Positioning M2M solutions to C-suite executives….first up, to the CTO

For many companies, wireless has been the domain of the purchasing department.  When wireless only meant voice, this made sense.  Devices were relatively the same in terms of functionality, and the offering from the carriers was also similar, with features like pooling, device to device calling and simplified billing often being more important than the functionality of the devices and network.With the introduction of smartphones about a decade ago, the IT department started to have more interest in this area.  Devices provided access to Corporate email systems, meaning there was more potential for security issues, so it became imperative that these devices complied with Corporate security policies.  The introduction of wirelessly enabled tablets further pushed this envelope forward allowing some workers to completely abandoned traditional PC devices, so the tablet was the main method of accessing key corporate data such as access to secure documents.So, where has M2M traditionally fit in?  Well, it depends on the company.  For companies who used M2M as part of its data collection network (such as Oil/Gas and Utilities), M2M often fell under Operations for the choice of device and purchasing for the activation.  Traditionally, these devices fell outside of the company's main network and the information was not always effectively shared beyond Operations to other departments such as Customer services and Sales.  For other companies, M2M devices were used in place of traditional landline connections, so the choice of devices and services usually fell under the Telecom department.  Today, M2M devices are considered to be vital devices for many businesses, and as such, are starting to gather more interest right at the top....namely the CTO.

So, why does a CTO want to care about M2M?

M2M devices are being used as primary connection points, even in places where landlines are available.  For many businesses, wireless connections are no longer being used as a back-up to landline, but rather as the primary connection themselves.  This could be in a retail environment, at temporary jobs sites, when work is done on 3rd party premises or for mobile workers.  As such, these devices not only need to provide access to key services but also need to be monitored using traditional IT monitoring tools.  CTOs need to ensure that these devices are using proper authentication, establishing/maintaining secure connections and are providing the uptime that is required for effective remote work.

M2M = Big Data   One of the biggest trends in the entire technology space is Big Data, namely, how does a company collect, secure, analyze and protect all of the data that it receives?  How do you ensure that the data is available to all of those who need it, and packaged in a way that allows key workers to get the information quickly?  M2M is just starting to become a huge generator of Big data.....key information from remote devices is being fed into key systems to allow for better decisions to be made.  This information is key to optimize the Trouble ticketing systems, give sales/CS personnel up to date information for customers or provide key updates for maintenance crews to keep equipment up and running.  Forward-thinking CTOs can use M2M to get the key data that their teams need, when they need it, and deliver it in a way that allows for quick and informed decisions to be made.  So, it is imperative that M2M data can be integrated into payroll, inventory, CRM and billing systems.....no small feat!

CTOs need to do more with less  In a perfect world, all the key systems would be located close to each other and there would be no travel required to support IT systems.  While IP based monitoring systems are great, M2M solutions make them better.  Most IT departments have used Out of Band Management solutions for years to monitor / make changes to key servers.  However, most of this communication is being done over a traditional POTS line.  These lines added a monthly expense and were limited in access speed.  Many forward-thinking CTOs are looking at wireless data solutions for OOB management.  These devices provide a great method of accessing key servers securely while also providing a redundant connection for in-band traffic if the main line were to have issues.  So, two functions with one box, and you only pay for the traffic that you need.  

Going green is also important for CTO  One way that future thinking CTOs are helping the green effort is by using M2M solutions to reduce unnecessary trips out to clients locations.  Besides meaning unwanted downtime, these trips also drive up travel time and increase fuel/vehicle costs.  Instead, they are using M2M solutions to monitor equipment such as vending machines, business-grade photocopiers and kiosks.  Now, when these devices are not working properly or are running low on key consumables (such as printer ink or paper), alerts are sent to key staff to ensure that changes can either be done over the air (such as resets or config changes) or key items are replenished before they run out.  It also means that unnecessary trips to restock items aren't done when machines are used less than anticipated. This means lower travel costs, less unwanted visits and repairs, better uptime and happier customers....going green also saves some "green"!

Compliance made easier....somewhat  For some industries, there is a high level of compliance, whether it be industry-based or from an agency of the government.  Some of these industries include Oil/Gas, manufacturing, Utilities and pipelines.  For the most part, these compliance issues have fallen under the responsibility of the Operations team, and many times, they are often handled using the old stand-by of "pen and paper".  Many industries have started to use M2M to automate many of these processes, whether it is providing usage data, ensuring that key maintenance is done on time or keeping track of the storage levels of key chemicals.  M2M solutions provide a way to reduce the clerical costs, as well as to provide quick information in the event of an audit.

As always, let Novotech know how we can help with any of your M2M needs!

M2M and its importance to the future of wireless

When I first started in the cellular industry in the later part of the 1990s, Machine to Machine accounted for an extremely small part of the overall activations at the carriers and an even smaller portion of the overall traffic.  It was deemed to be "extremely niche" by most industry experts and it was often relegated to back communication channels (such as some of the control-channel based telematics) or legacy data only networks.  

As we moved into the 21st century, M2M data began to pick up steam, based on a few factors that worked in its favour:

  1. Newer network technologies allowed for stable, always-on IP-based connections, allowing M2M solutions to fit easier into existing solutions.
  2. Network latency improved dramatically, improving the performance of many solutions.
  3. Important to some applications, networks gained dramatically in speed with each new version, allowing for an increased amounts of applications that could now make the transition from landline to wireless
  4. Cellular data networks greatly improved their network coverage, allowing for a greater chance of sufficient coverage at the required locations
  5. Finally, the cost per MB of data has dramatically decreased with each new technology, making the business case for M2M much more compelling when compared to the cost of using a legacy landline

 So, just how important is M2M to the cellular industry?  It is important to look at the main sources of growth (whether it be subscribers, data usage or revenue) that the carriers have had over the past few decades:

  1. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, cellular usage was primarily for voice traffic and was limited to a select few (as the cost of hardware and airtime was prohibitive for many consumers).  As the 1990s progressed, the cost of hardware (combined with increased competition among the carriers that drove down airtime costs) made cellular usage by the general public much more affordable.
  2. As we hit the turn of the century, while the growth in voice usage was still climbing, the penetration of cellular phone usage made it more difficult to continue its previous growth rate on voice alone (i.e. most people that wanted a cell phone probably had one).  This was the time that devices such as the Blackberry from RIM came to the forefront.  This move customers from having "one ARPU" stream (one source of revenue, namely voice) to being a "dual-ARPU" (voice and data) customers, dramatically driving up usage and revenue at the carriers.
  3. As we hit the later part of last decade, smartphone sales were hitting their stride just in time for cellular-enabled tablets and laptops (from companies such as Samsung and Apple) came to market.  This provided an increase in data traffic for many customers, although the traffic was not always overly profitable for the carriers, due to competition and the heavy upfront subsidy required to gain new customers.

As we close in on 2013, it is quite likely that the cellular industry may need to find its next area of growth and find it quickly.  Traditional voice-only handset sales/usage are definitely not an area for growth, smartphones still have some sales growth (but a lot of that will be upgrades of existing smartphones) and consumers have not adopted using cellular data on their tablets as well as they might have hoped (with the vast majority of devices being WiFi only).  So, is M2M the next saviour?  Ok, I may be a bit biased, but I think that M2M is going to be a major growth area for a few reasons.

Like the cellular industry, many large technology companies are also looking for their next area of growth, and many of them are focusing in on M2M.  This ranges from large ERP/Business systems providers who are looking at M2M as a way to drive traffic into their "big data" systems.....it might be large infrastructure/integration firms who are looking to use M2M as a backbone for large consulting/management contracts in areas such as smart metering, green energy and traffic management systems.....it might also be large router/gateways companies who see M2M communication as a major growth area, now that the PC market is showing signs of topping out.  The cellular carriers may find themselves with an increased interest from many new players in this space, which will inevitably drive up M2M data traffic.

As the costs of M2M (ranging from hardware to airtime) begin to decrease and the capabilities of cellular networks increases, the business case for adding M2M capability to a device makes much more sense as the cost of ownership is much lower.  At one time, the cost of adding cellular capability to an existing product meant that it often made products uncompetitive versus non-cellular enabled products, made worse when one factored in high costs of deployments.  With module prices only a fraction of what they were even a few years ago, and with cellular data plans being had for as little as $1/month, it makes so much more business sense for manufacturers to add wireless capability to their products.  With more products being available, it is inevitable that they will be used more, driving up data usage.

Aside from costs, one the biggest obstacles in deploying an M2M solution was its complexity and integrating the solution into a company's existing structure.  The introduction of many application enablement platforms has taken a lot of the complexity out of an M2M solution, decreasing its deployment costs and the time it takes to get to market.  For small businesses, the increased usage of these platforms has greatly increased the ability (and lowered the cost) for developers to bring new solutions to market.  It has also lead to the explosion of "M2M in the cloud", greatly increasing the penetration of M2M solutions in this market.  For the larger business/government customers, the use of application enablement platforms have helped in two ways.  First, for customers that are using large scale ERP/Business Intelligence platforms, it is much easier to port the information from the field and directly into these complex (but valuable) systems.  For customers that have a customized platform that they use to run their organizations, these platforms have incredible flexibility that allows for much quicker and less complex deployments.

Finally, the carriers have yet to see tremendous growth from a market that has traditionally not been big users of M2M solutions.  The SOHO (Single user, Home office) and consumer channels are going to see some solutions meant just for them, greatly driving up M2M usage.  For now, most of the usage in M2M space has been focused on basic tracking applications (such as a worried parent using GPS to track the driving of their 18 year old), but this will change as companies (such as Novotech!) launch more consumer oriented M2M solutions.  These solutions will allow for easy monitoring of key items, and the ability to better keep track of key things.

So, yes, I do think that M2M will prove to be a major growth area for the cellular carriers.  It will be counter-balanced by the continued growth in other key areas such as Mobile commerce and increased importance that smartphones/tablets are having in every day life.

As always, let me know what you think of this (and any posting).  You can drop me a note to Larry(@)novotech.com.

M2M in Everyday Life

When I first started focusing on the M2M field many years ago, I found it very difficult to explain to people what I actually did.  When I explained how we facilitated communication from remote assets, it brought on different reactions.  For some, they found it way too difficult to understand, while others must have watched the Terminator series too many times as they started making references to how I was helping the "machines take over".  Back then, M2M communication was slow, had limited network footprints and was expensive (on a per MB basis), so it was limited to industries that had high value assets in the field where wirelines weren't practical (such as Oil/Gas, pipelines and Utilities).

With the improving speed/coverage of today's cellular networks, combined with lower costs, M2M solutions have found their way into everyday life, often replacing solutions that had only ever used landlines.  So, it has made it a lot easier for me to explain to someone what I do for a living.

For this blog, I wanted to take you through a normal work day for an everyday person, and outline many of the ways that M2M solutions are involved in improving businesses, making this more reliable and improving society.

In your home: Many homes today are designed to be "smart homes" in that they allow for automated control of key elements such as your HVAC systems and your swimming pool pumps.  This allows for these items to be controlled remotely using M2M systems.  As well, most regional utility companies have begun the move towards smart grid based solutions, which allows for optimization of the network, as well as finding ways to encourage homeowners to reduce their usage (especially during peak hours).

Starting your car: Before you even leave your house, M2M solutions help you.  If you have an electric car, M2M solutions are used to provide key pieces of information to you, such as the status of your battery.  Many other vehicles, such as GM's On-star, provide diagnostic information about your vehicle, including readings of key items such as the time until your next required oil change or information about key components on your vehicle.

On your drive into work:  Traffic is a nightmare in most cities, and M2M solutions are being used to find ways to reduce long commute times.  First, complicated algorithms are being used to optimize traffic lights and on-ramps on highways to maximize the flow of traffic.  These advanced systems required real-time M2M data to ensure that they are working optimally.  Next, one way to avoid traffic build-up is to alert drivers of issues far in advance, allowing them to choose alternative routes.  Advanced overhead sign systems are using traffic flow data to be able to re-route drivers, helping to reduce traffic snarls. 

Finally, over in different parts of Europe, some of the newer systems are using M2M data to slow down drivers when they get closer to a trouble spot.  The theory is similar to sand flowing through an hourglass in that if you reduce the speed of cars gradually as they approach an accident, the traffic will get through faster (just like how sand poured gradually through the smaller opening gets through faster when it is poured at a gradual pace, as opposed to all at once).

Once in the office: Businesses are doing their best to reduce their carbon footprint for two reasons.  First, it is good for a business to show that they are trying to help the environment.  However, the bigger reason may be that as the cost of energy goes up, companies are watching the bottom line to reduce costs in this difficult economy.  One way that companies are doing this is by using optimized HVAC systems.  These systems work to optimize the heating and cooling systems by up to 12% without affecting the comfort of the occupants.  As well, many companies are finding that it makes sense to lease/rent equipment on a long term basis, or in some cases, to pay for things based on a usage basis (such as photocopiers).  This means that there has been an increase in the amount of devices that are deployed at customer's offices by third parties.  This raises a question.....how does a company communicate with a device that is located on a 3rd party premise when they are not allowed access to the landline Internet connection?  Using M2M, companies are using wireless data to monitor the usage, status and maintenance requirements of remote devices, allowing for a high level of uptime without the need for as many costly on-site visits.  Finally, most advanced businesses are using wireless solutions as a method of providing a redundant connection when their wireline network has issues.

At the mall:  At the end of a long day, you've decided to head to the mall.  When you head into a store, especially a major retailer, it is likely that you are being followed!  Many retailers are using advanced video systems to be able to track how you shop, what path you take, how long you spend at each section and how this differs based on gender, age or any other metric.  Once you buy something, there is a good chance that the retailer's inventory system knows about it quickly, letting it make decisions as to stock replenishment.  Finally, a surprising amount of financial transactions are taking place in shopping centers over a wireless data connection, even when wireline connections are available.  The reason is that many retailers, especially temporary ones or kiosks, find it quicker, cheaper and more flexible to use wireless data for their financial, inventory and other data needs.

Finally, at home again:  You decide to order a pizza to avoid cooking at the end of a long day.  The driver is able to easily find your house on time, as they are using GPS-enabled systems in their vehicle.  As well, you are able to safely pay by credit card at your home, as the pizza chain has deployed a wireless Point of Sale terminal.....two more ways that M2M is used in everyday life!

Let Novotech know how we can help you with any of your M2M needs!

M2M enhances the “Green” in green energy

One of the biggest macro-economic trends out there is the move towards moving from the use of non-renewable sources of energy (namely fossil fuels) to cleaner sources of energy (ranging from wind to solar to hydro-electric and even nuclear).  Besides the obvious reasons (namely that the use of carbon-based fuels can have an impact on our planet), there is a strong economic reason for the change (namely, at some point, we will run out of fossil fuels).

M2M solutions help all areas of green energy, including:

  • Solar Power   M2M solutions are used in both large commercial deployments as well as smaller residential ones to track the amount of energy being generated, as well as to keep track of maintenance schedules and the amount stored in on-site batteries.  In the case of residential units where power is sold back to a municipal power company, many solutions look after determining how much energy is being returned to the grid, and even going as far as collecting the money from the utility on behalf of the homeowner!
  • Wind   M2M solutions are used in a few situations in this space.  First, instrumentation is used prior to the installation of turbines to determine their viability in this location, based on historical wind patterns.  Once installed, one unique way that M2M helps wind turbine deployments is in the use of harmonics.  By detecting a change in tone/pitch of key equipment, companies are able to easily predict possible failures before they happen.  Finally, one unique way that M2M solutions are used is in the control of birds in the vicinity of wind farms.  By detecting the migration path of birds, companies are able to use time “bird avoidance” systems such as water guns to deter birds from flying near wind farms
  • Geothermal / Nuclear / Biomass   M2M solutions are used to provide key information via the “CAP” methodology.  What is the CAP methodology?

CAPTURE - Capturing key pieces of data in the field

ANALYZE - Allowing the data to be organized and analyzed quickly

PRESENT - Presenting the data to allow for informed decisions to be made

M2M plays a unique part in the every day life of green energy, including involvement such as:

  1. M2M solutions are used in the preliminary analysis and deployment of these solutions.  In order to set up any green energy project, a lot of initial work has to be done.  This ranges from site surveys to environmental assessments to on-site visits for key staff.  M2M solutions allow for the retrieval of key information to first determine the viability of such a solution (items such as measuring wind speeds / water flows / amount of sunlight, to tracking migration paths of birds for wind turbines and even determining if there will be sufficient infrastructure to bring in key items for the projects).
  2. Once deployed, M2M solutions are key to “Capturing” key pieces of data.  Through the use of key sensors and on-site networks, technicians are able to capture key pieces of data.  These data components may be as obvious as the amount of electricity being gathered/generated by a particular location, but often range to the more complex.....items such as: time elapsed since the last maintenance, change in harmonics that might signify an issue with a piece of equipment or changes in atmospheric conditions over time that may hurt the overall project itself.
  3. Capturing of data is important.....but only if proper “Analysis” of the data is done to ensure that the data is correct and useful.  Many key pieces of software (such as corporate-grade ERP and SCADA systems) are able to take the information provided by the remote connections and analyze this data.  This analysis might include checking for changes (change in output, change in pH levels and changes in radiation levels are just three of many things it can detect), checking for way to optimize usage or checking for possible failures.
  4. Finally, these solutions can produce tons of data!  In fact, so much data that it is important that companies deploy solutions in a ways that “Presents” the data in a way that allows for quick, yet informed decisions to be made.  There are a few ways that this can be done:
    • Using alert-based systems (such as email, SMS or pagers) to alert key staff of immediate issues.
    • Use of easy to view formats (such as graphs) to allow key staff to easily see trends in key items
    • Integration of key pieces of data into systems used by staff (ranging from providing availability status of pieces of equipment to customer service staff, alerting key remote technicians about problems before they arrive to better prepare them and alerting inventory staff of possible issues to allow them time to bring in key pieces of equipment)
    • Finally, it is often imperative that a company’s customers are able to use these pieces of data.  This means that information often has to be displayed on web pages that allow for consumers to see key pieces of data, such as the amount of energy that they have used in a given period.

Benefits to using M2M for Green Energy Monitoring

  •     Reduced downtime
  •     Improved customer service
  •     Better decision making for your key staff
  •     Improved safety for remote workers
  •     Better usage data = improved maintenance + increased revenue
  •     Lower repair and transportation costs

Let Novotech help you through all of the components that you need to successfully deploy such a solution, ranging from:

  • Components required for communication from remote sites (i.e. on-site sensors/modems, antennas, cabling, cellular activation, local networks and more)
  • Remote management of key pieces of equipment in the field (keeping devices up to data, on-site break/fix services, etc)
  • Application enablement services (these allow you to bring the information back from the field and converted into a format that allows for easy integration into key systems, whether they are large ERP systems or your own customized system)
  • Presentation of your data  (Working with your key people to help to optimize how data is presented, to make sure that it is useful to them)

The gradual elimination of landlines in business: Have you cut the wire yet?

As a child, it was impossible to live without “the wire”, whether this wire was to provide a feed into your television or to allow you a connection to the outside world via your phone.  There was no Internet for consumer use at this stage....yes, I do feel old.

As we progressed into the Internet era, your landline “wire” became all the more valuable as it also often acted as your main connection into the Internet (yes, for those under 30, we used dial-up Internet access).  As we approached the late 90’s, Internet access became more readily available using wireless technology (namely cellular networks for most people, satellite for others), but the speeds were often too slow to allow for any meaningful traffic.......How times have changed!

The wide availability of cellular networks combined with the super high speeds that are available have made it possible to “cut the wire” (meaning to go with wirelessly only connections, even in places where landline might be available).  So.....have you cut the wire yet?  

Advantages to “cutting the wire”

In a perfect world, landline connection could be installed in minutes.  The reality is that while wireless connections can be installed in minutes, landline connections can take many weeks to install.  This downtime costs you and your business money, plain and simple.

If your office/work area is quite small, it is quite feasible that you can have a landline connection moved to wherever you need.  However, if your work location is quite big, traditional landlines can be quite limiting in placement, meaning that it costs you big to have the connection where you want.  For the most part, wireless allows for a much better placement of use, providing that cellular coverage is not an issue.

One of the issues that landline has is that the wire only goes so far and is not very mobile.....Wireless connections allow for usage in many areas, including in a mobile environment.  People are able to bring their connection with them, whether it be to a customer location or even to the cottage when they are “pretending” to be at the office!

Major objections to going wireless:

“Wireless is not fast enough”.....Up until recently, this was a very valid objection.  Many businesses needed a T1 line connection speeds or better, and this wasn’t possible on wireless.  With the widespread introduction of HSPA, and now LTE, speeds on wireless networks often exceed their landline line equivalent, even while mobile.

“The latency is too long”....while this is an area where wireline networks still outperform their wireless counterparts, the latencies on wireless networks have improved dramatically with each new generation.  LTE offers an experience that provides such little latency that it rarely affects applications.

“Wireless doesn’t fit into our network architecture”.  Again, this was a valid complaint for a long time, as monitoring wireless connections was not practical using most Enterprise IT tools.  Now, wireless carriers offer many services to make this happen, including allowing for Network extensions and managed services to make wireless a seamless part of an enterprise network.

“It cost too much”.  Again, from a straight “apples to apples” comparison, wireless is often more expensive than its wireline counterpart.  However, one does need to factor in things such as speed of deployment (wireless devices cuts down deployment time and are more simple to deploy), allow for more flexible deployments (cutting down on expensive on-site connections to the demarcation point) and allow connections to be moved between sites during downtime (reducing the overall number of connections for many customers).

“Wireless is not reliable enough”.  For this statement, one only has to look at the different industries who currently widely use wireless communication as a primary connection.  Wireless connections provide communication for such high-priority assets as:  Oil and gas wells, pipelines, Hydro meters, traffic lights and police cars.  These industries have all done extensive deployments and find that wireless allows them to run their business in a manner that is reliable as landline.

In short, you should feel confident to “cut the wire”!