Jul 22 2009

Rise of Machine-to-Machine Communications

Like all emerging technologies, the definition of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications continues to evolve. Also known as "embedded wireless" or the "Internet of things," M2M communications refers to the wireless transmission of data between remote devices and application servers, usually via commercial cellular networks. Today, millions of M2M applications are being used by the public sector organizations such as utilities, law enforcement agencies, fleet operation, public works departments and environmental protection.  

M2M applications are being used to collect and transmit information over wireless networks to automate and streamline many processes. Public agencies are using M2M applications to monitor metering of  electricity and water consumption, manage landfills, monitor paroled offenders, manage fleets of cars, trucks and buses, remotely monitor critical infrastructure such as pump stations and generator sets, and control valuable assets such as heavy machinery and construction equipment.

M2M applications are helping public agencies reduce expenses, streamline operations, comply with laws and mandates and, in general, make better use of tax payer money by doing more with less.

Today, more than 6 million M2M devices are at work in the United States. In the next few years, this number will grow to an estimated 200 million devices with more than half of them being used by the public sector. M2M applications not only help state and local governments improve efficiency and cost savings but also deliver tangible benefits in the areas of public health and safety. For example, innovative M2M technologies can monitor school bus speeds and locations to keep children safe, and GPS fleet management solutions can optimize the operation of vehicle fleets to reduce green house emissions.

Many public transit fleets already use onboard M2M systems to transmit location, journey time, load and other data to a central dispatch, routing or logistics center to improve fleet management. Buses equipped with sensors and GPS data constantly update centralized servers with their location, average speed, number of passengers and weight data to the central systems. This enables them to predict the time of arrival at any point along a route or send alerts about the capacity available on the bus for passengers. M2M communications can also transmit this information to electronic signs and cell phones, providing transit riders with precise information about arrival time and capacity for the next bus or train.

"Smart" electric and water meters can regulate consumption by integrating customer demand with internal billing and service provisioning systems. They can transmit usage data to remote locations, eliminate meter readers and improve billing accuracy and efficiency. From landfill emissions to remote monitoring, M2M technology can continuously measure conditions and alert operators to anomalies.

Law enforcement agencies are using wireless GPS tracking "bracelets" to monitor paroled offenders. Geofencing can alert law enforcement authorities when a paroled offender enters a hotspot such as a school or a playground. As a result, low-risk offenders can still be monitored on a continual basis without the need for holding them in expensive, overcrowded jails.

M2M services are going to change the way public, commercial and even consumer sector services evolve over the next few years. Network and device costs, reliability of services and a wide cross section of applications to address specific needs are fueling this growth.

M2M communications can measure, track and monitor status in real-time, thereby improving efficiencies, reducing costs and providing a true value. For a successful M2M implementation and to reap the true benefits of the technology, it is important to work with application providers who understand your specific need and can provide a one-stop solution for an integrated wireless application. Ensuring that you have a firm understanding of your operational goals up front will also help achieve a successful service delivery.

Tony Tarsia is director, business development, public sector for KORE Telematics. He has more than 24 years of experience selling and marketing information technology products and services for the wireless and government markets. He can be reached at ttarsia@koretelematics.com