Last week I attended the IoT Evolution conference in Las Vegas. Originally called M2M Evolution, the change in name reflects the progression of machine communication.
M2M has been used as a carrier term, ie. MNOs providing connectivity to devices. It has also been used to describe purpose-built telematics solutions, ie. a fleet management solution, or a remote electrical power generation site with a number of sensors, both of which report to base applications that are connected (or not) to the internet, but in both cases are completely self-contained and independent from everything else. To me these had the distinct impression of an M2M solution rather than an IoT solution.
One of the better ways I’ve heard M2M and IoT distinguished is this: “M2M is almost synonymous with isolated systems of sensors and islands of telemetry data. In contrast, the IoT is trying to marry disparate systems into an expansive system view to enable new applications“. When you have a specific business problem, there is usually a clear path to generate a focused, ROI impactful solution, and M2M is where you can find most of the solutions today.
Matt Hutton from Machina Research suggested that there was actually an intermediary between the IoT and M2M called the Subnet of Things, which he defined as a collection/network of things suited to a particular purpose or industry such as Smart Cities, Healthcare, consumer electronics, etc. This realizes and defines a transitional path between M2M and IoT, with IoT being achieved once the barriers between the industries can be broken down. An interesting argument against breaking down these barriers however was made in one of the IoT sessions — perhaps patient healthcare data should not be traversing the internet over privacy concerns.
Looking at the industry from the outside, a newcomer may have never heard of M2M, but only of IoT. Given the more mainstream association of the IoT term with consumer devices, raised market awareness and understanding is one of the reasons why the IoT term has become the stronger term within the more traditional M2M industry. But given what the IoT Evolution show had on display, there is another very apparent reason. What was perhaps most telling of the transition to IoT from M2M was seeing all the companies that had begun with a standard M2M-type offering, be it a vertical solution, a connectivity tool, or a hardware platform, start to broaden their portfolio to enable more of a global sharing/availability of their data, or an easier/friendlier interface to simplify interoperability between systems, as well as the companies that were trying to provide just those latter service themselves. Offering only traditional M2M is no longer good enough for most of these companies – all want to be able to interoperate with other systems, to drive new efficiencies and more importantly, to not be locked out of new revenue.
M2M seems to be evolving, with companies realizing that perhaps by offering more of an IoT solution, they may be able to provide more value. But that’s the challenge, finding more value. In one of my favorite panel sessions with two large and successful companies, a third panelist made this observation: “there’s been a lot of neat things on display here, but no business cases. It’s refreshing to hear these companies discuss actual business cases”. The IoT is enabling many ways of building your solution and offering endless possibilities, but it’s only with those that will create enough value that companies will succeed. A fair enough warning to all…