MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Though machine-to-machine (M2M) technology may sound like a brave new world, Sprint Nextel Corp. wants to entice engineers to consider it as one of the more exciting career paths in the mobile industry.
“It’s actually just basic telematics, basic networking, security, IP and making things connect,” said Russell Mosburg, director of M2M engineering in Sprint’s emerging solutions group, explaining why engineers shouldn’t shy away from making devices “talk” to each other.
“Sure, engineers will initially go through the eye-roll phase as people start wanting to try and connect all kinds of odd things,” said Mosburg adding “for example, do we really need to wirelessly connect a doorknob so it can tell you if it’s dirty? Doubtful.”
Once the initial experimentation phase is over, however, Mosburg sees a world where connectivity translates into better efficiency, accountability and context.
“We need engineers who understand wireless and can bring the technical ecosystem together,” he said, highlighting Sprint’s special relationship with Qualcomm, which makes the type of CDMA chipsets Sprint uses in its network.
“The challenge is can you build silicon that understands it’s going to be working with wireless?” Mosburg asked, adding that the firm didn’t want its engineers to focus solely on their own narrow areas of expertise.
“Our engineers are subject matter experts, engineering black belts,” said Mosburg, noting that M2M represented a new frontier for engineers adept at understanding many different topics to very high levels.
“We want them to always know how much power something needs, and when that power would be needed, we ask them to have a deep understanding of memory cache, a full 360 degree view,” he explained.
For example, while a Sprint engineer may be working on a smartphone one day, the next, he or she could be working on a wirelessly connected Stop sign, which requires a different set of requirements. “A smartphone needs a big memory cache, but a Stop sign does not,” explained Mosburg, urging engineers to step beyond their discipline and adapt their knowledge accordingly.
For the wireless engineer, there are so many factors to be taken into consideration, said Mosburg. For one, antenna placement in various connected devices is critical, as is knowing how that placement would affect the RF signals. Then, one also has to consider how robust a particular device has to be for either inside or outside use and how long it is supposed to last.
“Our engineers have to think about the differences when they’re adding wireless connectivity to something meant to last two years, compared to something meant to last outside in all weathers for 10 years,” Mosburg said.
Sprint’s dedicated M2M group currently boasts just 30 full time engineers, with a support staff of some 500 people, all based in the U.S. The firm also has a dedicated M2M Collaboration Center, complete with test labs, set up in California.
The team is made up of a mixture of hardware, software and design engineers, who have either come from the telecom, device or software side of the industry, but who soon pick up other specialties.
“Our engineers love this field, it stretches them, because we make them move out of their traditional discipline and master other disciplines too,” said Mosburg.
@Frank Eory: I happen to catch some of the talk on M2M at the Sprint Developer's conference held at the beginning of Nov. I would say Sprint has done a better job of productizing M2M applications than all other mobile carriers combined!
Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the many incarnations for M2M; I strongly recommend engineers to visit Sprint's M2M Design center at Burlingame near SFO airport. They have some good use case demos and plenty of help to get started.
PS: Sprint didn't pay to me write this, I wish they had!! :-))
I would think for many things you'd get away with ZigBee or something similar, (maybe in 5GHz band), provided the machines are reasonably close together.
Obviously as range increases, cellular becomes the solution of choice, though it's rather fashion-driven, which can be a nuisance in M2M situations ... major change-outs as the technology heads towards obsolete. But so long as that's factored into the business, it should be manageable.
For very long range, you'll presumably be into satellite comms, though I guess things like marine oil rigs already have a suitable global infrastructure.
I have to say that strictly speaking, M2M mobile messaging is far from new .. I've was involved with it as an aside to mobile people messaging, H2M and M2H, between the early 70s and 2002, but the increasing availability of higher bandwidth infrastructure add much more 'power to the elbow' in the field.
It can indeed be a surprisingly interesting field.
I am very interested in developing M2M embedded computing applications.
Sprint may want Engineers, but their doesn't seem to be any JOBS listed for Engineers to develop M2M apps on their web site.
Something seems amiss ....
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