One of my favourite types of blog posts are the ones with titles like “10 things that [fill in the blank] won’t tell you”. These posts tell things that this entity (whether it be a company, profession or service provider) doesn’t want you to know. It may be that they are overcharging for things and you can find alternatives for much less.....it may be that there are future issues that you are not aware of which will either cost you a lot of money or will lock you into proprietary solutions without your knowledge ...or it may be that they are “selling things” that you do not need.
While I am not going to write an expose on the M2M space here, I wanted to write a post that helps customers get accurate information to make the proper decision when it comes to their M2M needs.
In this blog post, I offer my opinion on many different topics, and some of them won’t sit well with some people. These are opinions after 15+ years of selling exclusively M2M, so I have seen a lot and sold hundreds of millions of dollars in M2M. There is a chance that your product/service can help with some of the issues that I am pointing out, and that is great. However, these are issues that customers see EVERY DAY, so they are things that they need to know about, even if it is only to know how great your product is, as you solve the issues for them.
Item 1 - “You need to use LTE for M2M”
I've heard this one a lot.....”the salesperson said that I should use the latest LTE modem for my solution”. In some cases, this is indeed correct and great advice, such as if you were deploying an application that could use the extreme speeds offered (such as remote video). However, the vast majority of M2M solutions can use HSPA (or even GPRS, for that matter) as its main solution with little or no drop in performance. One concern with some of the slower speeds is network latency, so if your application is very network sensitive, you may wish to move to LTE for that reason alone. Another concern may be how long the network technology may be supported for, and this could be a concern for some regions (such as the US) for some 2G technologies.
Item 2 - “Our system is compatible with anyone”
I hear this one a lot from vendors, and again, in some cases, there may be some truth to this. However, more often than not, it is a bit of salesmanship going on. Most M2M software solutions are not all that easy to get to work with hardware that is not made by the manufacturer, so be careful here. As well, it can take a lot of trial and error to get new devices to talk to many M2M systems, especially those that monitor the health of devices.
Item 3 - “It is best to use a single SIM for the world”
World-wide single SIMs are all the rage now....and, I can see why. Who would not want to use a single SIM for all of their world-wide deployments? However, as pointed out in a blog post by my business partner, there are some issues here. The main one is support....who takes responsibility when a US carrier provides a SIM that is used in Latin America?
Item 4 - “Our product never has to be touched”
Over the Air (OTA) functionality on M2M devices has come leaps and bounds over where it once was. It is now to the point where most functions that used to have to be done via a wired local connection can be done remotely. However, you need to use caution with some updates....if a device fails an over the air firmware update, there is a chance that it will not come back online itself (Note to vendors....I know that your product is designed to ALWAYS revert to the old firmware and your product NEVER locks up this way....keep in mind, I have been doing this for a long time, and have taken calls when your product that is NEVER supposed to lock up....well, it locked up!).
Item 5 - “You can load our client onto any device without issues”
I hear this one a lot....it generally comes from companies who create M2M software management services. Some of these software packages do not use a client on-board the device. However, this makes me wonder....how much information can you gather on the device this way? But, when you add a client on-board a device, you bring a whole new level of issues into the situation.....will the client interfere with any tools that are used to manage the device? ... Will there be any warranty issues? Yep, some hardware vendors will VOID the hardware warranty if you load a third-party management client on-board.
Here are the remaining 5 things that many in the M2M space may not want you to know....
Item 6 - “You can use our product to avoid network certification”
This one tends to come up most often when people use products such as MultiTech’s Socketmodem. These products are a hybrid between using a cellular modem and a cellular module. The idea is that these products can be mounted onto your system board (like a module) at the time of manufacture, and offer a lot of the functionality (and certifications) of a cellular modem. While the product may be a fair amount more expensive than using a module, it’s important to keep in mind that you may be able to reuse the PTCRB/carrier certifications that this product has been given to fast-track your product to market. However, some customers have found out that this is not always fully true.....The certification that this product has undergone is based on using a certain setup, so you need to ensure that you are using a similar setup to what was tested....otherwise, you may have to undergo SOME certifications on your own. As well, some cellular carriers still demand some testing before equipment using these devices can be activated onto the network.
Item 7 - “We can drop our data right into any ERP application”
Like many people in this space, I have sat through hundreds (if not thousands) of M2M product presentations. As a salesperson, I always knew that I was being “sold” by the person up there....they are going to put their product in the best light, to ensure that they remove any obstacles to using what they are selling. One line that I love (and have heard a lot, actually) is, “our product drops information right into SAP/Oracle”. Right…it just drops in, with no issues? The fact is that SAP/Oracle are very complicated systems, and while many software packages can minimize much of the impact/workload to do this, it still will be a major undertaking to integrate data efficiently. I doubt that this little bit of work would scare off any SAP/Oracle customers, as it probably was quite the “bear” to get this product working in the first place!
Item 8 - “Our product easily passes back and forth between cellular and satellite”
I can imagine the email that I am going to get here.....“But Larry, we have been doing this successfully for years, I don’t know what you are talking about.” Sure, I am not saying that it cannot be done... in fact, this should be relatively easy to do. Really, all you need to do is monitor the RSSI level of the cellular connection and when it gets down to a certain point (or cannot connect at all), the device switches the connection over to the satellite connection. And.....when the device again receives the proper level of cellular signal, the device reverts back to the cellular connection. As well, many devices offer the ability to “application-filter”, meaning that the device has the intelligence to recognize on its own that the desired connection is too slow/costly to allow for certain kinds of applications to be used (such as email/video) and will only allow for vital applications to be used over satellite (such as emergency alarms and location data).
However....I have YET to see a product (out of the box) do this. Sure, some products do allow for scripting to do this, and some products do a decent job making the switch most of the time. However, more often than not, the device seems to be on satellite WAY TOO OFTEN, even when there is sufficient cellular coverage. As well, most boxes do not have the intelligence to application filter all that well (at least not standard modems) and require a software based solution (such as NetMotion) to properly application filter based on network.
Item 9 - “You NEED to use Static or Private IP on your solution”
Ok, before I get hollered at by every carrier on the planet, there is a lot of value to these two offerings. Static IP addressing is much more reliable than most DNS services to being able to locate your remote devices (and to perform a Mobile-terminated connection). Private IP addressing offers a lot of security benefits (as traffic does not transverse the Internet) and it also can protect against unnecessary spikes in data costs by limiting/eliminating attempts at pinging/hacking the device (as you cannot attack what you cannot see).
However, not every solution NEEDS to use one of these services, and here is why:
Item 10 - “You should always build your own box”
Here is a great rule....if you ever hear someone say, “You must always use [fill in the blank] product in the world of M2M”, it may be a good idea to go somewhere else. M2M is such a widespread field, that no product, service or application can possibly meet all customer needs. At Novotech, we carry dozens of M2M products, and even we find ourselves searching for the best M2M solution to help our customer.
This statement often comes from resellers of cellular modules, and to quote an old colleague, “if all that you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The salesperson is selling what they have available to them. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many cases when it makes sense to build a customized piece of M2M hardware. It may be that you simply cannot find a product that you need....or, that you are building a very large volume of products....or, that you have a lot of internal expertise / available resources to handle design, testing and certification requirements. For many customers, however, it often makes sense to look at using someone else’s products, especially before larger volumes ramp up, or to use products such as MultiTech’s socketmodem to ease some of the pain.
At Novotech, we have been doing this for a while, and we are one of the few long-serving companies exclusively dedicated to the M2M space. We like to ensure that our customers have all of the information they need, and that they get the M2M products/services that truly work best for them. This means that you need to cut through the BS, and ensure that the customer knows all of the facts....
As always, let Novotech know how we can help with your M2M needs, such as modem selection. Browse our website @ www.novotech.com. As well, feel free to reach out to me directly ....larry(@)novotech.com. You can also follow us on Twitter (@NovotechM2M) and you can follow me personally as well (@LBNovotechM2M).