M2M technology allows two or more devices to communicate autonomously, removing the need for a human operator, and allowing a group of machines to carry out complicated operations in a matter of seconds. Imagine a cash machine, wirelessly pinging a host processor (or banking computer) for the authorization needed to dispense cash. Or a vending machine, automatically requesting a refill once it starts to run out of a particular item.
When M2M technology was first introduced, it relied on short-range radio transmissions; telephone cables or clunky and outmoded powerline networks to relay information between devices. Typically, this meant that M2M technologies could only be used in settings where:
- Devices were situated in close proximity to one another
- The cost-savings justified the expense of cabling machines together or creating costly dedicated networks
- You could tap into a pre-existing phone line, and use it to connect your devices
Things are very different now though. Thanks to rapid and far-reaching advances in wireless technology and cellular networking, we can use M2M technologies to connect a huge range of devices, from washing machines to smart meters, car-building robots, smartphones and everything in between.
In fact, M2M technologies can be used to connect virtually any device that can interface with a SIM card, link up to a phone line or connect to the internet.
Now, you might think that this describes a relatively small list of products, but the truth is that manufacturers are well aware of the demand for M2M devices. So much so that brands like Ford, LG and TomTom now produce a range of SIM-ready products for business and personal use.
This includes vans like the modern Ford Transit, which is capable of linking up to Ford’s proprietary telematics service and feeding company owners real-time data about fuel use or vehicle faults. It also includes things like smart-fridges that connect to home WiFi, so that it can notify the user’s phone if the door is left open, or remind the user to stock up on items that are getting close to their expiry date.
More than 7 billion devices currently use some sort of M2M technology, and some experts predict that we’ll see that number rise to over 50 billion by the beginning of 2030.
Some of these devices will be linked via traditional LAN or WAN facilities, but many will use cellular networks to communicate with each other, which means that devices could be hundreds, or even thousands of miles apart, contributing to the Internet of Things, and creating a vast, global network of interconnected machines that can share data, report faults or interface directly without human intervention.
How are M2M technologies used?
Typically, M2M technologies are used to facilitate communication between:
- Devices that gather data of some description, like the smart barcode scanners used in some stock management systems
- Computers that are capable of processing such data
- Devices designed to communicate updates, notify people about maintenance requirements or communicate data in any other way that’s useful to a human operator (think hand-held terminals or a smartphone)
Modern M2M networks are often set up to pass data between a number of different devices and can become quite complicated, so let’s take a look at an example.
Let’s imagine that you own a freight shipping business, and want to receive real-time alerts whenever one of your vehicles makes an unscheduled stop. You’ve installed GPS trackers in all of your vehicles, and fitted each tracker with an international M2M SIM card, of the sort provided by Top Connect.
Now, information about your fleet’s movements is fed to a central computer, which analyses the data and looks for any anomalies. Any time the GPS data shows an unscheduled stop, this computer sends you an email, with the date, time and location of the stop, alongside information about the length of time your driver spent off-route, and contact details so you can ring them to find out if something is wrong.
Because most modern M2M networks are based on cellular technology, there’s no real limit to the number of devices that you can connect via this technology, and you can maintain connections across truly staggering distances.