Philippe Guillemette has a mandate to drive common technology platform activities and innovation across all business units. Philippe joined Sierra Wireless in March 2009 from Wavecom, where he had served as Chief Technology Officer since 2003 and Vice President of Marketing since 2005. Philippe joined Wavecom in 1993 and held various positions there, including Vice President of Research and Development, Vice President of Technology, and Director of Software Development. Prior to joining Wavecom, Philippe was a software engineer at Nortel Networks.
The Future of M2M: Getting to the Next Level
Fast forward to the future and imagine this scenario. You get in your electric car to go to the shopping centre. You enter the destination in your navigation system, and noting that your car’s power level is low, it automatically checks the availability of charging stations at the shopping centre, then asks if you would like to book a reservation. When you arrive, your car and the charging station have already negotiated the reservation and verified your identity. You can simply park and begin shopping. You browse some shops and buy a coat at a department store. While paying for your new coat, the cashier points out that your purchase entitles you to one free hour of vehicle charging. She sees that your car is already charging, and asks if you’d like to apply the discount. Next, you stop to get a latte, and receive an alert on your smartphone that your car is fully charged and ready to go.
Your car, a charging station, a point-of-sale terminal, and your smartphone just negotiated a series of complex transactions to provide you with a customized set of services. In the background, the provider of your in-car information services, the operator of the vehicle charging station, the operator of the mall, and the department store all communicated with each other and with these connected devices to enable the services. And it happened seamlessly, in realtime, without requiring anything more from you than the occasional nod of approval.
We are not there today, but in a world where we already access web-enabled services from connected tablets, ereaders, televisions, DVD players, and a growing list of other consumer devices, this vision is not farfetched.
Today, connected services are still initiated almost entirely by people. In the M2M world of the future, services will be initiated by the devices themselves—they will recognize each other, communicate with each other, and interact with third-party services that take advantage of their connectivity, all with little human interference.
In this world, billions of connected devices communicate constantly and generate more data than the people they serve. Before this connected services vision can become reality, some fundamental changes must occur - in the way that devices communicate with each other and with the network, and also in the way network operators, device manufacturers, application developers, and third-party service providers work together to offer these services to consumers.
Plug-and-Play Capabilities At the device level, enabling the kind of open-ended connected services described above will require a new framework that provides plug-and-play connectivity. It is not enough for devices to be equipped with wireless communication capabilities. They also need a standardized, organized framework that enables them to discover other connected devices, broadcast their own capabilities, and recognize and use those of peers. Ideally, this needs to happen in a way that is both independent of, and transparent to, their users.
Consider what plug-and-play connectivity has done for your computer. Ten years ago, if you wanted to connect a new digital camera, you had to manually install the right drivers before your computer would even recognize it.
Today, this process has been largely standardized. You can plug your camera into virtually any computer. The operating system recognizes it and makes all of its capabilities available to you within seconds, and you can choose from hundreds of third-party applications to work with.
Manufacturers and industry groups are beginning to develop frameworks to enable this kind of interoperability among connected devices. But a broad-based platform for true plug-and-play connectivity is still in its infancy.
Network Ecosystem Network operators are evolving to accommodate a world where machine-to-machine communications dominate the network. Simple, scalable solutions to manage the enormous influx of new devices and subscriptions will be required. In addition, they will need to accommodate a much wider range of requirements as the variety of connected devices expands.
They also need to embrace new business models. A system that is largely based on the assumption of one or two devices per account needs to be re-examined as connections are multiplied across new devices and services for both consumers and enterprises.
The M2M world is a tremendous business opportunity, but to capitalize on this market, network operators will need to cultivate closer relationships with device manufacturers, application developers, and M2M service providers reselling their network connectivity services.
Universally Accessible Cloud Platform The biggest shift required to enable the M2M future is the creation of an open, universally accessible cloud platform on which myriad devices and services can interact. While many vendors are already creating and profiting from M2M applications in the marketplace, these solutions are almost exclusively closed, “one-to-one” systems: one kind of device, connected to one kind of service, managed by one service provider. As long as this model persists, growth will be limited and slow.
Enabling the kind of open-ended connected services ecosystem envisioned in the above example will require a cloud platform that supports a “many-to-many” model. This means an open platform, in which all connected devices in your home and life can discover and communicate with each other. Even more importantly, it is a platform on which those devices are discoverable by third-party service providers offering applications that take advantage of this ubiquitous connectivity.
Currently, there is no such meeting place where connected devices can access other devices or services, or where innovative service providers can make their offerings available to consumers. Who would operate such a platform? How would it work? At this point, we still do not know. But we will need to find answers to these questions to realize the full potential of M2M connectivity.
Security and Privacy Finally, as exciting as it is to imagine the possibilities of a world where we are surrounded by connected devices and services, we must address the inherent risks. Ultimately, M2M services serve people, and their trust is essential.
Open networks and plug-and-play devices will be accepted and will deliver their potential only if they come with strong security and privacy safeguards. This is a considerable challenge, but the tremendous progress made in other areas of computer security may provide the elements needed for a solution.
Approaching the M2M Future As we move steadily closer to a fully connected world, more and more of the things we use in daily life are getting connected and becoming gateways to a broad range of services.
The ultimate tipping point, when these connected services platforms shift from closed, bespoke solutions to open, standardized, consumer-focused cloud platforms, is coming. The only question is how soon it will arrive.