Last week Cisco predicted that worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 26-fold between 2010 and 2015, reaching 6.3 exabytes per month. That’s 6.3 billion gigabytes. Fine-tuning its predictions, the company said that mobile network-connected tablets will generate 248 petabytes (millions of gigabytes) each month while machine-to-machine (M2M) traffic will reach 295 petabytes per month.
Machine-to-machine traffic? What’s that? While everyone who works in IT is responsible in one way or another for helping bits and bytes move from person to person, there’s an entirely separate but parallel world where gadgets report data back to central data collection locations with no human intervention. Some examples: smart electricity meters, surveillance cameras, vital sign monitoring devices, electronic highway signs and billboards, even automotive monitoring devices that can detect if a car is speeding as it drives from point A to point B.
All of this data moves either inbound to the place where it can be analyzed and acted upon or, in the case of those highway signs or mobile device management, outbound to the endpoint. Most of it moves wirelessly through increasingly sophisticated and long-range wireless networks, such as WiMax or even regular cellular networks.
There’s Money in Bandwidth
M2M is attracting attention because it can be wildly profitable. As this GigaOM article explains, carriers can mark up M2M data transfer in remarkable ways. For instance, AT&T is working on an electronic pill bottle that can ping patients when it’s time to take a pill, or text notifications to a caregiver. The cost of the pill bottle: $10. The cost for the service plan: $15 a month. That’s $15 for about 20’s worth of data, and a much better deal for AT&T than the money-losing process of letting people download entire movies to their smartphones.
M2M goes back to the first implementations of GM’s OnStar service, which enticed consumers to pay for what was essentially augmented cellular service. Now all mobile providers are working with hardware and chip companies to build SIM card-equipped gadgets and networking devices that can enable all sorts of M2M ideas.
Getting involved in M2M takes some work. Job listings tend to be full of buzzwords that you’ll have to embrace. You’ll see ARM (Automatic Meter Reading), telemetry, telematics, Smart Grid, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), and more. You can search job listings on any of these words to turn up positions that touch on the M2M future.
If you want to sound smart, tell your colleagues that what’s going on is the shift from the Internet of people to the Internet of things. We used to joke that one day every toaster would have its own IP address. Now nobody’s laughing – certainly not college kids who arrive freshman year to discover that every washer and dryer on campus reports its current availability to the college network.
The possibilities, as they say, are endless, and anyone with a solid background in networking and/or telecom can explore them. Smart pill bottles may not be the sexiest technology invention of the decade, but if they end up generating huge profits, they’ll be plenty sexy enough.
— Don Willmott