Look around you for a second and count the number of electronic devices, machines and gadgets. All of them -- light bulbs, cars, TVs, digital cameras, refrigerators, stereos, cranes, beds – will be connected to the Internet over the next 15 years, if they aren’t already.
Farmers will connect their livestock, machinery and fields through sensors. Medical practitioners and patients, fitness fanatics and those of us that require greater encouragement, will be monitored for everything from our heart rates to glucose levels to the special needs of pregnancy.
This is the potential of the “Internet of Things”: billions and billions of devices and their components connected to one another via the Internet. 50 billion devices by 2020, according to companies like Ericsson. The “Internet of Things” will radically alter our world through “smart” connectivity, save time and resources, and provide opportunities for innovation and economic growth.
The basic building block of the “Internet of Things” is machine-to-machine communication (M2M), devices equipped to communicate without the intervention of humans. The trends are already visible: Internet-connected TVs are now widespread; eBook readers must have a Wi-Fi or 3G connection; smart electricity meters have already become standard in many countries. More often than not, however, M2M is hiding in plain sight: information terminals in trains and buses, traffic lights and bicycle sharing systems, like the ones in Paris and London.
This new “Internet of Things” is the subject of a new OECD-report, “Machine-to-Machine Communication: Connecting Billionsof Devices”, and examines:
1. New Technology: the drivers behind connecting devices to the Internet
2. New Markets: user and business demands, and whether they are being effectively met
3. New Policies: what governments can do to promote this new source of growth
- The Internet of Things is enabled by ever cheaper communication modules, new innovations and applications of existing technology and the fact that the Internet has become available almost anywhere that people are.
- M2M is very different from traditional telecommunication. It does not need a human to start or stop a communication. As a result it has the same economical life span as the product in which it is embedded (10 years for consumer electronics, 15 years for cars, 30 years for smart meters). It can process extremely low data volume or very high amounts.
- Different networking technologies can be used to connect M2M devices, depending on the amount of mobility needed and dispersion over an area. 2G/3G/4G mobile wireless is, however, often an ideal technology for most applications.
- SIM-cards could become the standard for authentication to use networks, as this removes or reduces the need for human interaction. Devices can be connected straight from the factory.
Table 1. Machine-to-machine applications and technologies, by dispersion and mobility
Application: smart grid, meter, city
Technology Required: PSTN, broadband, 2G/3G/4G, power line communication
Application: car automation, eHealth, logistics, portable consumer electronics
Technology Required: 2G/3G/4G, satellite
Application: smart home, factory automation, eHealth
Technology Required: wireless personal area (WPA), networks, wired networks, indoor electrical wiring, Wi-Fi
Application: on-site logistics
Technology Required: Wi-Fi, WPAN
- M2M creates a new player in the mobile market: the “million device” user. These new large scale M2M users will potentially manage hundreds of thousands of smart meters, cars, and consumer electronics, possibly in higher numbers than some countries have citizens.
- Large scale M2M users may offer their services in 10s to 100s of countries, selling the same devices globally. Their customers may buy the devices abroad and travel with them. As a result, manufacturers need to offer international connectivity solutions. The telecommunication industry, however, is still largely organised and regulated on a per country basis. Large M2M users will thus place new demands on telecom companies, and regulation and business models will have to adapt.
- Companies creating innovative M2M-based services are currently locked into 10-30 year mobile data contracts and high roaming fees; this dependency hinders the role out of new services and innovation.
- Governments hold the key to set large scale M2M users free, by giving them access to wholesale markets. They will need to change the rules so that large M2M users can have access to numbers and SIM-cards, just like telecom companies have now. This will open up the market, break lock-ins, make large M2M users responsible for their own innovation and create a competitive market for roaming for M2M services. This liberalisation of the market will be a major paradigm shift, but might by some estimates lead to billions in savings and new services.
- Privacy and security need to be designed into products from the start. M2M could allow a detailed view of people’s lives, and parliaments have already curbed or changed some projects as a consequence. For example, cars are increasingly using onboard M2M services (GM Onstar, Ford Sync, BMW ConnectedDrive) and the European Union is now mandating their own service (eCall) to be built into every car from 2014. Since EU legislation requires telephone companies to record a person’s location at the start of each mobile communication, and since turning a M2M car on will itself start a communication, these companies will be inadvertently tracking the start and end of any trip! The current challenge requires privacy by design, because as this example shows, even if the automobile company does not register the location, the telecommunication company by law will have to.
- Governments have tried to make spectrum policy more flexible in recent years, allowing companies to change networking technologies when new technology becomes available. M2M may rigidify spectrum policy, however, because any time M2M uses a particular networking technology, it expects the spectrum to be there for the lifetime of the device, which is 10 to 30 years. The consumer-oriented wireless technology works on a timescale of a maximum 10 years.
- Countries may run out of phone numbers in their current numbering plans as a result of M2M, because 2G and 3G equipped M2M devices require an E.164 telephone number to work. Only when 4G is used can M2M work with just an IP-address.
- It is unclear which country should issue telephone numbers for any given device. Is it the country that device is used in, the country of the mobile operator, or the country of the large scale M2M user?
- Combining data generated by M2M devices may offer great insights to improve society. Cars could notify local governments of icy roads or bottlenecks in infrastructures. This may not always be seen as positive, however, as shown by a case in The Netherlands where anonymous and aggregated data from GPS-systems was used by the police to identify prime locations for speed cameras, which led to a public outcry.
What is certain from the report is that governments will have to change regulations in the telecommunications market, will have to be vigilant to apply privacy and security regulation and stay innovative to make use of the many possibilities it offers. Doing so promises to transform the economy, promote growth in the telecommunications sector, and produce growth and efficiency savings in government and society.