Cellular M2M Networking is Available Now – No Waiting

Cellular M2M Networking is Available Now – No Waiting

| 8/15/2013 3:58:00 PM

When I was a kid you could still find a pay telephone in most public places.  Over the last couple of decades they’ve quietly begun to disappear. It didn’t happen overnight, and many pay phones still exist, but there isn’t much profit in providing a service that people rarely need anymore. The pay telephone has largely been replaced by its cellular descendant.

Now there’s another quiet change going on.  The cellular networks, at first, were primarily used for personal communications between live human beings. But as coverage has expanded and the systems have become reliable, a steadily increasing percentage of cellular network traffic now consists of M2M communications.  The cellular service providers know that talk time has peaked, and that their only opportunity for continued growth lies in data communications.

One of my customers, Data Display USA, specializes in digital signage. And one of their customers, a health care provider that can rightfully boast about unusually short wait times in their emergency rooms, wanted to advertise that by placing digital signs on public transportation.  The signs would display continuously updated wait times for the various emergency rooms.  Sometimes simply telling the truth is the best advertising available.

To be able to do this in real time, obviously, all of the digital signs on all of the trolleys would need to be controlled and managed from a central location.  And the connections would have to be mobile.  You can’t run cable to a moving trolley.  So Data Display USA used the cellular telephone network instead.

Each digital sign has an internal controller board.  The board operates the light display via an RS-232 port.  The board also has an Ethernet port that allows it to communicate with the central office.  But instead of connecting to a hardwired Ethernet network, Data Display USA connects the controller boards to a SPECTRE 3G cellular router.  The data is transmitted and received wirelessly.  The system is secure thanks to VPN tunneling, which lets the health care company use the cellular network much the same way that they’d use proprietary infrastructure.

There’s more and more of this kind of thing going on.  Transportation and logistics services were originally the fastest growing sector, as those industries need to be able to operate large networks that are dispersed over wide areas.  Cellular communication systems were an obvious solution. But network designers in many other industries are also beginning to discover the virtues of cellular data communications, as demonstrated by those signs on the trolleys.  The cellular network already exists; you don’t have to build it yourself.  All you have to do is take advantage of it.  Got a device that’s hard to reach from ground level? Use the cellular network.  Is a device in an inconvenient or hazardous location? Give it a cellular connection.

Granted, even though the cellular network already exists, it is more difficult to connect M2M cellular equipment than it is to connect a typical cellphone to the cellular network. Consumers have many voice and data plans to choose from, but industrial networking customers who just need to connect their M2M devices so they can transfer data aren’t likely to find much help at the local cellular store.

M2M cellular device manufacturers should assume the role of device activation and connectivity, or provisioning, for industrial customers, like the local cellular store does for consumers. For example, SIM cards, which bundle data time and minutes, can be included with cellular routers. And, virtual private networking (VPN) is the key to connecting M2M devices to carrier networks.   ”Because B&B Electronics understands the pain points of activating and connecting cellular M2M devices, we completed our project on time and within budget,” said Abigail Lundari, Service Manager of Data Display USA. “Their engineers skillfully navigated the carrier provisioning.  And the router itself was easy to configure; we interfaced it to our equipment and had it operational in no time.”

The cellular system is only going to get better.  3G cellular networking already provided enough bandwidth for most M2M applications.  The completion of the 4G LTE networks, with their low latency and high bandwidth, will provide a true cable replacement, even for many applications that currently depend upon fiber.

That opens the door to even more possibilities.  What about cellular networking for redundant backhaul?  If the bandwidth is there, why not take advantage of it?  And, as they say, if you build it they will come.  The completion of the 4G LTE buildout will inevitably lead to new innovations that can take full advantage of its enhanced capabilities.  It’s impossible to predict where all of this will lead – but I’ll bet it will all make those old pay telephones look pretty quaint.

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