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Battling factions of M2M market emerge at industry meet

We’re currently on the threshold of an exciting machine-to-machine technological leap forward, and the buzz is increasing. As the noise around this growing sector grows, industry event sign ups continue to boom.

The seventh M2M Summit, held in Düsseldorf Congress Center earlier this month, was the biggest to date, and included some of the major players in this area, including Deutsche Telekom, IBM, Ericsson and Vodafone. But what the event really served to highlight was a coming clash between telecom companies and developers.

Given the optimistic growth forecasts for the M2M sector, it is difficult to avoid adopting a gold rush mentality. Even research institutes and industry analysts try to outdo each other with their predictions for this developing  market. A new study by IData estimates that there will be 80 billion connected devices by 2020, dwarfing Ericsson’s mere 50 billion prediction. Another recent study, conducted by the M2M Alliance survey, reveals that 95% of the companies in question expect a growth for their M2M area. 73% even assume that this growth will be in double digits.

Along with the diverse forecasts and analysis, the postmodern variety of terms and definitions reflect the fragmentation of this young, dynamic, but already very confusing market. Be it M2M, Internet of Things, Industrial Internet, Internet of Everything, or Internet of Objects - almost everyone who wants to secure a slice of the M2M cake invents their own label.

Professor Jens Böcker, board member of the M2M Alliance and host of the summit, launched the event with a refreshingly simple M2M definition. He simply understands the phrase M2M to mean "industry-independent, automated exchange of information between machines". But even the term "M2M" triggered a discussion. To Martin Gutberlet, who represented Fujitsu Technology Solutions GmbH, the abbreviation is too technical. For the general public, he argued - and in the end it’s all about reaching the mass market – "Internet of Things" is easier to grasp.

Is the hype already over?

When it came to M2M’s current state, there were also differing views. Jens Böcker shared his personal assessment: According to Gartner hype-cycle theory, Böcker said, the M2M hype had reached its peak in 2010. After a period of disillusionment, we have now reached a "Plateau of Productivity". Since 2013, there has been a continuous increase in productivity.

This was contradicted by a participant from the audience identifying himself as a Microsoft employee, who, during the panel discussion "M2M Becomes Reality" spoke up and argued that the big hype was yet to come, and that the public had only just started to develop interest in these technologies. Marc Sauter (Vodafone Ltd.) mediated between these positions, pointing out that this very much depends on the vertical markets.

In line with this, Jürgen Hase, head of the M2M Competence Center at Deutsche Telekom, pointed out that the automotive and the health care markets are ahead of other sectors. As for geographical distribution, he reported that acceptance is highest in Asian markets, and that small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly fast in implementing M2M solutions. The reasons for this, and whether it might be worth following their example, were not further discussed at the Summit. The bottom line is, the M2M market seems to be a market of different speeds.

"Like power from the socket"

Despite different perspectives and assessments, one thing that became repeatedly clear at this M2M B2B conference was that everyone was on the same mission and thus had common goals: firstly, to communicate the benefits of M2M technology effectively, and secondly, to make businesses more efficient.

Jan Geldmacher (Vodafone), who gave the second keynote in the morning, described the development and potential of M2M using a four step model:

  • Visualize – the connection of devices to a backend (track and trace, remote controlling, etc.)

  • Integrate – merging collected data

  • Analyze– gaining knowledge about customers through data analysis

  • Transform – increasing the efficiency of the company and developing new business models and services based on the knowledge gained during analysis

The creation of actual value only begins in the last step, as Geldmacher pointed out. This is the most challenging phase for many companies due to the complex interplay of the components involved. Vending machines are a good example of this. For optimal delivery, not only the levels of machines, but also transport vehicles and routes, need to be taken into consideration. Therefore, apart from sophisticated Big Data and Business Intelligence solutions, strategic partnerships are the alpha and omega of the M2M industry.

On this all the speakers of the summit agreed. Only alliances allow for complete end-to-end solutions. After all, and this was also a point of consent, the complex web of technologies, services and suppliers should be hidden from the customer. "M2M solutions should be available just like power from the socket," said Eric Schneider, first chairman of the M2M Alliance, during a press conference at the Summit. He added, "Let's not talk about technology."

Top-down decisions

Telekom also maintains its end-to-end or one-stop-shop model which Jürgen Hase had presented last year in an interview with jaxenter.de. After all, Telekom has its own IT provider, T-Systems. In his keynote, Hase's colleague, Dr. Thomas Kiesling, highlighted the fact that partnerships with other companies such as Oracle and IBM were "CEO-driven" or made "top-down”, in other words, without the participation of those who create the enabling technologies.

Developer slogans such as "Software is eating the world" or "Developers are the new king makers", which have become ubiquitous at conferences such as JAX or EclipseCon, were not heard at the M2M summit. This is surprising, given that Telekom, with its innovative developer platform "Developer Garden" follows precisely the aim to link the developer community better, to strengthen it, and ultimately to promote innovation. Although Hase pointed out that such co-operations are "extremely important", as is an "open architecture" of the technology solution, our question whether the developer communities of Alliance members will join forces on a broader scale remained unanswered at the press conference.

However, it was pointed out by Hase that the summit will continue to open up "for the user". It will become more and more internationalized - this year's summit was first held entirely in English - and also include colleges, so as “not to remain a class meeting of the industry".

Open means 'Open'

Speaking of ‘open’, this was a popular word at the M2M Summit. Apart from the "open architecture" that Telekom envisages, "open" was part of the name of a platform that was presented in the Innovation Forum after the lunch break: the OpenMTC middleware platform by Fraunhofer Fokus, also a member of the M2M Alliance. OpenMTC, however, is not really open as in “open source”. The latter are still a niche technology in the M2M world. This was probably disappointing to realize for anyone following the buzz of the M2M Working Group Eclipse Foundation, the OASIS standardization process of MQTT, or the new Embedded Java projects.

Thomas Eichstädt-Engelen, who presented the open source home automation platform openHAB in the Developer Forum, criticized that the “openness” advocated in the keynotes was more about opening up to customers willing to pay and less about the accessibility of the technologies used. Ian Skerrett, who presented the Eclipse Foundation’s M2M strategy at the Innovation Forum, called for more participation of developers and recommended to follow the example of the open hardware movement (Raspberry Pi, Arduino & Co.), which, according to him, is an enormous incentive for M2M development as a whole.

"M2M is a very silent industry. There is little communication between the providers”, Skerrett stated in his presentation. And by the end of the Summit day, he was proved to be more or less correct. The panel discussion, which was heavily weighted towards individual presentations over debates, showed how little the industry is really shaped by points of contact, and just how much it is influenced by individual solutions - in other words, silos. The partnerships often referred to at the Summit are mostly established bilaterally, and pragmatically geared to specific services.

A question about common standards, asked by a participant in the audience, was dodged by the debaters. Magnus Melander from the Swedish IT service provider B3IT AB even said: "I think M2M has to be fragmented", arguing that the specialization in various vertical markets is a necessity. This was, in other words, a plea for silos and a call to continue business as usual for the companies present at the Summit, demonstrating that, although everyone is ready to make a foray into the M2M world, no one is ready for change. To date, possible consequences of market fragmentation are a blind spot – and those who demand more developer participation, cooperation and common standards, remain a subculture.

This article was originally published in German on Jaxenter.de. Image courtesy of © Shutterstock / plusone
Diana Kupfer

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