Does radio have a place in the M2M world?

Stephen Jenkins - Simoco

(Blog) — In the last 12 months we have seen M2M communications make national headlines and this year will be no exception. More than three quarters of European mobile network operators will offer enabling technologies in 2014, according to research firm Frost and Sullivan, and M2M will continue to establish itself at the operational heart of many industries.

The utilities sector is helping fuel the explosion of machine-to-machine (M2M) device connections to market, writes Stephen Jenkins (pictured here). By automating remote monitoring, companies can greatly reduce maintenance and administration costs – keeping disruption and inconvenience to a minimum.

Cellular traditionally has had the strongest case as an M2M solution. After all, the majority of M2M communications are conducted using cellular GSM as there are publically available networks using this standard in over 90% of the world.

But utility companies need to ask if the same level of relevance applies to M2M. The following requirements should be considered:

 

  • Cost of Ownership: The initial low investment cost in cellular-based M2M solutions can seem attractive but the long-term costs are difficult to establish, with rapidly changing technologies and call charges presenting uncontrollable factors into the budgeting equation.
  • Coverage: The ability to provide high-speed wireless communications is only useful if the service can be provided reliably at the locations where it is needed. While a mobile operator doesn’t require 100% coverage, it is essential that companies such as utilities have reliable wireless communications to 100% of their operational area.
  • Reliability: M2M communications are vital in delivering data from remote assets to enable smart decision-making at times of need. It is therefore essential the communications network chosen to deliver the data is always available.
  • Contention: The public access nature of mobile phone networks mean than all users share the same level of priority, which at busy times will cause call contention. This lack of control can be crippling to any system that relies on assimilating data from hundreds of remote locations in order to make decisions.
  • Security: While wireless data communications enable companies to read and control remote equipment, the use of public networks does present certain security risks. Measures need to be taken to prevent hackers from gaining access to the system to read data from M2M devices or ultimately controlling remote assets.

 

What about radio?

So what about radio to meet the requirements of M2M? Since radio systems are usually owned and operated by the enterprise, they are designed to fit the operational requirements of the business and provide a predictable cost of ownership. Coverage is planned carefully to ensure radio base sites are installed in strategic locations to achieve 100% coverage across the operational environment.

Latest generation systems feature a distributed architecture that enables the system to continue to operate in the event of equipment failure. Contention can easily be managed too. For example, during busy times, different levels of priority can be assigned between voice and data calls or even down to the individual subscriber so that critical M2M data can be prioritised to always get through.

Finally, being ‘private’, PMR (private mobile radio) networks are less open to security threats than public networks. In addition, the latest digital radio standards include high levels of protocol encryption for the ultimate levels of security demanded by our public safety services and government agencies.

Is there room for radio?

Yes! The prolific availability of cellular might mean this is the natural choice for many M2M solutions but we’re sure to see radio make its stake in the increasingly connected world – whether on its own or as part of multiple bearers.

The author is Stephen Jenkins, OEM Product Manager at Simoco Group

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