Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications could open up a new world of technological opportunity, both for consumers and for businesses. So why, despite the big buzz, hasn't M2M taken off, and what interest should the Middle East take? Tom Paye investigates.
While it was once the stuff of science fiction, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is here and ready to be used. The concept, which sees machines communicate with each other without any human interaction at all, is being hailed by some as a turning point in technological history, allowing users, companies and entire industries to do things that were never thought possible.
"Think about everything we can do — it can be something as simple as keeping checks on your children brushing their teeth. On the toothbrush, there's a sensor, which tells you if they've brushed their teeth, and even how long they've brushed their teeth for. That information can then be sent directly to your smartphone," says Rabih Dabboussi, Managing Director, Cisco UAE.
According to Dabboussi, this is all part of what Cisco calls the Internet of Things — billions of devices all connected together through the Internet, talking to one another and taking action without the need for human intervention. He talks of smarter homes and smarter cars, where sensors determine what's happening in the environment and then send messages to other machines that take action to ensure a pre-set standard is preserved.
However, this is still the stuff of science fiction, as Dabboussi admits. After all, the sensors required to realise much of these concepts are prohibitively expensive. What's more, they'll need to be connected to the Internet via, presumably, Wi-Fi or a 4G chip, which means batteries will have to be involved. And as battery technology still hasn't caught up with the futuristic world some have envisioned, these smarter homes and cars are still a way off.
But M2M technologies are indeed being deployed today. In the Middle East, Dabboussi says that examples can mostly be found in the oil and gas industries. However, according to Pan En, Vice President, Huawei Middle East, M2M has made inroads into other business segments, too.
"We have seen certain industries become early adopters—such as the transportation, logistics, utilities and retail sectors—but that is not to say that they have more to gain than enterprises in other sectors. Many of the M2M applications that have risen to the forefront today focus on enterprises improving their service efficiency, reducing OPEX of their business, reducing energy consumption, and responding faster to scenarios, which tie directly to the customer service," he says.
"Power companies are now reading meters through tele-metering systems instead of sending personnel to visiting houses; doctors just started remotely monitoring the conditions of their patients 24/7 by use of consumer devices connecting patients at home instead of requiring the patients to stay at hospital; vehicle-mounted terminals automatically display the nearest parking space; sensors in smart homes turn off utilities, close windows, and monitor security. This clearly is not a technology in its infancy, although M2M's application and prevalence will certainly widen throughout the coming decades."
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