LTE networks will enable a new generation of M2M applications

Attend nearly any technical conference even remotely related to mobile technology and the Internet these days, and you will likely hear at least one forecast for the expected explosion in data traffic over the next few years. Cisco’s latest and oft-cited Visual Networking Index (VNI) now predicts the unfathomable volume of 1.3 zettabytes of IP traffic by 2016, which is equivalent to 110 exabytes per month. To put that in dimensions more relatable to the devices many of us possess, an exabyte would fill one million terabyte backup drives, and a zettabyte would consume one billion. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of data.

Cisco also forecasts that there will be 25 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2015, or approximately 3.5 connected devices per person, most of which will constitute the “.” Those “things” will be embedded all around us, and many of them will connect wirelessly through Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications. Until now, the vast majority of M2M applications, smart meters for example, have worked just fine with low data rate 2G networks. That’s about to change, as a number of factors are coming together that will push M2M off of 2G and directly onto networks.

M2M migration

The first factor that will change the M2M landscape is the scarcity of spectrum. In an SEC filing on June 30, AT&T stated that they “expect to fully discontinue service on our 2G networks by approximately January 1, 2017.” As operators move to redeploy spectrum for more profitable 3G and 4G services, millions of 2G customers will be left with no choice but to upgrade. With many M2M devices having very long lifecycles, the newly deployed networks will offer a better option for longevity.

The types of devices that will make up are also changing, with many new M2M applications taking advantage of LTE’s higher bandwidth and low latency. In August, Sprint announced that Chrysler will adopt their Uconnect platform for wireless in-vehicle connectivity, which will debut in the 2013 Ram 1500 truck and SRT Viper sports car. At the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in January, Verizon Wireless and General Motors OnStar demonstrated the use of LTE for -connected in-vehicle applications. With connectivity, our vehicles will become rolling hotspots, and dashboard applications will duplicate smartphone functionality. The combination of wireless connectivity, Location Based Services (LBS), and telematics will enable new applications for vehicle diagnostics, traffic management, and emergency response.

M2M mitigation

Video surveillance is another growing application that is enabled by the higher bandwidth of 4G LTE M2M connections, as is remote, mobile healthcare. But many issues remain to be resolved before widespread adoption of LTE-based M2M is feasible. Though LTE comes with the advantage of the increased address space of IPv6 for supporting many more IP-connected devices, a large number of permanent M2M connections in a single cell tower coverage area could overload a network. The development of LTE standards did not initially plan for the special needs of machine-type data communications, but organizations such as the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP) are now working on System Improvements for Machine-Type Communications in LTE Release 11.

Another issue is the incompatibility of networks for roaming M2M devices. In the U.S., Sprint is planning to deploy FDD LTE in multiple frequency bands, along with TDD LTE in Clearwire’s 2.5 GHz spectrum. AT&T and Verizon will also be reallocating spectrum in multiple bands to enhance their LTE coverage. Manufacturers of M2M devices will need to employ multi-mode 4G radios and baseband processors that can accommodate the multiplicity of LTE standards. To ease provisioning of M2M devices, the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) is working on an embedded SIM solution that would enable devices to dynamically switch to the local operator with the best coverage.

Preparing M2M for future expansion

Fragmentation and potential incompatibility of end-to-end M2M solutions are major obstacles to the development of the Internet of Things. To tackle this problem, in July a number of international standards organizations and companies in the M2M space came together to form the oneM2M organization with the objective of ensuring global functionality of M2M solutions. The organization will begin their work by attempting to define a common set of service layer capabilities for M2M applications worldwide.