x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Take it easy and let the machines do the talking

New applications for machine-to-machine technologies are coming up every day and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

A scene from Pixar Animation Studios' production of WALL-E. AP Photo / Disney Pixar
A scene from Pixar Animation Studios' production of WALL-E. AP Photo / Disney Pixar

The 2008 movie WALL-E covered familiar romantic comedy ground in all respects save one – the protagonists are robots. The movie is set in 2815 but is perhaps not as futuristic as it sounds.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies allow machines or systems to communicate remotely with other devices or machines, enabling key information to be exchanged automatically.

Although these technologies have existed for a number of years, it is only in the recent past that we have seen a real surge in their availability. M2M can be deployed over both mobile and fixed telecoms – but increasingly the new installations are primarily utilising mobile.

M2M, also called the internet of things” is expected to take centre stage in the development of new technologies, with its use to be found in fields from transportation to consumer electronics to health care to retail among many others.

We are slowly transforming the way we will lead our future lives – with machines playing an integral role in supporting our daily chores.

Our washing machine will know when we are expected home and do the laundry accordingly. Our car will know our driving behaviour and recommend the relevant car insurance policies. Our lightbulb will turn itself off when not in use.

New applications for M2M are coming up every day and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

There are several drivers of M2M growth. To begin with, the devices and modules that support M2M are becoming widely available, and at prices that can support mass adoption.

In fact the growth of smart machines is now gaining so much momentum that in less than a decade, they will outnumber not just the human population, but also the collective sum of all our existing connectivity devices, that includes feature phones, smartphones and tablets.

According to a study by the GSM Association of global mobile operators, the total number of connected devices globally, in 2020, will be 24 billion. Out of these, about half will be purely M2M connections, while the remainder will be split between feature phones, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Another key reason supporting the growth of M2M is our connected culture.

We have a high affinity for always-on connectivity, and with our smartphones and mobile data connections, now have the necessary tools to promote this culture.

Introduction of M2M helps to automate processes that free up more time for the individual. And when the power to control this sits in our pocket, just a finger touch away, the barriers to adoption of M2M reduces drastically.

Who would not want a smarter air conditioner that ensures that the temperature in the home is just right before you return home?

One key player in the technology eco-system, which is actively promoting the M2M uptake, is the telecoms operator itself. The operators enable the underlying connectivity that is needed for M2M deployments and for the machines to interact. So the operators are actively promoting their own M2M services, in a bid to both raise their top-line revenues, as well as, long-term lock-in of their customers.

M2M is gaining traction with the UAE operators as well.

The country has already witnessed several large scale M2M projects, mostly in the transport, utilities, and government domains. Further, both Etisalat and du have their own M2M portfolios and are trying to harvest the M2M gains. Looking ahead, M2M is also an important part of the future strategies of both operators.

The Emirates is also helping to shape up the global M2M ecosystem. The incumbent operator, Etisalat, is a partner in the M2M World Alliance, an eight-member global telecoms operator alliance, led by the Spanish giant Telefonica. It is working towards creating an M2M ecosystem with global products that all its members, including Etisalat, could implement.

The coming years are well positioned to witness a steady growth in the M2M space and we are already heralding the beginning of this age of machines. There are bound to be challenges along the way – such as security concerns, integration of new processes into the existing systems among other hurdles – however, these will be overcome and the overarching trend will be that of M2M growth.

So, sit back and let the machines do the talking. But keep an eye open, for you might just witness another WALL-E falling in love.

Abhinav Purohit is a UAE-based strategy consultant specialising in the telecoms industry