As with any significant technological advances that are built on older infrastructure, IoT (the Internet of Things) very quickly found the limitations of our existing wireless data networks. Cellular data plans that themselves were essentially shoehorned into the traditional cell phone and text message services were not ideally suited for IoT use, as the unnecessary costs of a standard data plan would make some IoT devices impractical.
It often takes services like this a moment to catch up, but M2M data plans are part of an important step forward in making IoT devices more feasible across the board, from large business applications to individual consumer use. This is because M2M data plans are geared towards the specific kind of usage that M2M communications require, which makes them more cost-effective than a regular data plan.
What is M2M?
M2M, or machine-to-machine, is a label that describes any system or technology that makes information exchange between network devices possible without the need for human intervention.
While the use-cases for M2M solutions are many and varied, the main purpose of this kind of technology is to allow devices to transmit data to other devices. From machine to machine. For example, sensors transmitting the data they read to a device for logging and interpreting that data.
Though far from commonplace, M2M was used as far back as the early part of the twentieth century to send telemetry data from remote systems, allowing those systems to be monitored without the need for a human to relay that information.
The Advantages of M2M
The main reason that M2M is so useful—and why it has become such an important part of the growing IoT market—is its potential to reduce costs and allow for the automation of more tasks. The net result being often that revenue can be boosted while simultaneously improving the service offered.
M2M devices typically consume less power than a regular cellular data device, since their connectivity is cut to the bone, in contrast to something like a cellphone, which is constantly connected and sending unpredictable and large amounts of data.
Examples of M2M Applications
For a straightforward example of M2M in action, consider a vending machine. The machine knows how much stock it has and how much has been vended, and so it can relay that information when required. By introducing M2M into this situation, the vending machine can notify its distributor when it is running low, so that restocking can be arranged. This removes the need for anyone to manually check the vending machine to see if it needs restocking, both reducing the costs of maintaining the machine, and providing better service.
Another example is smart meters in the home. Smart meters are connected to the electricity and gas meters, and relay the information back to the utility company supplying those things. This removes the need for a representative from the utility company to come out and visually inspect the meters.
Why Are M2M Data Plans Necessary?
Using a regular data plan is a little like using a fire hose to water the flowers. While an M2M device may need to communicate more frequently than the average cell phone user—perhaps even constantly—the amount of data being sent is often considerably less.
To use the above example of a smart meter for home utilities, a generous estimate of how much data a smart meter might need comes to around 175 megabytes per year. To put this in perspective, the average American cellular data user uses approximately forty times that amount of data per month.
By factoring in the significantly lower requirements of an M2M device, service providers can offer much more cost-appropriate data plans for M2M devices. They can also offer bulk plans for larger networks of M2M devices, which work out cheaper overall.
Are M2M and IoT the Same?
M2M and IoT are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. It is more appropriate to think of M2M as an integral part of IoT that can also function on its own.
M2M has allowed IoT devices to become more efficient, practical, and useful, but M2M does not need to be part of an IoT system. This is highlighted by the earlier statement that M2M was being used as far back as the early twentieth century, but there was no Internet until the end of the century, and no IoT until this century.