As part of ZE’s continuing commitment to stay abreast of new Information System trends, Yi-Jeng recently attended Wavefront’s mPower M2M conference, Feb 7, 2012. The goal of this conference was to explore how wireless technology is revolutionizing machine to machine (M2M) communications, data acquisition and data management beyond smartphones, and the impact of this growing trend in an increasingly machine-crowded world.
Phillipe Guillemette, CTO of Sierra Wireless proudly heralded a prophecy: There shalt be 50 billion connected devices in the world by 2020! And thus he launched into the M2M keynote speech; an entertaining narrative featuring, in equal measures, hype, hope, and cautious optimism.
Photo: That’s Phillipe describing his 2020 M2M vision.
First, a blast from the past: In 1995, Intel managed to cram 3 million transistors into its Pentium chip. Today, Intel chips feature 1.2 billion transistors, a 400x increase in transistor density. In 1995, the internet featured 20 million pages. Today, the internet has exceeded a Trillion pages and counting, 150 pages for every living man, women and child. Today, 200,000 SMS messages zip around the world every second, 7 exabytes (or billion gigabytes) of mobile data is generated globally every year. Phillipe implied that if wireless device developers were properly nurtured by telecommunication companies (termed operators), we would see the same exponential explosion of innovative and profitable M2M devices.
During the follow-up industry panel discussion, major operators such as Rogers Wireless, Deusche Telekom, Telenor Connexion, and KPN all voiced support for the amorphous idea of partnerships, developing industry standards and collecting market data to help support M2M developers within their various platforms. With this in mind, I asked the panel directly if the wireless industry would be willing to divulge usage data and metadata with M2M developers. The silence was telling. Only two out of five panelists even responded to the question, skirting the main issue of releasing actionable information with “customer privacy concerns”. To be clear, I wasn’t advocating the unrestricted release of customer names, credit card numbers and GPS history, simply aggregated, sanitized device usage statistics.
ZE aggregates more than a gigabyte of commodity market data every day from hundreds of sources (http://www.ze.com/data-coverage), so we’re no stranger to the challenges of analyzing big data. In order for M2M developers to do market research and product development, it is essential to gather not just the raw usage stats, but descriptive metadata to turn that data into actionable information. Indeed during the break, many developers came up to me voicing their support for my somewhat uncomfortable question, and one industry executive on the panel even admitted to me there is currently no compelling business reason to classify and track M2M devices by segment.
This paints a troubling picture of operators with vested interest in the current smartphone based business model, fearing obsolescence from new M2M innovations, but unwilling to pool market data with their traditional rivals for the benefit of their customers. Ultimately, Phillipe’s vision of future M2M expansion is a continuation of the technological promise: the idea that technology improves quality of life for people in advanced economies and sustains the growth of emerging economies. Just my two cents, but I believe without a compelling reason (say a federal legislation or two), operators may be content with cooperating just enough to not be seen as obstructionists, while continuing to exist in their vertical silos. What do you think?