine-to-Machine Intelligence Corporation was founded in 2006 to enable organizations to “create value and monetize their connected assets“. That value proposition has managed to secure a very impressive customer list that looks like this:
With high profile customers like that, we’re going to assume that the M2Mi offering is legitimately adding value and that we have some “there” there. We started digging around the M2Mi website for some edification when we came across the following quip:
Some believe in the ‘centric’ approach where devices communicate directly with cloud machines. In this scenario the perimeter of the Platform is well defined and static, and all the value is generated at the core of the architecture. Others, like us at M2Mi, believe in the ‘edge’ approach where some of the intelligence is distributed or decentralized to the edge of the network.
Wait a minute. So is M2M just fog computing or edge computing? We decided to take a closer look at the M2Mi technology platform by going to the page which describes their platform which should answer all our questions:
We’re still not seeing how this differs from IoT so we decided to grab the bull by the horns and go right to IBM in order to find out just what M2Mi is all about. Here’s what IBM lists as “essential information” about the M2Mi platform:
IBM has used the phrase “M2M and IoT” 5 different times which begs the question. What’s the difference between IoT and M2M?
M2M vs. IoT
We’re going to go back to basics here and take the “I” out of “M2Mi” to get back to “M2M” and see how that differs from IoT. We found an article on Automation World which describes M2M as actually being the predecessor to IoT with the distinction between the two being primarily the following:
The two solution types differ in how they achieve remote device access. For example, traditional M2M solutions typically rely on point-to-point communications using embedded hardware modules and either cellular or wired networks. In contrast, IoT solutions rely on IP-based networks to interface device data to a cloud or middleware platform.
So the only difference between M2M and IoT is that M2M communicates like your cell phone does and IoT communicates like your desktop does? Genius. Let’s move on to the remaining terminology and hope that we find something more profound than that behind all this hype.
What is Telematics?
All this AI that Google is using makes their search functionality better and better by the day. Check out how cool their definitions have become:
As cool as that is, the actual definition is extremely vague and we’re surprised to see that this term has been used since the 1970s. It actually peaked in the mid-1990s so now it’s back and greater than ever. We turned to Gartner and Wikipedia and found out these days that typically the term telematics is used in the “context of automobiles” or any other form of vehicle which is also called “vehicle telematics”. So in other words, telematics today refers to connected vehicles that talk to the cloud or each other using cellular networks. Got it.
What is Mesh Networking?
This concept is pretty intuitive. Let’s say you have a WiFI network at a hotel and you need to have connectivity across all floors and inside each room. You can’t just go out and buy 10 routers per floor and run the wiring between them needed to distribute enough signal. That’s not cost effective. What you can do instead is just buy a whole bunch of wireless WiFi routers from a company like Amplifi to create a “mesh” of network connectivity just like you see below:
Now think about the concept applied to automobiles, factory floors, satellites, etc. That’s what mesh networking is.
In conclusion, wouldn’t our findings point to M2M being past the “hype” phase and merely just a way for IoT devices to communicate? Is technology moving so fast now that by the time the public becomes interested and the buzzwords become trendy, the technology is already old school? We’d love for someone to shine some light on what makes M2M so exciting. Is it really as simple as we’ve made it out to be, just a method of communication in the IoT world that uses cellular networks? Or are we incapable of fully grasping the powers of M2M? We’re going to dig into some M2M startups in another article shortly but until then, we’d love for our readers to edify us about what so great about M2M in the comments section below.
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