December 2004

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M2M Expo Europe
shows how technology changes the way business is done

Steve Whitehead, Comtech Holdings Ltd


Steve Whitehead
 Technical Director,
 Comtech Holdings Ltd

October 26th-28th 2004 saw the European Machine-to-Machine M2M Expo co-located with BuilConn in Brussels. This is the second time that these technologies have been brought together following the successful conference in Dallas during April 2004.

As building technology focuses on IP connectivity within buildings, M2M extends to monitoring any asset, anywhere to provide seamless integration with central IT systems without any human user intervention. Public wireless networks such as GPRS and GSM are therefore fundamental conduits for transporting "machine" information.

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The M2M Expo saw a strong presence from both Vodafone and Orange, with heated debate on the role of the Operator within M2M. Orange favouring an active role within the value chain through M2M Connect middleware and partnerships with GSM/GPRS module suppliers. Whilst Vodafone prefer to focus on "the plumbing" and delivering network services suited to M2M at the appropriate lower data tariffs. Interestingly, Jeremy Flyn Head of Commercial Partnerships, Vodafone, commented that the GPRS network was the network of choice for M2M applications.

Device enabling technologies was a particular focus. Sony Ericsson had a strong presence as a Gold sponsor where Anders Franzén, Corporate VP for Sony Ericsson's M2M com business unit delivered a keynote speech discussing wireless enablement at both device and mobile user levels. Recognising that device enablement is an element of the complete solution, Sony Ericsson invited Comtech Holdings an M2M Solution Provider and TrakM8/IPL who are telematics focussed to demonstrate and present enabling solutions at the end-to-end system level.

Key elements of the end-to-end system include:
Device enablement - intelligent connectivity of machines to the network and end-to-end systems.
The Network - a conduit to connect remote machines and central management systems.
Middleware - communication level management to route and buffer data between remote machines and central management applications.
Management Applications - standalone or enterprise applications for managing the network of remote machines autonomously.

As a result, M2M solution providers often build broad alliances and focus in vertical market applications to build the complete solution. However, Comtech Holdings have adopted a broader approach by enabling OEM's and Systems Integrators to build end-to-end systems across many diverse markets.

Many presentations and background discussions were centred on partnerships. Interestingly, two types of discussions were apparent:

  1. Complete solutions - where solution providers were looking to migrate further up the value chain to deliver a more complete solution to their customers.

  2. Core focus - where solution providers had already developed the end-to-end system out of necessity for their customers, but would prefer to focus in specific core areas such as the application and associated services.

The key challenge appeared to be resolving if companies were really competitors or ideal partners. It will be interesting to see how partnerships evolve following on from this event.

In addition to the technology discussions and presentations, necessary focus was also provided on the business case for adoption. Robin Duke-Woolley, E-principles, a leading ICT analyst, commented that delays in adoption were as a result of lengthy trial phases to prove the Return on Investment (ROI) and business case. He mentioned that M2M projects are likely to succeed if an ROI can be achieved within 6-months. However, projects were susceptible to failure if the ROI extended beyond 18-months.

contemporary Solution Providers such as Comtech have created M2M solutions suited to rapid deployment where it is important for companies to prove business models and technology fast. Having proven the business case and technology, costs can be reduced and the design optimised through higher integration over time. The key to success is for companies to identify the core problems where a simple solution holds the most value. This enables all the stakeholders including internal management and end customers to understand the benefits and support large-scale deployment beyond the initial trials.

There are many compelling business cases for adoption from simple warning of alarm conditions through to autonomous integration with enterprise systems for highly efficient operations. However, the consensus from all the M2M industry commentators such as e-principles and Harbor Research is that the greatest value of M2M comes through service. In essence, changing the fundamental way in which companies do business from traditional product sales to on-going service. An example is to migrate to leasing products by wrapping up maintenance into the product offering and charge on a subscription basis.

The true potential for M2M is largely yet to be realised, as companies move from simple device enablement through to service.

During his key note speech in describing IT as the "new utility", John Baekelmans Director, Cisco drew analogies with Henry Ford, who is reported to have said

"If I had asked them what they want, they would have said faster horses."

This is true for M2M, where the landscape of many industries will be changed forever, with the greatest benefits going to those early adopters that realise the visions that M2M enables.

About the Author

Steve Whitehead holds the position of Technical Director at Comtech Holdings. He joined as a Field Application Engineer in 1993, when Comtech operated as a Semiconductor Representative, providing in-depth technical support to OEMs across many markets. Having recognised that many OEMs did not have expertise at chip-level in adding communications to their equipment, he was instrumental in migrating Comtech to a design and manufacturing, M2M communication product-based company. His key responsibilities include product definition, systems architecture design and Comtech's Machine-to-Machine (M2M) strategy.

Prior to working for Comtech, he spent 10 years as a communication design engineer with Gandalf Data Communications, Tech-Nel Data Products and GEC Telecommunications. He is a Chartered Engineer with the I.E.E and gained a 2:1 honours degree in Electronics at U.M.I.S.T in 1983.


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