Remember when wireless technology meant a doctor with a pager or a high-priced lawyer with a cell phone the size of a shoebox? So much has changed since then, with thousands of new devices, more powerful networks, and faster and faster data transmissions. The wireless industry has put cell phones in the hands of six of every seven people on the planet, even as two-way radios have improved and expanded their own loyal following. So what’s next? It’s machines talking to machines.
The Next Frontier for Wireless Technology
The next frontier in wireless communication is machine-to-machine (M2M) technology that links machines with other machines using wireless connections that transmit useful data in real time, so humans can act on it and learn from it. M2M has applications in a myriad of industries, including petrochemical, energy, agriculture, healthcare, retailing, and more.
Imagine a giant fertilizer bin. To find out how much fertilizer is inside, someone climbs up the side, bangs on the metal, and listens for the echo. Based on that less-than-scientific reading, someone else calls a supplier and asks for a delivery. But what if there was a sensor in the bin constantly transmitting the level to the supplier?
M2M technology is already being used to monitor electricity transmission, traffic signals, high-speed trains in Japan, and in the familiar RFID tags attached to so many products. Other applications for M2M technology include:
- Supply chain management
- Factory automation
- Remote control access
- Logistics management
- Building automation
- Video surveillance
Among the benefits seen are improved quality of service, cost-effective preventative maintenance, faster responses to trouble, centralized service support and data management, and reduced downtime.
Who’s interested? AT&T for one. It says, “Machine-to-machine (M2M) applications are doing more than just monitoring the status of remote assets and equipment. They’re gathering real-time data from millions of connected machines—whether tractors, medical devices, vending machines, or storage tanks—and translating it into meaningful information for quick decisions, automated actions, and strategic analytics.”
Why is M2M so hot now? It’s about money, said Kim Pearson, CEO of New Boundary Technologies. “It’s not that these types of remote monitoring and control solutions haven’t been desired for a long time,” notes Pearson, “but rather that it really has taken years for the costs of devices, networks, and data transmission to drop low enough for the implementation to make sense.”