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Telecom Service Providers Target M2M and Automation
Service providers have figured out that it’s not only IT systems that can be managed for clients but any sensor or device on any system or network, many of which operate in buildings.
Yes, your cell phone or cable television service provider may be
looking at automation and energy management as new opportunities in
their connectivity and managed service businesses. We tend to
think of managed services as primarily dealing with information
technology, where a company such as IBM manages the everyday operations
of an enterprise client’s IT hardware and software. However, several
service providers have figured out that it’s not only IT systems that
can be managed for clients but any sensor or device on any system or
network, many of which operate in buildings. Worldwide, service
providers already touch and connect almost 5 billion cell phones and
provide internet connections or cable television to virtually every
building in developed countries. From a business standpoint the service
providers are just leveraging their existing assets and expanding their
The basic idea is to expand telemetry services in where data from
remote devices and sensors can be collected and communicated to a
central point and analyzed for meaningful information, something that
will bring value to users. The service providers provide connectivity
and then offer a managed service themselves or through a third party
who has developed the M2M service. M2M is not necessarily a new idea
but one where service providers now see new business opportunities. The
carriers have a history of such services in utility meters, video
surveillance, vending machines, telematics, health monitoring devices,
digital signage, etc. Probably one of the best examples of newer
M2M services is the Kindle e-reader where Amazon provides content to
the specific device via the network and bundles in the cost of the M2M
service with the cost of the content.
What are some possible applications for building owners and managers? These M2M applications seem to best fit when wired networks are not available or are cost prohibitive to install, when assets are mobile, or when you want a third party to manage the services. Some examples would be street lighting, remote valves or meters for water, gas or power, asset management, vending machines, construction sites without any IT infrastructure, digital signage, remote surveillance cameras, monitoring building and structural movement, and a host of other applications specific to individual building use.
The business trick of course for the carriers will be determining what they and their partners can supply and what the potential market will buy. While the initial new offerings are pretty modest and easy “extensions” of current programs some service providers have made recent announcements indicating bigger things ahead. Here is a sample of what some of the players are embarking on:
Sprint launched its Emerging Solutions Group in 2009 to focus on developing and offering machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions. They have opened a working laboratory called the M2M Collaboration Center in San Francisco, and will soon launch the Sprint Command Center that will offer self-service access for clients. Some of their current offerings include remote monitoring to keep track of Alzheimer's patients and providing news and weather updates for digital signage systems. They are also involved in remote monitoring and control of equipment, primarily SCADA RTUs for oil wells and waste water, as well as security, utility meters and appliances. Some of their partners include Grid Net, Landis+Gyr, and Ford Motor Company. Check out more at www.sprint.com/m2m.
Verizon has also launched a M2M Management Center geared to enterprise clients who want to utilize the Verizon connectivity to implement new solutions or business models. They have teamed with nPhase, a joint venture between Verizon and Qualcomm, a major manufacturer of cellular chip sets. Some of their solutions include wireless ATMs, electronic medical records, RFID-tagged supply chain applications, video surveillance, stolen vehicle tracking, monitoring of water, gas and electric distribution, control electronics, DVD kiosks and vending machines. Itron electrical meters have already been certified for the Verizon network. One interesting public safety application is connecting Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices (BAIID) to the public safety authorities. Like Sprint, Verizon offers their client an integrated dashboard that allows clients “self-services” to manage network connections or devices and oversee other aspects of their M2M application.
Orange is part of France telecom and is the seventh largest telecom carrier in the world, having a customer base of 186 million customers in 32 countries. Orange has an International M2M Center, and has been involved in the M2M business through their partner Mobistar since 2002. The list of solutions is extensive: vehicle tracking and online monitoring and reporting, asset management, wireless CCTV safety cameras, satellite navigation systems, patient medical trials, patients’ diaries, security, asset tracking, dynamic signage, EPOS, vending machines, stock control, pest control, remote measurement of water and energy usage, automatic meter reading, wireless alarm systems, emergency lighting and wireless CCTV. Check out http://www1.orange.co.uk/m2mvillage/ .
Orange has two of the more innovative M2M solutions. One is beer or beverage monitoring where the M2M solution monitors temperatures, how often pipes are cleaned, how many pints have been poured and how long it takes to pour them. The other solution is the Smart Pest Box, a M2M solution for the food processing industry which monitors pest traps, such as when a pest is caught, then provides real time data showing which trap and where its located – it can also differentiate between a rodent and a false alarm.
AT&T has been in the M2M telemetry space for over 10 years. They teamed up with global M2M player Jasper Wireless to push its M2M strategy, including a deployment of an AT&T Control Center, powered by Jasper Wireless. They also have a comprehensive online environment for clients to allow them ordering and real-time activation, online trouble ticket management and reporting. Their M2M applications cover a long list of vertical markets: architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, banking, consumer packaged goods, healthcare, location-based services (LBS), manufacturing, petrochemical, retail, transportation and utilities. The major cross industry applications involve field service automation, fleet management, and sales force automation.
The use of M2M managed services from a telecomm carrier is analogous to the use of “the cloud”, “SaaS” and outsourcing - it’s about focusing on your core mission and offloading the peripheral tasks to the telecom carriers and their partners. As the complexity of building operations increase this approach makes more sense.
Note however that the carriers are all about their network. For the most part they are enabling M2M services through partnerships to develop and provide the applications. One common theme is the carriers providing “self-serve” features in that clients manage their own network connection and devices. While these tools are a convenience for the client, providing them real-time visibility of their services they also reflect the carrier’s desire to provide connectivity and a resistance to managing many different devices, except for the very largest clients.
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