Standard Practice: M2M Lacks Cross-Industry Harmonization, But New Effort Could Change that Tune

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  February 27, 2013

For all the talk about M2M these days, there’s been very little work in this area relative to creating reusable platforms, and aligning protocols and other technologies, to help simplify application creation and otherwise lower costs and increase time to market.

That means that despite plummeting device radio costs, the availability of cloud-based M2M solutions and expansive wireless networks – all of which have made M2M more accessible to a greater number of potential users – getting M2M applications up and running has been more costly and time consuming than it would be, had M2M standards been in place.

Perhaps that’s because various industries are concentrating their efforts on specific M2M requirements within their verticals. It may also be in part because the big consulting companies are making hay doing custom M2M jobs. Or it may just be that it’s still in early days for M2M, and only when a technology realizes critical mass, or critical potential anyway, do people start to really pay attention and work together to figure out how to drive an industry forward.

Whatever the case, a large collection of important players in the communications arena have recently come together to tackle M2M harmonization through an initiative known as oneM2M.

Founding member entities of oneM2M include the Association of Radio Industries and Businesses (ARIB) and the Telecommunication Technology Committee (TTC) of Japan; the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (News - Alert) (TIA) of the U.S.; the China Communications Standards Association (CCSA); the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI); and the Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA) of Korea.

“The specifications developed by oneM2M will provide a common platform to be used by communications service providers to support applications and services as diverse as the smart grid, the connected car, eHealth and telemedicine, enterprise supply chain, home automation and energy management, and public safety,” according to a oneM2M press release announcing the group.

Representatives from each of these organizations gathered in July in Bellevue, Wash., to kick off the effort, which as part of its initial work aims to “confront the critical need for a common M2M Service Layer, which can be readily embedded within various hardware and software, and relied upon to connect the myriad of devices in the field with M2M application servers worldwide.” The overall work of oneM2M is intended to lower operating and capital expenses, shortening time-to-market, creating mass-market economies of scale, simplifying the development of applications, expanding and accelerating global business opportunities, and avoiding standardization overlap for M2M across industries.  

Richard Brennan (News - Alert), a telecom industry veteran and current consultant with Telxxis LLC (TIA), explains that the M2M space has many vertical industry efforts related to M2M harmonization, but to date has lacked any umbrella standardization efforts. OneM2M aims to change that by creating a platform that acts as a middleware of sorts to enable developers to write an application once and have it work on any kind of network and within any industry vertical, he says.

This concept is akin to the write once, run anywhere philosophy popularized by Sun Microsystems with its release of Java.

David Foote (News - Alert), CTO at Hitachi Telecom and vice chair of the oneM2M Steering Committee, says that because needs in different verticals vary somewhat, there won’t be complete harmonization on M2M, but that defining a common way to implement M2M traffic on a carrier network clearly makes sense.

So, again, the goal is to harmonize the M2M service layer, which is how a telecom service provider exposes services in its networks to devices or services or apps in the cloud or to customers. That will involve defining an API or signaling mechanisms that app developers can use to be access to network resources, much as developers do when putting together smartphone apps.

Brennan, who spoke with M2M Evolution in mid December after having just returned from a oneM2M gathering in Beijing, says among the first orders of business for the group is to survey use cases brought to members organizations and to look at the existing body of standards work at the member entities to understand key M2M user requirements and what oneM2M can leverage from existing standards.

Foote says that if oneM2m can identify that 30 to 40 percent of industries need certain things from the network for M2M, for example, that would be helpful.

The survey is expected to be complete by the first quarter of this year, Brennan says, and the first outline of specs, requirements and key architectural consideration should be out in late 2013.

While oneM2M works on the middleware/service layer part of the equation, Foote says that groups like 3GPP and 3GPP2 continue their efforts to define how a mobile network how adjust the control of calls for M2M devices vs. smartphones. That’s important, he explains, given M2M devices typically require only very short connect times and very small data transmissions while smartphones tend to have lengthier and more bandwidth-loving interactions with the network.

M2M device discovery, configuration and management is another area that could benefit from harmonization, Foote adds. And there is plenty of existing standards works that could be leveraged in the process, he indicates. For example, he says, the M2M industry could potentially borrow from the Broadband Forum’s TR-69, which came to light long ago to address the hairy issue of DSL turn up and management, and the Open Mobile (News - Alert) Alliance’s device management specs, which are now in widespread use.

“What you’re going to see is sort of a cross pollenization of these specs and standards,” says Foote.

Joel Young, CTO and senior vice president of R&D at Digi International, says that on the device side one of the biggest challenges of M2M, which standards won’t solve, is there are lots of devices out there today that speak obscure protocols and not web services and have been out there a long time and will be out in the world for a long time still.

That said, there will always be a need for the ability to translate those obscure protocols, which is something Digi enables with its gateway solutions.

There are trillions of dollars of devices out in world that won’t be changed for decades, and that we want to tie into, and you have to get down and dirty to work with them, adds Tom Shafron, CEO at Viewbiquity. Shafron says Viewbiquity leverages multiple existing standards and

integrates them into JSAN and XML to significantly lower the cost of M2M implementation.

As discussed in this month’s cover story, probably the most interesting piece of the M2M puzzle is how the M2M data, once it’s generated and gathered, can be channeled into backend systems so organizations can leverage that information to meet a particular end goal.

Of course, it’s important that such data is in the proper format so it can populate databases and be combined with other information as needed. 

Peter Coffee, vice president and head of platform research for Salesforce.com (News - Alert), says to enable all this to happen, the industry should try to get away from binary data interchange protocols, and move toward more xML and the hierarchy of name space. That’s the way we are already headed, but the history of M2M will require determination to move from binary protocol to name spaces and semantic protocols.

Edited by Braden Becker

blog comments powered by Disqus