Over the years, we have been implementing M2M and IoT solutions. In this article, we go through the distinctions and the pros and cons of both communication technologies. First, let us take a look at definitions.
The term “Internet of Things” was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, who worked at Procter & Gamble at the time. IoT is a system of intelligently connected devices, vehicles and other items the utilize software, sensors, actuators and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.
The meaning of IoT is to ensure advanced connectivity of devices, systems and services that goes beyond the machine-to-machine (M2M) technology and covers a variety of protocols, domains and applications utilizing cloud and big data capabilities.
Billions of connected devices are part of the Internet of Things. They use built-in hardware and software to send and receive data via various communication protocols. They might use our smartphones as the gateway to the Internet, connect to some other piece of hardware in our homes that acts as a hub or connect directly through our home Internet service.
Lots more connected devices are out today or hitting the market this year. Right now, we are likely to see an increase in the connectivity capabilities of smart devices. Today, we can interact with these devices individually via separate phone apps, but, for the most part, they are not integrated due to different ports, languages, etc. However, companies and industry groups are working to create standards and platforms to make it easier for all of these devices to be programmed to work together more seamlessly, as well as to improve security.
IoT as the New Industrial Revolution
The term Industrial Internet of Things is often seen in the manufacturing, referring to the industrial subterm of the IoT industry. IIoT in manufacturing is expected to generate so much value that it is expected to create the fourth industrial revolution — Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 is expected to bring many changes to the market. It is a race between manufacturing companies for who will be the first to utilize the capabilities of IoT in their work.
IIoT will bring to its adopters:
- New business models
- Improved productivity
- A new understanding of analytics
- A transformed workforce
- Increased revenue
ETSI defines M2M communications as:
“Machine to Machine (M2M) communications is the communication between two or more sensors that do not need any direct interaction with the user. M2M services intend to automate decision and communication processes.”
M2M communication is often used for remote monitoring. A vending machine is able to message its distributor when running low on an item. M2M communication is an important aspect of warehouse management, remote control, manufacturing automated, traffic control, logistic services and supply-chain management. M2M finds applications in wide areas such as smart grids, e-healthcare, home area networks, intelligent transportation systems, environmental monitoring, smart cities and industrial automation.
Communication channels and applications
Machine-to-machine technology is often referred to as the predecessor of the Internet of Things. M2M is older than IoT and has some factors that do not apply to the IoT, but it is not disappearing or turning into legacy technology. However, companies have a practical, affordable alternative in the IoT and need to decide whether machine to machine or internet of things is the solution that will bring maximum value for them.
M2M usually uses point-to-point communications between machines, and through sensors and other hardware devices communicating through modems to access proprietary, cellular or wired networks. IoT sensors, on the other hand, use the same IP network protocols that are the most used to transfer data traffic on the Internet.
IoT software focus and extended range of stakeholders
M2M works largely with sensors and hardware modules embedded into industrial assets, while IoT, on the other hand, can incorporate a wide range of controllers and sensors, many of them fully commoditized and inexpensive. M2M is very restrictive in terms of hardware. In the IoT, you can connect almost any imaginable sensor to almost any conceivable item, and the data management, analytical, visualization, and other software applications layered onto the IoT are much more critical in generating the business results companies look for. It also means that IoT data is not restricted to a narrow range of applications and integrations, and can become available to a wider range of users and business stakeholders than with M2M.
IoT can contain M2M
From another perspective, it is possible to think of many M2M applications as a subdivision of IoT infrastructure. M2M infrastructure protocols and technologies are best realized in discrete territories of industrial automation and communication. IoT can change it by providing context for data and events across applications, groups and organizations. You could imagine an M2M application that meets a certain business need, such as supporting maintenance planning, while it is also a part of the IoT system and enables a more systematic outlook on the management or collaboration between different organizations in regard to sharing the needed data. IoT is able to transform the business model into a system that is able to provide the highest possible customer value for the offerings you have. It can go beyond what M2M is able to provide and utilize its extensive resources.
IoT big data and the cloud
Lower cost of the hardware, the ease of installing, and connecting sensors using the universal bandwidth of internet connectivity allow IoT applications to involve many more sensors on industrial assets than an M2M environment. In the IoT, you are always working with big data. When companies understand the insight and collaborative capabilities they can gain with big data analytics, they also look for the most economical and scalable way to store and share ]data from their remote devices. This is why it is impossible to fully utilize IoT capabilities without the security and the scalability of the cloud.
M2M or IoT
To understand the difficulties in the M2M vs. IoT comparison, we should take a look at a project that we worked on.
Our client, PHOENIX CONTACT Cyber Security AG, is a leading manufacturer of network security appliances for use in industrial environments. PHOENIX CONTACT Cyber Security’s strategic business areas are security solutions for industrial networks and secure remote maintenance via the Internet.
Quality is the central attribute of products for PHOENIX CONTACT Cyber Security, and our client’s QA department required additional capacities and a scaled firmware-testing process, in order to tackle the growing number of products, configuration options and usage scenarios.
The client realized that in order to keep up with aggressive market window, they needed an experienced provider with deep knowledge in firmware testing and networking technologies, a provider who is able to quickly bring in testing capacities and to optimize the testing processes across several ongoing R&D projects.
The client’s mGuard portfolio was specifically developed for use in the industrial environment. The mGuard products combine the properties of a stateful inspection firewall, filtering incoming and outgoing connections based on a custom defined rule set, with the capability of secure and confidential communication through encrypted virtual private networks (VPNs). In addition, they can monitor the integrity of industrial PCs to protect against malware attacks. mGuard security appliances integrate easily with new industrial systems, while also lending themselves perfectly to retrofitting for the protection of existing production lines or individual critical automation components.
If you analyze this project from the standpoint of the m2m vs. internet of things discussion, you will see a project with clear elements of m2m, meaning it uses m2m protocols that have been in use since the 80s. Modern M2M communications represent vast improvements to the same systems. For instance, it has been used for monitoring weather and tracking wildlife, and it’s even used to monitor the occupants and equipment on the International Space Station. Remote sensor technology advances offer increased sensitivity and accuracy. Analyzing computers and software also work at a faster pace. The explosive growth of public wireless networks is probably the biggest change that has opened M2M communications to many more sectors. IoT transformed the idea even further by introducing big data, but still using the same basic communications.
The similarities between IoT and M2M are mostly seen in communication between sensors. The IPv4 32-bit standard created in 1981 may be the same, but the way the information is processed has changed. A good analogy for this is comparing a 2D printer and a 3D printer. A 2D printer creates images on the basis of a template given to it electronically. A 3D printer has to act in a bigger environment where more variables exist, like in IoT.
The terms M2M and Internet of Things have become synonymous in many quarters, but it is important to make sure you specify a solution that meets your current and anticipated needs. This involves recognizing from day one whether you require a point solution for simple remote machine access, such as a service management application, or you need to drive business benefits across the enterprise by utilizing analytics, the cloud and big data. Enterprise integration capabilities, scalability, software vs. hardware emphasis, and use device connections are key criteria that drive enterprise decisions in the IoT vs M2M conversation.