The internet of things

The evolution of wireless network platforms and enterprise applications have enabled a new surge of interest in machine-to-machine communications. However, there is yet some time to go before it reaches its heyday.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  January 6, 2008

In a future that is nearer than many would have you believe, many of the ‘things' in our everyday life will have a way of communicating to each other. So the fridge will talk to the microwave, the microwave to the nearby toaster and the toaster to the stove. What's more, all of that will be wired to your cell phone to give you updates or raise the alarm if something is wrong when you are away.

In your office, well, technically your office will be your home since you will have completely negated the need for a separate space. Together with your mobile phone and your laptop, you will be able to communicate and do work from almost anywhere, anytime.

Welcome to the internet of things!

The internet of things originally became popular with a report presented at the World Summit on Information Society in 2005 which talks of new technologies that enable a world where most machines in our daily lives will be communicating to each other without direct human interference. In other words, true ubiquitous computing.

M2M is nothing new. But there is a sea change happening in terms of what else an enterprise can do with existing infrastructure.

For years, tech experts have been predicting that soon there will be more machines on the net than there will be humans. Though that has not happened yet, and in all likelihood will not happen for some time, it does not stop vendors and service providers from bringing up a utopian version when asked about machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.

Ask them to define it, and it becomes a completely different ball-game.

"M2M refers to data communications between machines. Like all evolving technologies, its definition continues to evolve. M2M can also mean the family of sensors, middleware, software and applications that help improve efficiency and quality by tying together a myriad of sensors with mission critical applications like asset management, ERP, and CRM," says Samer Karawi, marketing director for the technology solutions group (TSG) at HP Middle East.

For Proxim Wireless, the definition for M2M does not end merely there.

"Our background is in providing data network extensions of fixed cable or inbuilding mobility or of extension of the current network across greater distances. That traditional model of data networking extension is changing all the time because we are all moving more towards an IP-centric architecture for our communications and what we are seeing is that more and more devices are becoming IP based," says Anthony Fulgoni, VP for strategic sales at Proxim.

"M2M is about the ability to add almost anything to a network. The way you would add it to a cable network in the past you would add it to a broadband network today - the way you would have added it to a GSM or cellular network in the past you can add it to an IP based broadband network today," he adds.

Some like Tariq Hassan, senior pre-sales technical architect for the enterprise mobility business at Motorola believe M2M to be a term encompassing and collectively indicating a set of technologies that might have existed already. For others like Fulgoni, M2M is definitely old technology and what has changed is only an enterprise's relative ability to add machines to existing networks.

The various definitions that one comes across is just one indicator of the general confusion that reigns in the area of M2M, which according to some analysts is all set for takeoff. Berg Insight recently predicted that the number of cellular network connected machines in North America alone will touch 66 million in 2011 compared to just about 9 million using both cellular and satellite connectivity in 2006. According to another analyst firm, Harbor Research, there are already 110 million machines or devices in use across the globe which are capable of ‘talking' or communicating with other similar machines.

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