Mobile comms: coffee and TV


It may or may not have been prompted by the close proximity of Mobile World Congress, the annual industry conference in Barcelona, but this week, Nespresso, a coffee company, and Orange, announced that they have designed a coffee machine with a built-in mobile phone chip.

This is not, fortunately perhaps, a convenient way of making a phone call or surfing the net whilst the milk heats for a Caffe Latte, but a more business-strength proposition. The coffee makers are aimed at business users hotels, smaller restaurants and offices who want to cut down on maintenance for their machines.

Nespresso is a capsule, rather than a ground coffee, system so companies often install the machines because they are easy to use and mess free. Having the machine talk to the manufacturer directly actually makes sense, because it takes away the need for maintenance visits, and makes the coffee maker reasonably self sufficient. This is a real bonus if the machines are installed in hotel rooms or conference suites, away from the main catering operations.

Whether it is going too far, to describe the new coffee makers as "the industry's first connected tabletop coffee machines", is open to question. The coffee makers are not really that connected; Orange Business Services is providing a SIM card that supports machine to machine, or M2M, data communications.

These are low-bandwidth and usually low volume connections that can run quite happily over a vanilla 2G network. These coffee makers will not be streaming music anytime soon. What it will do is report its status to the Nespresso Business Solutions' customer service centre, so that the company can send an engineer, for preventative maintenance.

And the market for M2M services has been growing steadily over over the last few years, as businesses in areas ranging from security and surveillance to heating and elevators turn to M2M as a cheap and effective way to connect up equipment which is often remote or at least, hard to attach to fixed networks. But this is one of the first examples of the technology moving down to something as small as a coffee machine.

But, despite its success, M2M communications is unlikely to attract too many crowds at this month's Mobile World Congress. It is perhaps rather less glamorous than the latest tablets or even 4G networks, but the idea of M2M moving into increasingly domestic appliances opens up all sorts of possibilities.

In the office, and more particularly the home, equipment such as washing machines or dishwashers could send alerts when they need servicing. Even TVs could be connected: currently, plenty of TVs can download updates to their software "over the air", but unless they are connected to Ethernet or Wi-Fi, they have no way of reporting a malfunction.

M2M could solve that. Just don't mistakenly text your coffee machine an invitation to the MWC after party.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.