Machine-to-machine communications will generate really big data

The imminent arrival of sprawling M2M systems on a massive scale will change the landscape for wireless communications

Wireless communications carriers may soon be faced with an unprecedented dilemma: Will they give preference on their networks to people chatting and texting on their mobile devices or to things jabbering with each other?

Few of us doubt the rise of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. We see it happening around us every day. According to Pike Research, in 2008 a mere 4% of the planet’s 1.5 billion electric utility meters were smart meters; today that has jumped to 18% of electric meters installed. European utilities, which are depending on the technology to help the European Union reach its greenhouse gas emission goals by 2020, expects to have deployed 237 million intelligent meters by that year.

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications is also rapidly emerging as another M2M market. Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation is working with the University of Michigan to test V2V systems on 3,000 vehicles. Logistics companies with more than 9 million vehicles in the U.S. are watching the results of that study carefully because of the promised savings in V2V operating costs.

You might think people will still have priority over machines in the future because our smart devices will outnumber smart machines. Indeed, by 2020 researchers expect there to be more than 6 billion wireless subscribers using smartphones. However, Swedish communications giant Ericsson predicts that there will be over 50 billion intelligent machines fighting for bandwidth by then.

The data generated in an M2M world will be substantial, potentially dwarfing our quaint notion of “big data” today, putting enormous pressure on carrier networks, unlike anything we’ve witnessed heretofore. Undoubtedly, networks will be faster in eight years. I expect there will be improvements in compression techniques and methods to limit M2M interactivity as well as other ways to boost network performance and capacity. Pricing will be another way carriers will be able to manage network loads.

Nonetheless, the imminent arrival of sprawling M2M systems on a massive scale changes the landscape for wireless communications. While humans may not be fighting machines for our very existence as depicted in The Terminator films, we will be battling them for bandwidth.

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