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.