I was at a dinner party once, and I overheard my wife telling someone that "my husband works in the Machine to Machine space, something to do with modems".  Then it hit me....not everyone knows what M2M is.  Sure, it's in a lot of the technology headlines, and people have probably heard of some of the M2M applications out there (such as Smart Metering), but few people can ever really grasp the idea.  M2M is such a very wide spectrum of applications and technologies....but I am going to give it a shot to simplify it for everyone.

For most people, Machine to Machine communication generally refers to communication that does not involve any human interaction, although this can be deceiving.  Technically, computers talking to each other could be considered Machine to Machine communication, even with a human in front of the keyboard browsing on Facebook!

Here is a better description:  M2M Communication involves the sharing of information between two devices for the purpose of reporting a change in condition of one of the devices, one device controlling the another device , to acquire data from a device or to allow a device access to the Internet that does not normally have it.....here is that explanation broken down:

"Reporting a change in condition"

- This is commonly referred to as "reporting an alarm", as it is similar to a home intrusion alarm activation at a Security monitoring centre.  The device uses a variety of methods (SMS messaging, Internet traffic or the phone lines) to notify a remote device that something has happened that is outside of the normal range.

- This could be an unexpected door opening, an airbag has deployed in a vehicle, a water level is too high or a worker is in an emergency situation.  Whatever the reason, a notification is sent out to another party to alert them of the new situation.

- Many industries use this type of communication, such as Security companies, Fleet Management companies, Construction companies and more.....it crosses over virtually all industries and company sizes.  Feel free to ask me about some ideas for your industry!

"Controlling another device"

- This is someone linked to the first point.....it refers to one device sending instructions to cause another device to perform an action.  It can often be done in response to an alarm being received (such as in the first point), or it can be done as part of some scheduled maintenance or work.

- One example is that an alarm has been received to notify that a unexpectedly high temperature reading is being seen in a refrigerator.  In this scenario, the computer uses M2M to communicate to first receive the alarm, then sends a message to another device (such as a cooling system) to engage to fix the problem (to cool the fridge).  This notification can happen locally (across wired, or radio communication) or can happen a long distance away (through a wired Internet connection, or a Cellular one).

- Industries that may use this solution include Utility companies, Water Treatment plants, Oil and Gas monitoring of Oil wells / pipelines and more.

"Acquiring data from another device"

- This is probably the most commonly known application type in the M2M space.  This refers to how you can use M2M to retrieve information (either on a planned interval, or on demand) from another device.  It is usually for a few different reasons....determining how long something has been running for, pulling information as to the status of a device, and determining the amount of usage of a device (for the purpose of billing) are some common examples.

- Companies use this application primarily for the purposes of increased information flow.  By knowing more about a device's status, you allow yourself to make better decisions in a variety of areas (such as are you maintaining service levels for your customers, do you have to perform maintenance now or can it wait until a quieter time, is your device being used as expected, where is your device now and is it where you think it is, are your employees really where you think they are and much more...)

- Applications in this space are more common to most people and used on a regular basis....they range from GPS Tracking of vehicles, to Automated Metering Reading for your home, to keeping track of inventory at a vending machine to tracking the level of IV in a patient's room.  Again, virtually every industry has some need for an M2M solution of this kind.

Allowing a device access to the Internet that does not normally have it

- This one isn't complicated, but it sounds like "science fiction" to many people.  Most people, when they think of Internet access, think of a laptop, PDA or maybe their new iPad looking up something on Google.  However, millions of devices that are on the Internet include things such as water pumps, garbage cans and traffic lights. Well, they are on the Internet with some help!

- Cellular modems/modules are used by many industries to provide Internet access for devices that normally would not be able to access the Internet on their own.  The modem/module looks after establishing a connection to the Internet, and then provides an easy way for these devices to send information over a cable to the modem, which is "packaged up" by the modem and sent across the Internet.  There is more to it than that....but this is the basic idea.

- Industries such as Oil/Gas, Utilities and Water Treatment plants have been doing this for a couple of decades.....many other industries are starting to use the technology to gather valuable, real-time information from devices in the field that they weren't talking to today.  This helps to reduce downtime, improve service levels, eliminates unnecessary service calls and more....

- A final example is providing Internet access for devices that are often on the Internet during normal use (such as Bank Machines and Point of sale terminals), but are being used in locations where normal Internet connections are not available. This could be in a moving vehicle such as a bus, in a temporary location or in an area that is not serviced by the Internet, such as in some forest/nature areas or new subdivision.  As well, this may include providing a failover access method to the Internet in the event that the main line becomes temporarily unavailable, such as a network outage or natural disaster.  Cellular is often used to provide a backup for important Internet connections such as one that process Financial transactions or monitor key equipment.

Next blog....I will focus more on the Business gains brought to you by M2M.

Thanks for reading...

Larry