M2M Vs. IoE

Before IoE there was M2M, but will it continue to exist?


For some time now, there has been discussion that the IoE is really nothing more than the M2M infrastructure with a new coat of paint.

Are M2M and the  really just different generations of the same family, or are they completely different? This is more than just a philosophical question. The answer affects everything from technology investments, to what standards are needed to make it all work, what security measures need to be implemented, and where are the market opportunities and how best to approach them.

“IoE encompasses a lot of things that used to be M2M,” says Manas Saksena, senior director of technology and product marketing at Marvell. “I don’t see IoT or IoE as a market, though. It encompasses a lot of things. At the high level, you can break it down into many segments such as wearables, smartphones, the enterprise—everything from small commercial to large commercial and industrial, and even government infrastructures such as smart cities. If you believe the market hype, it will affect every aspect of our lives, from e-mail to machines to computers and servers. It cuts across every single element.”

Where and how data moves in the networking hierarchy is critical to this concept. “If you’re operating at layer two, you’re below the Internet,” Saksena says. “There are a number of technologies that still operate at layer two networking.”

Fig. 1: The seven layers of networking. Source: ebrahma.com

Also key is what the technology is designed to accomplish. “To me, the difference is all about the Internet,” says Zachary Crockett, CTO and co-founder of Particle IO. “M2M initially focused on small local networks or telecom connections, whereas the IoE has the Internet and all of our personal and technical experiences. M2M doesn’t necessarily include the Internet.”

In the simplest terms, M2M is about connecting machines and devices to each other. The IoE expands on that by not only connecting devices to each other, but to things, people, systems, and most importantly across networks—while integrating some of the principles of M2M. And it isn’t always autonomous. M2M tends to stay within applications and networks.

“In some sense, M2M can be seen as the predecessor to the IoE,” notes Simon Blake-Wilson, vice president of products and marketing for Rambus’ Cryptography Research Division. “And in some sense now, as the IoE becomes the established term, M2M becomes a sub-segment of it.”

M2M tends to be more like a vertical tree with an end-to-end, application-specific solution that has limited expandability. The IoE is more like the Internet architecture, with horizontal layers that can stratify across applications, technologies, systems and networks, without a predefined purpose for any particular function.

“Some IoE concepts do have their heritage in M2M, but the IoE has to be viewed as a much broader platform,” notes Blake-Wilson. “The ‘in the field’ software-upgradable and expandable capabilities is a crucial element of IoE devices.”

Early M2M surfaced as systems based on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Those SCADA systems were the first widely deployed, autonomous systems that could perform actions and exchange information without any intervention from humans. SCADA systems integrate various hardware and software elements that monitor, gather and process data. That data is then used to control machines and devices such as valves, pumps, motors, and more, and recorded in a log file.

M2M is a relatively simple platform. While it can use a range of technologies to create intelligent assets, in general all M2M systems function similarly. Sensors are used to capture relevant data, such as temperature or speed. This data is transmitted, usually wirelessly—but Ethernet, cable, or copper can be used as well—to a central server where it is analyzed for further action. Once analyzed the central server responds to the sender with whatever instruction is required.

Fig. 2: Center pivot irrigation system. Source: USDA

One excellent example of an M2M SCADA system is crop watering. Figure 2 is an image of a center-pivot irrigation device consisting of several segments of pipe connected to wheeled towers. Sprinklers are attached along its length. It moves in a circle around a central water connection. Each tower has a radio connected to a control assembly that controls the speed of the tower. Throughout the movement of the pivot, it is constantly monitoring the position of each segment and the amount of water flowing through it. This data back is sent to a central server for analysis. If one segment of the pivot is moving too slowly or quickly, the server will send out a command to correct it. The same is true for water flow. Other examples include warehouse management, remote control, robotics, traffic control, logistic services, supply chain management, fleet management and telemedicine.

M2M today
M2M has evolved to take advantage of the march in technology, connectivity and integration. However, once the platform expands beyond the original concept, one could argue that it is no longer what is was and should be renamed. That is one perspective that has been presented in the “M2M is now the IoE” argument. To support that, proponents of that camp point to the ubiquitous proliferation of sensors, which are a very large percentage of M2M systems, and will also be a very large percentage of the IoE.

However, let’s take a look at what is perhaps a great example of a classic M2M system that can also claim to be an IoE application – perimeter security.

CCTV security systems have been around for decades. Early systems simply recorded whatever they viewed and recoded the data to a videocassette recorder. Some didn’t even have date or time stamps. If the recorded data needed to be examined, one simply went to the data and time in question and viewed the tape. In many cases, the tapes were manually cataloged. If nothing of interest happened, these systems plugged along without any human intervention or interface to anything. Even if these systems were monitored in a control room within the facility, they simply reported within the closed loop.

Wheel that forward 40 years. Today, security systems can be very complex – capable of worldwide data dissemination, if desired. They are capable of doing everything from calling first responders, activating locks and closing doors, even activating fire control systems and HVAC systems — and all autonomously. Advanced capabilities include secure connectivity, NFC-enabled locks controlled by smartphones, video streaming, listen-in capabilities on voice channels, and high-performance battery management systems with long standby times. ​Then they can send this real-time data, audio, video, and other sensors to a control facility anywhere, if desired, via the Internet.

“The IoE is encompassing a lot of things, and a lot of what was, traditionally, M2M or embedded systems is becoming part of the IoE,” says Marvell’s Saksena. “M2M was machines interacting with machines. With IoE, you are dealing with markets or technologies or business models. You have to narrow it down or it is too broad a term.”

Looked at differently, that is reflected in how the mass of data being collected by sensors will be applied to various slices of the IoE. “The big question is what are you going to do with all of that data,” he says. “For the people building products, you very often have to start with very narrow use cases. The core technology has to handle use cases well, and then more possibilities open up over time. With smart home technologies, over time you can see all of these mash-ups. You have can have devices talking to appliances talking to Amazon services. More use cases open up because the technology is there.”

Tim Morin, Microsemi’s director of marketing, agrees. “The IoE encompasses M2M. In my brain, the M2M stuff has always been ISM-band wireless-based systems.”

Blake-Wilson adds that “M2M is a narrower term, and one metric of that is flexibility and function. I can’t think of a situation, lately, where I have applied M2M [vs. IoE] to something that is a general-purpose device,” he says. “When one mentions either IoE or M2M, there are a lot of different things people can have in mind. One sees these two terms used both narrowly and broadly. Certainly M2M is used quite narrowly and broadly. In some sense, I would view M2M being a precursor to the IoE, and in some sense now, as the IoE becomes the established term, that M2M becomes a sub-segment of it.”

Others weigh in with a similar slant. “M2M started with a much narrower scope,” says Amit Gattani, senior director of embedded solutions for Micron. “Then came along the socialization of the world, and big data analytics.”

Before the IoE became the buzzword, there already were attempts by carriers to connect machines and smartphones for things like fleet management, smart meters, and logistics.

“With this evolution, we can really do something super intelligent, or much greater than simply connecting machine to machine,” Gattani says. Hence, the scope of this “evolution” is so much bigger than just M2M, and the IoE assumes the role of intelligent machine-to-machine-to-human connectivity.

So now M2M becomes an enabler of the IoE; a necessary piece of the IoE, but it still doesn’t encompass the wide arena of activities, interconnect and distribution that has become what we think of the IoE.

How M2M will integrate into the IoE
The general consensus is that M2M will certainly be part of the IoE rather than the IoE, exactly what part and how still has some ambiguity. But that will certainly become clearer as the vision of the IoE evolves.

There is a dedicated camp to M2M, including an annual world congress. Drilling down a bit shows there is definitely an awareness of the IoE within the M2M community. For example, one of the promotions catch phrases for the 2016 congress states, “Are you an IoT/M2M professional?”

If one listens to the M2M pundits, they definitely line up on the side that the M2M is a separate industry. When pressed, some will admit that, more and more, the lines are blurring and that M2M will be one of many market segments of the IoE. How big, how vocal or how important is yet to be determined.

This article was triggered by a discussion with industry executives about the various flavors of the IoE and how all of this might shake out in the coming years. The most interesting aspect of all of this turned out to be perspectives based upon positions within relative technologies. At this stage of the game it is about marketing as much as anything else. Since the IoE is beginning to take shape, all of the segments—M2M, wearables, telemedicine, transportation— are jockeying to find ways to differentiate themselves from the broad brush that is the IoE and find a segment that can be marketed.

But then again, there is also the possibility that M2M won’t survive the IoE onslaught.

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