Something unusual at this year's Mobile World Congress was the absence of a single headline-grabbing topic. Those of you familiar with the event know what I mean. At last year's show you couldn't walk five meters without someone pinning you down to evangelize their mobile TV strategy and the year before it was all about HSDPA and mobile broadband. This year, while the scent of LTE was always detectable in the Barcelona air and the Android prototypes got techies hot and sweaty, nothing whipped the industry's annual love-fest into its usual frenzy.
I suspect this is partly owing to the industry's newfound paranoia of over hyping anything, since past experience has shown this virtually guarantees across the board disappointment - from under-whelmed customers to disgruntled shareholders.
Three years ago, M2M (machine-to-machine) was guilty of such hype. But when market reality failed to match ambitious forecasts, the industry went quiet and seemed almost to disappear - until, apparently, this year's MWC, when the catchy three-character abbreviation cropped up in numerous conversations I had.
I can't help but think that if the service providers and vendors I spoke with had made a bigger song-and-dance about their developments, M2M could have been another showstopper. It seems that many of the pieces of the M2M puzzle are finally taking shape, creating an environment for sensible business models and sustainable revenues and growth.
One of my discussions was with Jasper Wireless, which I made the mistake of referring to as an M2M MVNO when I met Macario Namie, senior director of product marketing. Jasper is actually a US-based cellular operator licensed by the FCC and the company has established a global network through roaming agreements with GSM operators around the world. As a pure M2M operator, Jasper's key differentiator is the single SIM card it issues which enables its OEM customers to access a global cellular footprint through the established roaming networks. These OEMs range from vendors of point-of-sale (POS) terminals to fleet tracking equipment, and the one-stop-shop service which Jasper offers means these equipment makers no longer need to engage in disparate network agreements in the various countries they sell products into - Jasper becomes their sole provider requiring just one SIM, one certification process, one set of data charges and one company 'they can shout at.'
On the device side, my conversation with Sierra Wireless quickly turned to M2M. I discovered that Sierra's M2M modems and terminals represent an established and growing part of their business. Justin Schmid, VP of Sierra's Mobile & M2M Group, revealed a range of interesting uses for their products, with one entertainment customer using Sierra's modems in jukeboxes to provide continuous connectivity to an online music database.
Over at Red Bend, the firmware over-the-air (FOTA) specialist, Lori Sylvia and Roger Ordman revealed that they too see M2M as a growing market for their FOTA solutions. Over-the-air software management on handsets remains the company's core market, but through a partnership with Telit Wireless, Red Bend is enabling firmware upgrade capability in M2M terminals, reducing on-site visits and keeping recalls of remote applications to a minimum. With FOTA, only hardware-related failures, which happen less often, need to be fixed manually in the field.
The size of the M2M market should be placed in perspective.