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Wireless Connectivity & the ROI Conundrum

Über-connectivity for mobile phones and tablets makes sense. People buy and use those devices because of their built-in ability to connect from almost anywhere pretty much all of the time.

But what about vending machines, thermostats, lighting fixtures, and anything else containing a few chips and a bunch of electronic components? Do we want or need these kinds of devices? Should manufacturers be spending a considerable amount of time reengineering systems and embedding more mobile connectivity features into mainstream consumer electronic products?

Until last week, I had my doubts. Generally, I don't want everything in my personal space, house, or office talking to each other and talking to networks out there, whatever those networks might be. All that no-touch connectivity and master-of-the-universe machine-to-machine interaction appears a bit too science fiction for me.

Then, I heard a compelling scenario from Martin Körling, research area manager at {complink 1879|Ericsson AB}. Speaking at a Mobile World Congress session last week, Körling took the conversation beyond the idea that adding mobile connectivity is a cool feature, and showed how it can be built and used as a service, or even used to entice people via gaming mechanics.

One of the interconnected electronic device scenarios Körling offered up sounded more like a social networking scheme. It went something like this: Your thermostat sends you a mobile message asking if it has your permission to collaborate with the blinds to save you money on your heating or air conditioning bill. You say yes, and get a ping back, rewarding you for saving some money. The thermostat then comes back and says, “Hey, I can be friends with your whole electricity system. We can work together and save you even more money.” You say, “Cool, go ahead.” You feel good about yourself, and your machines have teamed up to work more effectively for you.

Sounds like something straight out of Star Trek , doesn't it? While I still don't think I like it from a privacy-protection standpoint — because I'm not convinced layers of security have been heavily embedded yet — I can see the case for it. As someone who often has to dash back home to make sure I turned off the iron, getting a mobile message from a consumer electronic device can help me personally and prevent my house from burning down.

Whether or not this has any substantial return on investment for device makers, I don't know. Convincing them it does seemed to be a priority for other panelists on the Mobile World Congress stage, including executives from Sony Electronics, Jasper Wireless, and Everything Everywhere.

“Global connectivity is vital for machine-to-machine, cross-broader business,” said Marc Overton, vice present of wholesale and M2M at Everything Everywhere, a UK-based wireless services provider. “In the consumer electronics space, users will want out-of-the-box connectivity. How hardware manufacturers and system and service providers develop, coordinate, deliver, and promote mobile connectivity is critical. Companies will have to change the way their businesses operate.”

What trends do you see in consumer electronics and embedded mobile connectivity? What quirky things have you heard in the M2M space? Tell us in the comments.

16 comments on “Wireless Connectivity & the ROI Conundrum

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 6, 2012

    Sadly, I'm going to take the cynical POV and say that anyone can make a case for something that they want to sell you. Will that thermostat-to-blinds-to-cell phone service be free? I don't think so. But these are businesses, and as such they are supposed to make money. Comcast is already offering a similar service in my area. Right now, my cable/phone/Internet bill looks a lot like the US government's budget proposal for 2013. In fact, my husband hides the bill from me because I am always ready to cancel some service he and my son are addicited to.

    As for device makers, I would imagine it it about the cost of functionality. If this is a farily simple addition to an existing device, it won't hurt to have the option. If it commands a big premium, I think it will go the smart-home route, where it is a fairly limited market.

  2. DataCrunch
    March 6, 2012

    According to a number of research analysts, connected devices worldwide will be in the billions by 2020 and machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions is an emerging field that is growing exponentially.  The wireless telecom carriers are anxious to be in a position to be able to provide these kinds of solutions due to the enormous volumes of data connections.  I am a bit biased on this, as my company Open Terra ( http://www.openterra.com ) is heavily involved in providing M2M solutions and technology.  We mainly work with businesses rather than direct to consumer.  The ROI and savings for providing businesses an automated M2M solution is rapid and significant.    

  3. Cryptoman
    March 6, 2012

     

    One business case for IPv6 is the expected growth in M2M communications. In order to make each device uniquely addressable, a huge pool of IP numbers will be needed and that's what IPv6 will provide. This large pool of IP numbers is understandable because M2M technology has quite a wide spectrum of applications. You can read about some of them here that include (but obviously not limited to) security, healthcare, home and industrial applications.

    M2M communications will catalyse advances in energy harvesting, battery technologies as well as low power microcontrollers. Also, there are many different short range wireless technologies that are competing against one another in the M2M market such as ZigBee, Bluetooth (LE), DASH, ANT, DECT-ULE etc. Therefore, the excitement of businesses over M2M is understandable. The value chains in M2M is long and everybody wants to partake.

    I think M2M should be seen as a tool to make operations more efficient whilst enabling existing infrastructures to deliver more value added services at affordable costs. Unfortunately, M2M also implies that human operators will be replaced by smart wireless devices that never sleep and work efficiently, 24/7 without any complaints.

     

  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 7, 2012

    M2M networks are supposed to make life totally automatic for all of us dumb people. Just pay some fess to your service providers and all the appliances are working 24×7 for you.

    But while you have a sound sleep thinking that it is only the appliances who are talking to each other, some smart hacker sitting over that network will emulate one of those machines and may take complete control of your home, breaching all those security firewalls and entering your private life and recording every second of your life and keeping that data somewhere on the cloud to be used  commercially or some illicit purposes.

    Are we aware of this potential intrusion?

  5. Adeniji Kayode
    March 7, 2012

    @Babara, I agree with you on that, Nobody will tell you the whole story the first time.As you rightly said, there is more to it for the inventor than just solving a problem or saving lives and properties.

  6. Adeniji Kayode
    March 7, 2012

    @prabhakar, You are right, its just that there is nothing good that cannot be abused or turned against you. m2m is a level of innovation we have to learn to live with because it proof to be one of the ways to work smart , so we should expect to see more as the day rolls by

     

  7. bolaji ojo
    March 7, 2012

    Jenn, Wireless connectivity is here right now for everything in your home. In Europe, it is becoming a reality because energy companies are sponsoring it.

  8. t.alex
    March 7, 2012

    For every products in the household to be equipped with wireless, the cost has to be really low. And what should be the common standard? WiFi?

  9. Wale Bakare
    March 7, 2012

    Yes internet protocol version 6 is very critical to market of M2M.  Though, its deployment and transitioning have taken slow start  may be until world IPv6 launch day in June this year.

  10. Cryptoman
    March 7, 2012

    That is such a difficult question t.alex. I think there might be a combination of winners. One for short range wireless and another for long range with a backend IP support.

    There is also a confusion on wireless connectivity versus wireless networking in most people's minds. The best example of this is Bluetooth, which is for wireless connectivity NOT wireless networking. ZigBee on the other hand is designed for wireless networking. I think with wireless networking M2M has so much more to offer. That is why some of the wireless standards (especially the new ones such as BLE and DECT-ULE) are trying to promote themselves as wireless networking tools rather than connectivity.

  11. bolaji ojo
    March 8, 2012

    t.alex, Wireless chips already cost very little and the price is dropping by the day. The price decline will most probably accelerate if/when more gadgets get connection capabilities as the increase in volume drive down production cost. And, yes, you are right, most will operate on wi-fi.

  12. Jennifer Baljko
    March 12, 2012

    Dave – Hi, I think your company's focus on biz M2M is a good idea. Now that the individual consumer is so savvy, businesses will start moving in that direction, too.

  13. Jennifer Baljko
    March 12, 2012

    t.alex – I agree with Bolaji. Prices will fall as deman goes up and it becomes even more mainstream. Also, yes, sounds like wi-fi will be the main platform.

  14. Jennifer Baljko
    March 12, 2012

    Hi Prabhakar – I often wonder the same – are people aware of how much data they give away? And, if they do, do they care? I go back and forth on this myself…I like the convenience some of these things offer, but am cautious about how I share personal data.

  15. Clairvoyant
    March 12, 2012

    I agree as well, Jennifer & Prabhakar. At this stage, I wouldn't want all my appliances connected to the global network. In the future, as more things become wireless and are able to be connected to, we may see hacking become a bigger issue than it already is.

  16. t.alex
    March 16, 2012

    Yep definitely WiFi is a reasonable choice. There might be still the possibility of combination of WiFi and other technologies such as Zigbee, bluetooth with the advantage of lower power consumption and cost.

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