Why M2M makes sense for industrial systems: Q&A with Mike Ueland, VP and General Manager, Telit Wireless Solutions North America
Everyone in the cellular market is getting into the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) act, enticed by the potential for lower costs and increased efficiencies. Mike outlines the considerations for choosing which network technologies to use in M2M designs and explains how the higher speeds and data transfer capabilities offered by these technologies can improve remote monitoring in industrial applications.
IES: What is the market outlook for M2M, and how is its growth increasing demands on M2M modules?
UELAND: The M2M industry has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years, and this rapid expansion of the market is not expected to slow anytime soon. According to Beecham Research, the M2M market grew 26 percent from $700 million to $883 million in 2010, and the firm anticipates the same 26 percent volume growth will occur in 2011. From 2011 to 2015, Beecham estimates a 27.2 percent growth rate for the industry.
In terms of the number of M2M connections, Juniper Research has predicted that the number of embedded module devices will reach about 412 million globally by 2014. Other analyst firms have quoted more conservative numbers, claiming that the approximately 71 million M2M connections in 2009 will grow to about 225 million in 2014. Regardless of the disparity in these predictions, no one can deny that M2M is going to be a large part of our technological future, and the market is quite far from reaching maturity, especially in North America.
Industrial M2M applications are poised to grow at a rate similar to the overall market, with volumes increasing by 26 percent through 2015 as companies continue to deploy remote monitoring solutions to increase efficiencies and cut costs in managing industrial assets and systems.
While M2M presents a compelling business case that has spurred this accelerated adoption, the engagement of major cellular characters in the market has played and will continue to play a large role in the growth. As the number of M2M connections eclipses the number of cellular voice subscriptions – a market that is nearing saturation – network operators are seeing a revenue opportunity in M2M and dedicating resources to help application developers get their devices to market quickly.
As carriers have a larger stake in the M2M market, their own interests in network efficiency will be a guiding force in evolving module technology. Though most current M2M applications only require a 2G network speed for transferring small bits of data, some carriers prefer these applications to run on their 3G networks and encourage designers to work with modules that are compatible with this newer technology.
IES: What are the main factors designers must consider when selecting cellular hardware for industrial systems?
UELAND: As industrial M2M applications are often put under great environmental stress, designers will typically need to choose a rugged hardware solution that can withstand harsh conditions, operate within an extended temperature range, and resist shock and extreme vibrations. If a module fails under these conditions, replacement can be expensive, and the temporary loss of connectivity for the monitoring solution could be even more costly, especially if something goes wrong and immediate intervention is necessary.
Not limited to industrial applications, all M2M design decisions are ultimately centered on the choices of carrier and cellular network, which are determined by the geography and data requirements of the deployment (see Figure 1).
IES: What are the benefits of implementing cellular technology versus other wireless technologies in industrial applications?
UELAND: The inherent benefit of cellular technology is the existence of established, ubiquitous networks over which to send data. The widespread coverage of cellular networks allows for reliable connections across North America and internationally for global companies, providing the option of mobility for tracking assets during transport.
For fixed industrial assets, organizations can leverage these dependable, proven cellular networks and maintain cost efficiencies. With the rapid expansion of the M2M market and the introduction of new cellular technologies, module prices, especially at the 2G level, have sharply decreased. Combined with the economies of scale for large deployments, these lower hardware costs make cellular M2M a viable option that can be easily integrated into existing systems.
IES: What is the value of continuing to invest in maturing communications technologies like GSM/GPRS, as well as integrating newer technologies such as LTE?
UELAND: While consumer cellular devices such as mobile handsets have a short lifespan of 18 to 24 months, industrial applications are generally intended to last 10 to 15 years. To extend an application’s lifespan, it’s crucial to understand the technology roadmaps for both network operators and hardware providers.
As previously mentioned, some carriers are pushing customers to use 3G modules for M2M designs and rolling out new network technologies like LTE. For industrial applications, however, the minimal data requirements make 2G GSM/GPRS or CDMA/1xRTT networks the optimal platform on which to deploy these devices. Carrier selection therefore becomes an integral decision in planning for an application’s lifespan, as some operators plan to provide 2G network support for at least another 10 years.
If the chosen carrier supports a 2G application, there is more to consider than just the technical difference from 3G. Deploying a GSM/GPRS or CDMA application results in significant cost savings. Furthermore, a 3G module might cost more than a 2G module, and several design considerations must be taken into account, including the number of frequency bands and additional band support.
As newer technologies roll out incrementally, they work their way to the ubiquitous geographic coverage offered by older networks. The 4G LTE network, for example, will take at least another three years to reach the equivalent coverage level of today’s 3G coverage and even longer to be on par with 2G/2.5G. For applications that require a constant, reliable connection, the LTE solution must include some combination of older network technologies such as GSM, GPRS, EDGE, HSPA, or UMTS as fallbacks. Figure 2 shows the Telit HE910 module, which offers 2G and 3G coverage and thus allows companies to launch M2M applications without the need for regional variants.
IES: How are advances in network and module technology enabling new types of industrial applications?
UELAND: New network technologies mean higher speeds and data transfer capabilities, and the most significant new function of this technology for industrial applications is the capability of streaming video.
Visually monitoring remote industrial sites can be crucial. With advanced cellular technologies, companies can offer remote video surveillance solutions with fast, real-time transfer capabilities to ensure that water systems, pipelines, and power facilities, for example, are secure against theft, vandalism, and tampering.
Video capabilities are additionally valuable for remotely monitoring sites with a significant environmental impact. For oil fields and gas lines that require careful attention and immediate response in the event of a dangerous incident, a video-streaming M2M solution could save a company millions in fines for environmental violations and protect the surrounding area from detrimental repercussions.
Telit Wireless Solutions North America 888-846-9773 •