M2M subscriptions to hit 1bn mark

GSM mast

As many as one billion mobile phone subscribers could actually be machines in 2015, according to industry predictions.

Machine to machine connections (M2M) are growing rapidly. And, whist 3G and soon 4G networks will carry the bulk of voice and data communications, especially from smartphones, the older GSM networks are expected to serve more and more M2M connections.

The estimate, from mobile network equipment vendor Nokia Siemens Networks, comes as 4G networks are being rolled out across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Moves such as the UK's digital TV switchover, set for completion in 2012, will free up radio capacity for high-speed mobile networks, including LTE and WiMax.

But the volumes of data created by machine to machine communications are relatively small, Nokia Siemens Networks suggested. A typical M2M connection can generate as little as 1MB of data a month, which is well within the capabilities of the older GSM networks. GSM, for its part, still offers wider network coverage than even 3G, and especially new 4G networks.

M2M technology is being used in a wide range of devices and applications, where equipment and machinery needs to communicate with a network or back office computer system. Examples include smart metering for power, vehicle monitoring for transport fleets, and health care equipment. It is even being used to monitor vending machines at sports venues.

But even though the volumes of data involved are not large, Nokia Siemens Networks expects the rapid growth of M2M will put some pressure on GSM networks. As a result, the company has developed new software that, it claims, will reduce the signaling load on networks by as much as 70 per cent.

Businesses using M2M include iMetrik, a Canadian start using the technology for vehicle tracking, and Yutong Bus, a Chinese manufacturer. Irish wind farm operator Servusnet is using M2M to improve the efficiency of wind turbine operations.

However, Juniper Research, the analyst firm, calculates that M2M still accounts for under 10 per cent of operator revenues.