Reader Forum (Special Edition): The time for consumer M2M is now

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How important is connectivity to young Americans? For many, being connected to the Internet is as important as eating and drinking, according to Cisco’s second annual “Connected World Report.” The networking provider commissioned an international study of nearly 3,000 people, focusing on college students or recently employed college graduates, asking them for their views on the Internet, mobile devices, social media and the like. The results are pretty eye-popping for anyone in the mobile/wireless/device ecosystem. Here are some highlights:

– Two-thirds of those surveyed listed a mobile device as the most important technology in their lives (only 6% said TV—the times they are a’changin’).
– One in three said the Internet is as important as food, water and sex.
– Two out of three would choose the Internet over a car.
– Half would rather lose their wallet or purse than their mobile device.

Based on those findings and the ongoing explosion in connected devices (as reported here by RCR Wireless), it’s hardly a leap to see that increasingly, connectivity is everything.
So … if the customer values connectivity this much, why is it sometimes so hard?

If connectivity is everything, make it a given

Connectivity matters more than ever. So how can we make it a given for the user? Why shouldn’t someone be able to unpack a device and have it be “hot” — i.e. connected to the Internet—from the moment they turn the device on?
In fact, that’s exactly the experience some people have. Think Amazon Kindle. From its inception, the Kindle made connectivity a given. Want to buy a book? Click. Done.

But wait — how is that happening? I’m not on Wi-Fi. I didn’t sign a contract with a carrier. I’m not being asked if I want to “connect.”

No matter. (As Steve Jobs liked to say, “It just works.”) What users don’t know (unless they care enough to actually look into it), is that Amazon built a custom service, Whispernet, that makes it all happen. Incredible complexity in the background, a simple “click-and-buy” for the user—no wonder eBooks now outsell paperbacks six to one.

Consumer M2M is different

M2M is about devices (of all sorts—traffic lights, health monitors, trucks … so on and so forth) exchanging information with other devices, with zero human intervention. But when humans intervene, things change. How so? Traditional M2M is narrowband, while “consumer M2M” typically mixes broadband and narrowband requirements within the same product. Some of the technologies and systems and APIs that worked for “background M2M,” don’t work so well for broadband. The questions are different. How does the amount of connectivity change based on where the device is located and what the user is doing? Does connectivity need to be constant? How much connectivity and who should pay for it? How can bandwidth costs be bundled within a content offer to keep it simple? How do I roll out in multiple countries?

We need to get our heads in the clouds, where the services live

Cisco’s report makes it clear that current and future customers love their devices. But don’t forget, as elegant as the device may be, ultimately, the customer is buying services.

Even Apple introduced its latest iPhone 4S with the service as the centerpiece. “S” is an obvious reference to “Siri,” the cool voice recognition software that Apple has baked in to the iPhone 4S. But it could just as easily stand for Services, with a capital “S.”

It just so happens that when an iPhone 4S user clicks a button and activates Siri, the voice recognition happens in the cloud — that’s the magic of it all. The device is just a portal (albeit a beautiful one) to a world of increasingly powerful (and profitable) cloud services. Think about it — no connectivity and it’s just the iPhone 4 — without the defining “S”! Likewise, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the Kindle Fire, he said, “We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service.”

Consumers and business users are increasingly reaching to the cloud for their content, applications and services. Whether it’s a public cloud for their e-mail, music, games or software services, or a private cloud from their company for access to services inside the firewall, access is essential.

And that, in a nutshell, is the opportunity. In the cloud, all of the players in the ecosystem can build the connections, APIs and services that make connectivity a given for the user, and enable myriad new business models for the enablers. The cloud is where consumer M2M’s unique requirements will be met.

Connected devices make for connected customers

Constant connectivity is a fundamental advantage in the marketplace. Certainly for device makers’, the future success of their products and brands depend upon it. Today, more and more devices have a chipset built in, but the vast majority of customers aren’t connecting! But by ensuring continuous access to the cloud — “attaching” those customers from the second the device boots—device makers have constant customer contact. And a constant channel to deliver new services well beyond the purchase of the device itself.

Network operators win, too—by tapping new “consumer M2M” revenue streams via the customers who wouldn’t otherwise connect. John Elliot at Accenture wrote a piece in this space a while back citing his company’s research, which found consumers “prefer a connectivity charge built into the price of the device, rather than a separate, monthly bill.” That preference, combined with the billions of connected devices coming to the market, represents a massive opportunity.

And content providers of all stripes are presented with myriad new opportunities as well. Imagine “sponsored connectivity” from a company with a hot new app or service they are introducing to the market. Constant connectivity means the device is on and the audience is there—now it’s just a matter of delivering great value from it.

“Consumer M2M” at its core is about turning connected devices into connected customers. More than half of those college kids and recent working grads from Cisco’s Connected World report cite the Internet as an “integral part of their lives.” It’s time everyone in the mobile wireless ecosystem come together, in the cloud, to make connectivity a given — and to build a bigger and more profitable marketplace, for device makers, operators and content providers alike.

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About Author

Martha DeGrasse

Editor, Wireless Infrastructure
[email protected]
Martha DeGrasse is an editor at RCR Wireless News, and is the creator of the RCR Mobile Minute. Martha has been with RCR Wireless News since 2011. Her current focus areas are wireless infrastructure and heterogeneous networks. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York. Martha left Dow Jones to move to Austin, Texas, where she managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Follow her at Twitter @mdegrasseRCR

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