By Pedro Pereira, Field Technologies magazine
Carriers beef up networks to handle increased data traffic.
Consumers had their turn sending wireless connectivity demand into the stratosphere, and now carriers see machines taking over. Carriers expect staggering growth starting in 2012 driven by M2M (machine-to-machine) technology, and to accommodate it, they are working to beef up networks, improve voice quality, and expand wireless coverage.
Looking back at the past 12 months, carriers say consumers were at the wheel, driving up connectivity demand with tablets and smartphones. Video and audio-streaming applications, particularly, have generated mindboggling amounts of data traffic. And, as consumers drive up wireless traffic, enterprises meanwhile are looking at how to leverage advanced mobile applications, particularly in the rugged device space.
"The new opportunity is in the world of
connected things," says Howard Faber, VP
of sales, transportation, and distribution at
Verizon Wireless. "The growth in that space is
endless. Even a year ago, when I was talking
to large enterprises, they were still focused
on applications on devices like the Android.
Now, it's how to get M2M-connected." Faber
expects to see M2M growth rates of 400% to
500% in the next three or four years.
Already in 2011, says John Tudhope,
director of product marketing, applications,
and solutions at Sprint, U.S. carriers
handled more data than voice traffic.
"Within the next three years, data traffic
is expected to be 66 times what it was in
2008," Tudhope says. Globally, according
to research by Analysys Mason, M2M connections
will grow to 2.1 billion devices in
2020, up from 62 million in 2010.
The Enterprise Will Demand
Specialized Mobile Devices
With M2M, the market for devices built for
specific industries or that handle specialized
applications will widen. Despite the popularity
of consumer-focused devices, Faber says
enterprises will gravitate to purpose-built rugged
machines. They are more expensive than
typical consumer devices, with prices ranging
from $800 to $1,500, but offer a shelf life of
six or seven years, he says.
That is not to say businesses will shun smartphones
and tablets. "Many smartphones and
tablets offer features such as signature capture
and bar code scanning, but companies
that perform these functions on a large scale
may require specialty devices," says Mobeen
Khan, executive director, advanced mobility
solutions, for AT&T Business Solutions.
Such is the case in field service organizations,
where rugged handhelds are used
extensively. "Handheld computing devices
can capture bar codes and electronic signatures,
access technical documentation, run
custom forms, and even provide biometric
security features to control access to the
device. One device can now replace multiple
ones, streamlining the service process
even more," says Tudhope.
Away from the field (in industries such
as healthcare), M2M is eliminating paperwork,
increasing productivity, and performing
critical functions, says Brian Allred, senior
account manager, M2M, for wireless booster
maker Wilson Electronics. "Many home
health monitoring devices can send data
back to healthcare providers or interface with
your own smartphone," he says. "Companies
can get important and sometimes critical
data back to their offices almost immediately
rather than having to wait several hours to
several days. It is a lot easier for companies to
go truly paperless now."
Expanding Cellular Coverage
The projected vertiginous M2M growth puts
considerable strain on carrier networks, and
the carriers are responding by investing in new technology to improve speed, coverage, and overall
quality. AT&T says it made 48,000 upgrades to its wireless
network last year and deployed HSPA-plus (high
speed packet access) to nearly 100% of its mobile broadband
network. "Enterprise users should expect to see
faster speeds, more advanced devices, and an increasingly
robust set of mobile applications for business in
2012," says AT&T's Khan. On the 4G front, AT&T has
launched 4G LTE in 15 markets and had expected to
cover 70 million users at the end of 2011.
4G coverage to increase significantly in 2012, while
continuing to offer WiMAX-based 4G. "Our goal is for
Sprint customers to enjoy 4G capabilities without a need
to consider whether the technology is LTE (long term
evolution, a 4G technology) or WiMAX," says Tudhope.
Verizon has been adding new markets to its 4G LTE
broadband network and expects to be in 190 markets
at the end of 2011, covering more than 200 million
Americans. Faber says in addition to providing the widest
coverage, Verizon has made changes in marketing and
sales. To keep the carrier attuned to specific customer
needs, he says, Verizon has created enterprise business
units focused on specific verticals, such as rail, airlines,
The proliferation of mobile
devices in the workplace has created
challenges for the enterprise,
including device management,
security, and cost control.
Carriers say enterprises need
plans and security policies to
address the challenges.
Sprint offers customers a suite
of managed services to remotely
monitor and manage mobile
devices that includes security,
life cycle and billing management,
and reporting and analysis.
"Implementing a comprehensive
mobility management solution is
a necessity for organizations of
all sizes in order to adequately
manage the growing volume and
diversity of mobile devices in the
workplace," says Tudhope.
Khan says AT&T is working to
address mobility security risks. "As
smartphone adoption continues to
grow, technologists and researchers
expect criminals to step up
efforts with new delivery mechanisms
for attacks," he explains. Businesses, he adds, must
be proactive in protecting their networks through mobile
device management. AT&T offers a product called Toggle
that compartmentalizes business data into walled-off containers
on personal devices to reduce risks.
Another challenge businesses face, says Allred, involves
cell tower proximity. "Distance from the cell tower will
always be a difficulty for any sort of application in a
rural area. Obviously, the farther away you get from a
cell tower, the lower amount of signal you get," he says,
pointing out signal boosters address this issue.
The Concern With Mobile Data Privacy
The proliferation of mobile devices and M2M growth
will prompt businesses to send and ask customers for
more and more information. Airlines will ask for more
travel plan information to sync up with car rental services
and hotels, for instance. Or, retailers will want to
push out information to smartphones of potential customers
who are within a mile of a store to draw them
in. This adds value, says Faber, but also raises privacy
questions, and individuals ultimately have to decide
how much of their private data they want to share to
take advantage of these types of services.