Industry Solutions and Trends
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Paul Gainham

Machine to Machine (M2M): Was Metcalfe wrong?

by Juniper Employee on ‎12-13-2011 01:15 PM

Is it me or has the whole debate around Machine to Machine and The Internet of things become almost like a scene from a high end auction room?  It seems as though a number of vendors have gone into chest beating mode in a bid to outdo each other with forecasts that seem to go up in 10’s of Billions of connected devices each time a new one emerges.


“10 Billion, 20 Billion, 50 Billion”. “Sold to the man in the tweed trilby hat”


OK so that’s a little flippant but as an industry we seem to have got ourselves into a ‘feel the quantity, forget the quality’ debate that at best appears shallow and self serving at worst appears to have completely missed a pretty fundamental point.


So, is there a real business opportunity in M2M?


I need a sanity check here – please do comment on my opening views – is it just me?


Simply connecting  50 billion devices does not a business case make!


So, in the M2M stakes, who will the winners and losers be?


At a summary level, I believe there are two potential winners:-


  • Those organisations who can deliver and manage connected, contextual information systems capable of     taking data from thousands or millions of devices and delivering structured,  contextual information from it.


  • Those organisations who can deliver micro embedded security capabilities into end devices

And the losers?


Maybe over simplified but I think it makes a clear point – do you agree?


The whole M2M phenomenon will probably be made up of thousands of different applications covering both the consumer and business markets with one common attribute, there will be a push-pull of data between device to device and device to and from a  ‘central system’.   Once could argue that data itself is worthless – in a business context the real benefit will be accrued once that data is integrated into existing business systems and presented as contextual information from which informed business decisions can be made.  Big Data is already a phenomenon that many enterprises are beginning to battle with, M2M has the potential to multiply that challenge many fold and hence a contextual information approach sat under or within a cloud framework would appear to be a prudent approach.


At a consumer level the ability to collate data from multiple potential sources and deliver that as information conducive to an improvement in lifestyle, almost a ‘connected lifestyle app’ would appear to have legs.  An example could be along the lines of a ‘Digital Butler’ type application that allows me, as an example, to book a table for two at my favourite restaurant. As  it knows I booked that from my office based on location, it signals my car to switch on the heated seat and select my favourite music, switches the heating on within my house, books a taxi to the restaurant knowing the approximate time required and records my favourite TV show whilst out.


Whilst this may seem somewhat farfetched, philosophically we run the risk of ‘digital overload’ as consumers which will only intensify as more devices are connected so those bright people and organisations who can turn that digital overload into a consolidated, lifestyle enhancing benefit could see a world of opportunity develop ahead of them.


I do personally think that digital overload will be a serious challenge to be overcome – be great to hear your views on that.


In previous posts on the subject, I have stated that the new security perimeter is wherever the data is. Based on that, the whole M2M trend poses a number of questions in terms of how do you secure what could now be a myriad of new, compact and often embedded devices unlike anything we may have seen before.  Clearly this will require a re-think from security vendors – traditional hardware and software methods will in the majority of cases no longer be appropriate.  In these cases, and given that the whole benefit of M2M lies in the connected nature of the device, security will have to take on a new form, probably embedded into the micro-processors and Integrated circuits of the devices themselves with the characteristic of ‘enough’ security and marginal power and ‘footprint’ needs.  This will be an area of great opportunity and may well herald a key inflection point in the way that device security is done in the longer term.


And the losers?


It appears many have, quite falsely in my opinion, assumed that the obvious winners from the M2M trend will be the communication service providers.


And yet, perversely, simply adding millions or billions of additional SIM cards or broadband connected devices without any further value add in and of itself will be a self commoditising move that further relegates today’s communication service providers towards a utility, bit-pipe status.  Put simply, there is no inherent value in simple connectivity; indeed bandwidth is already a commodity where price is the only differential lever.


And yet, as with cloud, M2M could be a defining moment for them.


Based on the existing business relationships they have with both consumers and business alike they have the opportunity to seize the moment, not by regressing into walled garden behaviour, but by developing a new breed of what I call ‘Appnet’ type services – services and applications that call on an open network interface to blend the smarts of a front end ‘digital butler’ type application with the inherent knowledge within the networks they own, packaged as a service offer.


In fairness, Metcalfe was right all along, the value of a telecommunications network is the square of the number of connected devices it’s just that value is most often realised by the users and consumers of that network and increasingly less so by the main providers of it.  Maybe M2M could be a pivot point opportunity for CSP’s to try and redress that balance.


This is an area of many opinions and views, please share yours with me. I don’t necessarily have all the answers, just lots of opinions.


Anyway, my trainers have just told me I need to go for a run.....

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