The growth of data traffic from machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is unstoppable. Organizations, service providers, and network operators need to provision storage, bandwidth, and computing power to deal with it. While the amount of data transmitted per “message” is relatively low, some studies suggest that M2M traffic over wireless networks could increase 22-fold in the next three years.
M2M communication predates the Internet and cellular communication, when it used mostly dedicated circuits to transmit data between devices. In the early days of M2M, communication between devices was limited to point-to-point, localized interactions. Factory automation and assembly lines are a good example of early M2M systems.
The advent of cellular networks and the Internet has completely changed the scope of devices using M2M technology. And we use them every day, from obvious devices such as our smartphones — communicating our usage and location to our service providers — to the smart meters that send our electric company information about our power consumption. More devices using M2M technology will be populating our homes, including alarm systems, smart refrigerators, smart TVs, and other devices in an ecosystem.
On cellular networks, the most popular system of M2M applications is still the Short Messaging Service (SMS), commonly called “texting” in the US. The SMS specification was created 20 years ago by the GSM group in Europe and has expanded worldwide, now working in almost all cellular networks. The main advantage of SMS is the possibility to use the 16bit data channel present in all GSM and CDMA networks without using an Internet connection. However, the message is limited to 160 characters of data. This limitation disappears when using GPRS/EDGE (2G) or High-Speed Data Packet Access (HSDPA/3G) cellular Internet connections. Today, most M2M systems using the Internet are based on the 2G specs.
The push for moving all cellular communications to 3G (AT&T plans to disconnect the 2G service in the US by the beginning of 2017), and the availability of 4G networks in several markets, is creating a new wave of applications taking advantage of the high-speed connections available.
This is also creating new challenges for cellular network operators, Internet service providers, and corporations using the data. Until now, M2M systems were mostly used to communicate data to control external devices, trigger alarms, and help monitor certain activities. Some new applications, such as telemedicine — where zillions of healthcare data, including live video, are starting to use a heavy dose of Internet traffic — are already creating network and storage headaches for service providers.
Security is also a big concern for those using M2M, particularly in healthcare and manufacturing applications. Recent infections with viruses such as Stuxnet mean that hackers, as well as government agencies, can exploit M2M networks to gain access to confidential information and/or disrupt systems.
It’s not too soon for your IT organization to start thinking about how you’ll handle the influx of data made possible by the burgeoning growth in M2M, along with the accompanying movement toward an “Internet of Things.” What will this mean for your network capacity? What will it do to your data storage capabilities? How will it impact your existing business analytics tools? And what security steps will you take to keep your data safe?