“Live Free or Die” - Future Proof your M2M Initiatives

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“Live Free or Die” - Future Proof your M2M Initiatives


NHPlate resized 600
Flying home from the CTIA 2010 show in San Francisco… considering the state of the M2M market as represented at the show … three words popped to my mind:

  1. Choice
  2. Confusion
  3. Traction

Given the weighty nature of each of these topics, I plan to tackle each one in turn.   So let’s start with the first, CHOICE.  

As I walked around CTIA, I saw example after example of solutions that were being presented to the market that would lock a customer into a technology direction for the lifetime of their product.   Think about this: you build your M2M solution, launch it to the market, and successfully commercialize it - only to discover that your M2M solution supplier decides to raise the prices on the modules your solution depends on.    You want to switch to another supplier (to at least feign a competitive environment) but your sales rep knows that you have no real option or CHOICE – you are stuck!   You cannot move to a different module because you have built your entire product on the module company’s solutions.    To make a change, you must restart your M2M initiative and orphan the first generation of products in the market – OUCH!

An M2M application is comprised of many elements, which leads me to my 2nd word:  CONFUSION.   At the bottom layer are the chips, modules, and boxes that are used to take information from the physical asset and transmit it.   The next layer up represents the carriers who move the data from the real world to the cloud.   (The carriers provide a function called service management - at the service management layer modems are provisioned and billing is managed).  And finally, at the top of the chain is the application layer where the final solution is developed and deployed.   Where do you start?  Is there a vendor that has a holistic view? 

 Many consumers fall into the trap of starting their M2M initiatives from the chip (module) up versus from the application down.  As a consumer, I want to minimize my long-term costs and maximize my leverage.  A vendor, on the other hand, wants to lock you into their solution.  In M2M there is a mad rush to provide full stack solutions that eliminate your choice.   (For example: Module vendors (i.e.: Sierra Wireless) would like you to build your solutions totally on their stack because your switching costs would be much, much higher should you want to take advantage of the latest offerings from a competitor such as Telit.)

At the end of the day, in order for a consumer to be able to future proof their M2M initiatives they must be free to change chips, modules, and even carriers should a better solution or lower cost option become available without disruption to the underlying M2M application.   As a consumer, your most strategic investment is at the application layer.   It would be a real bummer to need to re-write your entire solution just to change chip vendors because your current supplier is out of touch with current market dynamics. 

In order to avoid this ‘lock-in’ trap, you must focus on a top down approach that enables 100% flexibility.   Will your application and business process changes be fully insulated from hardware and airtime charges?   Can your application support every carrier and hardware manufacturer - simultaneously if needed?   If you think about it, even the biggest carriers are regional … The top carriers in the US are different from those in Europe or China … The right module for the US may be different in Europe …  The right chip today may be different tomorrow.   The only way to insulate yourself from these market dynamics is to leverage an M2M platform that takes a holistic approach and does not play in an exclusive layer of the stack (i.e. module only).   This holistic – or application layer approach - is the only way to make sure that you have a vendor whose interests are aligned with yours – a vendor who wants to make sure that you find the best technical solution for your program at the lowest costs.  

Yet, with all of this, my third word TRACTION was in full evidence at the show.   Not only were there many hardware, software, and carriers showing their M2M wares – but one of the world’s largest companies - FORD - was proudly showing off their very own connected product – their cars.    You know the M2M market is a breath away from the big time when this happens…

I often spend time in New Hampshire on family vacations.   One of the things that always struck me when you travel to New Hampshire is their license plate – proudly displaying the slogan:  “Live Free or Die”.    

I always thought when viewing this license plate that most people probably don’t really appreciate its full meaning - unless they have lived in a situation where their freedom was compromised. My big fear coming out of the CTIA show is that many of you will give away your ability to CHOOSE your technology partners in the future – so my hope is that you develop a real understanding of this phrase! 

Think before you act!  FUTURE PROOF your M2M initiative and avoid giving up your most valuable long term asset – the ability to CHOOSE.


Great viewpoint. I couldn't agree more with your comments. I believe in the 'open platforum' approach. All we have to do is look at historical references for those who failed with a 'one trick pony' solution such as my friends at "DEC" in Maynard,MA.  
The healthcare vertical will be just one of those that will need this M2M flexibility with so many devices deployed. 
Posted @ Friday, October 15, 2010 2:07 PM by David Sanderson
I'm glad to see another person supporting the view of having open M2M platforms to handle growth and also changes in software/hardware. We designed our AVIDdirectordevices to be both open source in the software and have an open hardware architecture that supports any wireless device (cellular, satellite, short or long range radio, etc). We find as customers realize the value of M2M to their business and want to do more and expand their monitoring and control, they are replacing many of these "one-trick ponies" with a more flexible solution that will work both now and in the future.
Posted @ Monday, October 18, 2010 11:20 AM by Rod Montrose
The level of competition and collaboration between participating companies in the M2M tech and market spaces is growing at a truly alarming pace. And to think we are still in the early days of M2M. 
As far as open platforms are concerned and given the competitive climate, I suspect that companies will rather forge partnerships that will allow them to provide multiple level solutions to a wider pool of customers. Assuming this will happen, the window for the development of open M2M software and hardware architecture is now, during these infant years of the industry. M2M today is largely still about the exploration of possibilities. There is no better time for open M2M advocates to influence the industry. Otherwise, a great opportunity to introduce a vital aspect of M2M may be missed. No one knows how relevant a part open M2M will play for the demand of M2M solutions in the marketplace.  
You made very sound points.
Posted @ Tuesday, October 26, 2010 8:12 PM by Anderson Ngundam
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