The smartphone market might be booming, but in one respect it pales beside the machine-to-machine (M2M) sector. While some analysts expect a compound annual growth rate of about 22 percent worldwide through the middle of this decade for smartphones, firms such as Infonetics Research predict M2M will have a CAGR of 66 percent over the same period.
M2M comprises two major subcategories: telematics, for mobile applications and services, and telemetry, involving fixed devices. In 2009, there were already 87 million M2M telematic devices on the market. By 2014, according to Infonetics, there should be roughly 428 million such devices in play.
All the numbers add up to a major opportunity for electronics engineers. But M2M isn’t a slam dunk.
To be successful, electronics engineers must understand several key factors: bandwidth requirements and cost, mobile operator technology road maps and certification processes, geographic coverage, and trends in monthly rate plans and module prices. Those factors directly affect an M2M device’s time-to-market, development costs and ability to compete in a market whose competitiveness reflects its growth outlook.
Longevity and obsolescence
One fundamental difference between a traditional mobile handset and an M2M device is lifespan. Consumers typically replace their cell phones every 18 to 24 months, while M2M devices often remain in service for at least five to 10 years. In applications such as automated meter reading or residential security, M2M devices frequently last 15 years.
To accommodate those long lifespans, it’s critical to understand both embedded modules and wireless carriers’ technology road maps.
For example, although most current M2M applications work just fine over 2G and 2.5G network technologies, there’s a push by some carriers to use 3G modules in new M2M designs. Since network support strategies differ slightly among carriers, it’s vital to address this topic with your operator partner early in the design process. On the embedded cellular module side, it is important to know the age of the current module design and its expected lifespan.
In some cases, module suppliers such as Telit Wireless Solutions Inc. can mitigate the risk involved in network-technology migration by providing some level of compatibility between technologies, such as a pin-to-pin compatible form factor or consistency in the AT command set.
Manufacturers frequently design M2M products for long lifespans in rugged environments such as the hot, dirty and vibrating engine compartment of a tractor-trailer or the wide, seasonal temperature swings of an outdoor utility meter. Replacing failed M2M modules in the field is costly; and for some applications, such as a shipping container full of expensive goods, a few hours or days of lost connectivity is unacceptable.
|Primary elements of an M2M device. Optional elements, such as audio connections or additional inputs and outputs, are determined by the specific needs and functionality of the application.