March 2004

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Wireless M2M Communications over Cellular Data Networks

EMAIL INTERVIEW  Philip Sencer & Ken Sinclair

Philip Sencer is Senior Vice President of Profile Systems, LLC. He is responsible for cellular data contracts and OEM module selections. He can be contacted at 

Sinclair: I understand Profile Systems provides energy management solutions for your customers utilizing wireless communications. Can you give us an idea of how your application works and some of the challenges you have had to deal with using wireless data?

Sencer: Profile Systems provides control systems that can monitor and control lighting, HVAC systems and critical component management (M2M applications) over cellular data networks.

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Sinclair: Isn't that difficult considering there are six US cellular providers?

Sencer: Having different network topologies has been the most difficult challenge to providing nationwide service to our customers. Cingular, T-Mobile and AWS use GSM. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA and Nextel uses IDEN. No single carrier can provide ubiquitous nationwide coverage. Each carrier's network still has coverage holes.

Sinclair:  Carriers currently deliver voice traffic to each others subscribers. Don't they have the same capability with data?

Sencer: Technically they can, but in reality they don't communicate with each other. GSM providers Cingular, T-Mobile, and AWS have roaming agreements and can pass data traffic to each others networks. Verizon and Sprint, both CDMA carriers, do not have roaming agreements and currently do not pass data traffic to each other. Nextel does not pass traffic with anyone.

Sinclair: I thought the carriers are passing text messages with each other?

Sencer: Text messaging is available today via third party aggregators who can generally deliver text messages to other subscriber's handsets. True M2M applications require the ability to deliver a message or packet from machine to machine irrespective of the network.

Sinclair: How did Profile solve this issue in their application?

Sencer: The first step was to speak with the individual carriers and determine which OEM modules were network certified. This might seem like an easy task, but was much more difficult since each carrier had different selection criteria and for the most part chose different OEM models then their competitors. What also slows this process down is that most OEM modules take a backseat in the evaluation scheme behind OEM handsets.

Sinclair: Theoretically then you could end up with six different modules for six different carriers?

Sencer: In theory yes, but from a business point of view, you have to narrow the choices down as it is not realistic to support that many products. We chose one OEM module for GSM, one for CDMA and for Nextel IDEN; the only available choice was from Motorola.

Sinclair: What challenge did you face choosing your carrier partners?

Sencer: Since Profile's applications are true M2M, we had no use for a voice component. We communicate to our controllers located at a customer's site and have the ability to schedule, turn-on, turn-off, monitor and control lighting, HVAC and other critical components. Since we are controlling and communicating with machines, voice is not necessary. Cellular carriers are measured by Wall Street by their ARPU (Average Rate Per User). The majority of the current carrier ARPU is voice traffic, so they have been reluctant to provide data only solutions without voice. Carrier billing for data only is still slow to develop.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Sinclair:  Sounds complex, what did you end up doing?

Sencer: We have worked with the carriers for the last three years and after much hard work and negotiating we now have separate data only agreements providing GSM, CDMA and IDEN coverage.

Sinclair: How do you choose which network to use for your customers?

Sencer: Our customers typically have multiple locations all over the United States. Our goal is provide them with energy saving solutions using our technology transparently irrespective of which network we use. We conduct a site survey, determine carrier availability, and then pick the least cost solution we can guarantee works.

Sinclair: Did you consider other alternatives other than cellular data?

Sencer: In the beginning we did, but for the most part gaining access to the customers corporate network, dealing with security issues, virus issues, worm issues, IT personnel issues, we decided offering a solution on a separate cellular data network would be less intrusive and more cost effective for our customers. We made the right decision, as it takes less than a half of day for us to install our solution without any impact on our customer's personnel or network. Typical ROI is less than two years. Although it has been a long haul to get where we are, we now have a competitive market advantage as a true provider of end to end wireless data solutions.

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