The Compelling (or Creepy) M2M World of Verizon Wireless

During my recent visit to Seattle I visited the Bellevue offices of Verizon Wireless, the largest mobile network and wireless phone provider in the U.S., to talk about the Internet of Things. There I met with Bobby Morrison, president of the Pacific Northwest region. The term that Verizon Wireless uses is M2M, machine-to-machine, which means connecting objects together. It is both a subset of the Internet of Things and (in the case where the Internet isn’t used) a separate technology. Either way, M2M is big business for Verizon Wireless and other operators like AT&T, Sprint and Vodafone.

Today the Web, including the rapidly growing mobile Web, is all about connecting people together. But the market for connecting things will likely be much larger. Morrison told me that Verizon Wireless has already seen significant growth in M2M; and it’s still in the very early phase. In this post we explore what Verizon Wireless is working on in the increasingly important field of M2M – and ask whether it’s compelling or maybe just a bit too creepy…

What will M2M mean for people in their everyday lives? Bobby Morrison explained that if you walk to any room now, you can look around it and see many M2M opportunities. Two immediate examples are connecting your lighting and alarm systems.

“You will look at a room and ask: what will be connected?” Morrison explained. “How would it be different if all those things were connected to the network. There will be more M2M connection points than you can shake a stick at.”


Your dreams? Or the machines… a Verizon Wireless M2M banner

Morrison described future M2M opportunities as “almost a Minority Report situation.” He expects this to happen by about 2020.
In the interim, Verizon Wireless and other operators are focused on creating all of those connection points.

“Now is about finding out how to connect everything together,” Morrison told me.

An Overview of Verizon’s M2M Activities

What markets is Verizon Wireless currently targeting with M2M? According to Bobby Morrison, Verizon Wireless is focusing on health, retail, sensor networks and logistics.

With health the focus is on mobile health, hospital systems, critical care and alerts. In particular, reaching rural parts of the population. For example mobile mammogram clinics in rural areas.

On the retail side, solutions range from digital signage, vending machines (Redbox), interactive touchscreens (TouchTunes) and mobile POS (Point of Sale).

With sensor networks, Verizon is working on smart grid deployments and vehicle Internet connectivity such as GM’s OnStar.

In logistics, Verizon Wireless is involved in things like asset tracking and route optimization.

Verizon Wireless is active on both the business backend and consumer-facing fronts. On the B2B side, it partnered with Qualcomm in July 2009 on the nPhase platform. Morrison explained nPhase as “a mobile management platform for M2M integration.”

On the consumer side, Verizon Wireless is working with various industries on connecting devices – such as gaming and consumer electronics. An example that Morrison cited is Internet-enabled cameras. He promised that we will see more M2M devices at CES (the huge consumer electronics trade show) next year.

The Verizon Developer Community is where the “bleeding edge of device integration” is happening, according to Morrison.

As well as the network infrastructure, Verizon Wireless provides services on top of the M2M technology (similar to the IBM model). Morrison told me that about 40% of M2M is pretty consistent, the other 60% is custom work.

From all of the above activity, it’s clear that M2M will have a huge impact on our lives – whether or not it’s provided by Verizon Wireless and its network of partners. According to a Juniper Research forecast, M2M will support industry revenues of over $35 billion in 2016.

Compelling or Creepy? You Decide…

Morrison concluded our interview by talking about how a large insurance company could do “usage based insurance.” It will be able to track how hard you hit the breaks and other things that you do in your car, using the Internet as the connector between the car and the insurance company. It may also enable parents to monitor how their teenager is driving the family car.

That may sound a bit creepy to you – but on the compelling side it will (theoretically) result in a reduction in insurance premiums.

Putting the privacy issues to one side for a moment, you can see the potential for this technology to improve the way you interact with your car. The next step after usage based insurance may be to manage driver interaction with mobile apps. Morrison talked about scenarios like personalizing functions within the car depending on who puts their key in, for example disabling the txting functionality of the driver.

What do you think about the potential – and privacy challenges – of M2M? You can’t stop progress and connecting everyday things is going to happen whether you like it or not. Much of this is compelling to me, as long as the technology augments our lives and doesn’t control it. Is it compelling or creepy to you, or a bit of both?

Top image: Solo

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