The Executive Chairman of Ford, Bill Ford Jr, recently set out a vision of a world mostly free of traffic congestion as intelligent systems monitored traffic flow and directed vehicles accordingly. A world where each parking space is monitored and cars directed to specific empty spaces as they enter a city. For all those sat on gridlocked highways, or driving endlessly round a multi-story car-park this may seem fantasy. But, in principle, it is a dream we could bring about. Monitoring traffic flow is relatively easy, as is deducing where congestion is occurring and working out where to re-route cars. But there is a big piece missing from the puzzle at the moment —a way to get information from sensors to control centre and from control centre back to cars, traffic lights, roadside signage and more.
Transport is not the only area crying out for an M2M connectivity solution. Connectivity for the smart meter is far from solved. Smart cities require myriad sensors to be connected. Healthcare could be revolutionised with sensors in pill dispensers, diabetes monitors, scales, heart rate monitors and so much more. Even devices in the home might benefit from a simple and cheap connection to an external network.
There tend to be two differing reactions when the M2M connectivity problem is discussed. One is to note that there have been predictions of machine connectivity for decades and that they have never really been fulfilled. This leads to scepticism that they ever will. The other is to assume that cellular systems can provide all that is needed.
Responses to both of these require an assessment of what machines actually need. While there are many possible applications, the common characteristics tend to be: very low cost both for the chipset and the annual fee for sending data; ubiquitous coverage, even better than cellular; in some cases battery life of 10 years or so.
This is obviously challenging, but there are some characteristics of M2M traffic that can be exploited in system design including: Most messages are very short; Delays of a few seconds are rarely problematic; data rates can be low; sleep times can be long in some cases and; seamless handover is not required.
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