I recently read a fascinating article ("M2M: a phoenix rising") in Telecommunications Online on the future prospects of the M2M market. The article, an interview with an analyst at the Yankee Group's Enterprise Research group, talks about his predictions for the M2M market and its potential for growth.
His focus is on whether the telecomm carriers want to provide M2M services, something that's unlikely unless there's a ton of consumer demand to support it. Matt Lewis, writing for ARC Chart, has this to say about the M2M industry in his article "M2M making good on past promises." "The size of the M2M market should be placed in perspective. A study last year from ABI Research reports that 18 million M2M cellular modules shipped in 2006, and this is expected to reach roughly 90 million in 2012, making it several orders of magnitude smaller than the global handset market. However, this is more than sufficient to support a vibrant ecosystem and a multi-billion dollar market place, and this opportunity will only grow as demand increases for more machines to become piped into the Internet."
Right now, M2M is finding its greatest adoption in industrial automation, logistics, commercial transportation, and the process industries because, for the businesses involved in these industries, it makes excellent economic sense. A system that provides two-way communication between machines and a central server enables far more efficient remote monitoring and better use of field personnel. Moreover, the more data you gather about your enterprise, the better able you are to spot places to improve its operation.
But (you knew there was going to be a but, there's always a but), as in any technology such as this, there is a progression from smaller, custom-built deployments to larger, standardized yet customizable systems as the technology matures. Work is afoot to create standards and establish industry-wide best practices for M2M, to provide a framework in which an OEM can shape its desired M2M system to fit its own needs. Companies working on this include Jasper Wireless, Wavecom SA, and Aeris Communications.
M2M devices won't outpace the number of human-held cell phones, but that isn't really the point. The point is whether the M2M providers can create a system with sufficient scalability and flexibility that you can continuously add more and more networked devices to it. The number of sensors and networked devices is only going to increase over time. No one, to my knowledge, has ever decided to go with fewer sensors and less data about a particular system or process. Give them the capability to learn about their process and they'll want more information. M2M is here to stay—the only question is in how it develops.