The Rise of M2M Means Standards Are Critical – by Jeffrey O.Smith

In this article, Dr. Jeff Smith, executive vice president and CTO at Numerex, details some nuances of what was discussed at the Machine-to-Machine Standardization Task Force (MSTF) meeting in May as well as the specific short term and long term goals moving forward.

The Rise of M2M Means Standards Are Critical

by Jeffrey O. Smith, PhD, Chief Technology Officer of Numerex*

We teach our children to be unique, that individuality is important. We teach our managers to think “outside the box,” to explore new options in business strategies. But while we all strive to be unique as individuals, to make our own mark in our companies and societies, industries can’t always act that way. We cannot deny the need for standards.

For example, all electric plugs in the U.S. fit into any outlet. This allows manufacturers of all things electronic to produce products with a greater economy of scale and gives consumers the confidence that when they purchase a product they can bring it home and it will fit the wall socket.  This would be even better for the manufacturers if outlet standards were worldwide vs. needing separate adapters in Europe and Asia. The simple fact is that standards are most conducive to economies of scale if they are compatible worldwide.

Technology standards in particular are critical as the world gets “smaller” and connections increase at an exponential rate.  Perhaps one of the most important issues today regarding worldwide technology standards is in regard to Machine to Machine (M2M) technology, which essentially consists in connecting machines of any size with limited or without human intervention. Beyond the 5 billion devices connected to the Internet, the potential for greatest growth comes from machine-to-machine (M2M) deployments, involving networked security cameras and sensors, connected home appliances and HVAC equipment, ITS infrastructure for traffic and parking management, sophisticated smart grids and more.

There’s no question M2M has become the backbone of today’s worldwide business.  But the systems today look different in the U.S. vs. Europe, vs. China, vs. India.  Many organizations around the world are working on M2M standardization in their own backyard, for sure, but that only increases the possibility of redundant or conflicting standards (see electrical outlets).

The availability of global M2M standards will be an important enabler for connecting multiple devices in complex systems and reaching economies of scale for manufacturers and solution providers alike. In short, we are working to bridge the needs for standards and the market’s needs.

The Global Standards Collaboration (GSC) Machine-to-Machine Standardization Task Force (MSTF) gathered on an invitation-only basis for a two-day meeting in May, during TIA 2011: Inside the Network, the annual member meeting and industry event of the US-based Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). The GSC MSTF meeting clearly demonstrated the imperative need for M2M standardization and related collaboration.  The GSC MSTF, where information and ideas can be exchanged among traditional and non-traditional standards developing groups, has a key role to play in facilitating industry harmonization. The GSC MSTF, to all intents and purposes, is an information exchange, bridging the actual work of Standards Developing Organizations and the M2M industry’s needs. We do so by reaching out to a wide range of M2M players which have an impact, direct or indirect, on M2M standardization.

As TIA president Grant Seiffert publicly stated in early June, “It is clear from the attendance at the M2M sessions at TIA 2011, that machine-to-machine communications is receiving unprecedented attention throughout the telecommunications industry. The active and strong participation at the first GSC MSTF meeting  . . . validates our standards developing efforts in new and emerging technologies, and our ongoing focus on the latest industry developments for the benefit of our members.” After this productive meeting in May at which we were largely enlightened by industry peers and experts from Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea, Europe and the United States, we outlined several critical issues that we need to address most urgently. It became clear that there is a need for a forum, with enough clout, where ideas on M2M in general and M2M standards in particular can be exchanged , coexisting with other organizations or initiatives specifically focused on the production of standards.

We all agreed that a key next step is to consider the work being done in vertical markets where substantial standardization work is also being accomplished. Since standards are being worked on simultaneously, it’s critical that we have strong relationship and cooperative liaisons with vertical organizations to reduce duplication and avoid fragmentation of standards. The GSC MSTF organization will talk about this vertical need and much more at a September follow up meeting in Atlanta, GA at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, this time open to the public.
The discussions at this September 20-21 event will seek to highlight the role and importance of machine-to-machine -communications standards in vertical markets as well as the contribution of vertical industry associations in standards development, whether they are or not part of the standardization mainstream.  Not only organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) GridWise Architecture Council , the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA), the International Payments Forum (IPF), and  the International Society of Automation (ISA) to name a few, will be represented at the Atlanta conference but so will market leading companies such as GE, and Oracle. This upcoming meeting will open the window on the smarter world that is being created every day in every country, and give the participants a useful perspective on M2M technologies and solutions that are now readily available.

At the September GSC MSTF meeting, the theme of which is “M2M standards as growth enablers,” our goal is very simple: present to a broad audience the pervasiveness and diversity of M2M technologies, underline the critical role of standards in market growth and encourage comments and ideas about the direction of standardization.  We plan to finalize an activity map from which we will make recommendations on current and future M2M standardization undertakings in close liaison with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

These suggestions and perspectives will be presented at the annual GSC event (GSC-16), which will take place this year in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and hosted by the ICT Standards Advisory Council of Canada (ISACC) the week beginning October 31. Ms. Cheryl Blum, TIA Vice President of Technology and Business Development and head of the TIA delegation at GSC-16 captured well the group’s global and collaborative perspective when she explained at the previous meeting of the GSC MSTF in Dallas, TX “the GSC MSTF aims at strengthening the work of international bodies focusing on M2M standards by providing very valuable information from an eclectic range of sources and offering a venue where ideas on M2M can be debated and exchanged outside a formal standardization process framework.”

The Atlanta, GA meeting, which is hosted by TIA is broken down in two parts. The first day takes the form of a conference at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) auditorium where experts from a wide range of industries will present their views on the impact of M2M standards on their vertical markets. The second day will feature a roundtable at the Georgia Tech Technology Square Research building focused on summarizing the findings of the Dallas and Atlanta meetings, and drafting suggestions and recommendations regarding the direction of global M2M standardization.

Speakers at the GSC MSTF meeting in September will include representatives from a variety of markets and related standards organizations. Topics we will discuss, debate and hone in on include:

  • Healthcare: Telehealth, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring in general are the talk of governments, healthcare providers and consumers alike. Desire for independence, need for better responsiveness, limited professional resources, aging population and budgetary constraints are fueling the exploration of new healthcare options.
  • Transportation/Logistics/Supply Chain: All kinds of vehicles are becoming more intelligent thanks to pervasive computer chips, other sensing devices and immediate connectivity, in addition to the impetus provided by regulatory requirements. Supply chains are getting global in scope because, in no small part, it is now possible to track and trace position and status in real-time worldwide.
  • Residential and Commercial Security/Home Automation: Various groups and forums are working around the globe on standards that relate to secured access, surveillance, alert remote monitoring and other building-centered functions. M2M standardization must integrate these efforts.
  • Payments: M2M technologies provide flexibility and immediacy to the financial ecosystem. For example, smart vending machines are being deployed that can adjust the offer of the machine to the needs of the consumers. Various sensors provide immediate actionable data. These machines are a microcosm of the M2M world (capture, transmission and analysis). Security is a critical dimension of the M2M payments infrastructure.
  • Manufacturing: Today, most industrial processes are automated and M2M technologies are increasingly contributing to efficient production environments. M2M helps monitor and control the collection and exchange of data between sensors and controllers during the manufacturing process in all kinds of markets. The adoption of standards is an absolute necessity as older SCADA technology is being replaced with newer M2M technologies and wireless and IP capabilities are integrated into SCADA and DCS systems.
  • Energy: The production, transport and consumption of energy are a domain in which M2M has long been involved. Distribution systems that run over long distances require robust remote monitoring solutions. Also, M2M technologies are playing a decisive role in the development of the Smart Grid. For instance, with smart sensors and demand response solutions, M2M is adding intelligence into the electricity grid. We will discuss the progress being made in the insertion of M2M technologies in energy-related markets and its need for greater standards.

In the end, it isn’t a question of “if” we need to work together to make M2M worldwide standards a reality. It’s something that definitely needs to happen or, I fear, the lack of standards will dramatically slow down the industry’s progress.  As mentioned above, standards allow economies of scale.  Without them we cannot grow, evolve and succeed.  I hope you will join us in September and let your voice be heard as we work to develop worldwide M2M standards.

(*) Jeffrey O. Smith, PhD, is Chief Technology Officer of Numerex (NASDAQ: NMRX) and Chair of TIA TR-50 Standards Committee on Smart Device Communications.  He was appointed Convener of the Global Standards Collaboration M2M Standardization Task Force at GSC-15, in Beijing, China in September 2010. Numerex Corp is a leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) business services, technology, and products used in the development and support of M2M solutions for the enterprise and government markets worldwide.

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