Smart fridges are just one application of M2M

By Will Goodbody, Science and Technology Correspondent


Buried deep in the middle of Comreg’s report for the 2nd quarter of 2013, issued today, there’s a nugget of fascinating information which opens a window to the future. For the first time, the regulator has begun to publish information on SIM cards used for so-called Machine to Machine (M2M) communications.

Comreg’s definition of M2M is “data communication between devices or systems in which human intervention is not a part”. Effectively, this means your next generation fridge, your house alarm, your smart-home management system, your smart utility meters, traffic lights, ATM machines, vehicle tracking devices – anything that allows one machine to talk to another.

M2M is not new and has for some time been used in industrial settings in wired and wireless sensors, telemetry etc. But as the world’s population becomes more and more dependent on and used to devices, particularly wireless devices, and even more particularly smart wireless devices, M2M is about to come into its own. The combination of wireless sensors, the internet and computers, opens up a vast new world of opportunity for government, business, science, technology, medicine and consumers. Creating what’s being described as the “Internet of Things”.

The global association of mobile operators, GSMA, forecasts up to 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020. Analysys Mason predicts that the global market for M2M device connections will grow from 62 million in 2010 to 2.1 billion in 2020. While GE estimates the “Industrial Internet” has the potential to add €7.7-11.5 trillion to global GDP by 2030. By any estimate and measure, M2M is set to have a big impact on our lives.

ComReg says it has started gathering data on the needs and demands of M2M users and providers, in order to assess future regulatory needs. It says that in the second quarter, 6.3% of mobile subscriptions were for M2M SIM cards. O2 has the highest market share of these subscriptions with 53.9%, followed by Vodafone with 38.5% market share and Eircom Group Mobile with 7.5%.

According to the regulator, M2M communication is already widely deployed in Ireland and it predicts its usage is set to grow rapidly, particularly with the rollout of 4G mobile technology and fibre fixed networks. It also points out that the cost of the wireless module and sensors that enable M2M continues to fall.

In particular, Comreg is trying to assess how best to rollout numbering for future M2M services. Earlier this year it launched a consultation process on the issue, saying it seemed “prudent, if not essential, that a more targeted long term numbering resource designed specifically for M2M purposes should be made available to satisfy the demand for numbers arising from the emerging M2M services.”

These included proposals for telephone numbers of the maximum permissible length internationally, which according to Comreg would follow international telecoms standards, and have already been implemented in about six European countries. The proposals would see numbers of up to 15 digits – 353 for Ireland, 77 as an access code, and then a 10 digit number. Those consultations were published in July and are now under consideration by Comreg, who will publish its response and plans shortly.

Just in time for your smart fridge to start dialling orders into your local supermarket for you – assuming you can figure out how to turn it on!