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Reader Forum: Accelerating ‘IoT’ with an open-source, embedded platform for connected applications

Editor’s Note: In an attempt to broaden our interaction with our readers we have created this Reader Forum for those with something meaningful to say to the wireless industry. We want to keep this as open as possible, but we maintain some editorial control to keep it free of commercials or attacks. Please send along submissions for this section to our editors at: dmeyer@rcrwireless.com.

As the “Internet of Things” evolves from an interesting concept to a business reality, the incentives for enterprises and original equipment manufacturers to build connected machine-to-machine applications have become too great to ignore.

The Cisco Visual Networking Index projects 2 billion M2M connections worldwide by 2018, and forecasts that those connections will represent nearly 20% of all mobile-connected devices. And while more powerful M2M modules and higher-speed networks can enable more sophisticated connected applications, advances in M2M software needed to connect all of these devices and applications have not kept pace.

Until now, M2M software architectures have typically been proprietary, tied to individual hardware vendors and chipsets. With no standardized, universal M2M platform, software is also typically custom-built for each application. This need for custom-built M2M software usually translates to long ramp-up times for new M2M solutions, resulting in high development costs and big risk.

Much of the development effort involved in an M2M application — say, an application to monitor industrial air compressors or to connect smart energy meters — has little to do with the application itself. Instead, companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and waste many months building basic M2M functions from scratch — integrating processors, modems, memory, etc.; piecing together all of the software components necessary to communicate with the connected device and process the data; and testing and validating the solution.

And in most cases, organizations are unable to repurpose developmental work and save on future costs. If an OEM needs the same application to operate on different components for the North American, European and Chinese markets, they typically must build, integrate, test and validate for each platform all over again.

Additionally, all of this effort exerted around a proprietary architecture typically results in the OEM vendor becoming locked into that hardware vendor’s ecosystem. What if the company wants to use a less expensive or more capable component in the future? What if the vendor gets bought out or discontinues a product? The time and cost of moving to a new vendor is enormous.

Wouldn’t it be easier if M2M worked more like mobile phones? If there was a standardized, open-source platform for application development that could operate across all hardware, like Android, so companies could build software once and run it anywhere? Analysts have been talking about the potential of a standardized, open-source M2M software platform for years and now it is a reality.

Providing an end-to-end solution for building and deploying new connected applications extremely quickly, at scale, and at a fraction of the cost compared to conventional processes is key to streamlining M2M development. And, using an open-source, Linux-based platform, companies can run applications on any vendor’s hardware and use any cloud management platform.

So what does this type of M2M development look like in practice? Consider the example of a European automotive supplier building an “emergency call” solution to comply with the EU’s mandated in-car emergency service. The company has a pre-integrated framework that will let it deploy a validated e-call solution very quickly. But the same platform will now also support other automotive applications — “pay-as-you-drive” insurance, “eco-driving,” stolen vehicle tracking, etc. The application sandbox allows the company to securely deploy and operate multiple applications on the same platform and even open their solution up to third-party applications.

Or consider an industrial application for a large manufacturer. Having an open source platform that includes APIs provides a means to connect with a variety of industrial sensors and radio controls. And since it’s based on Linux, the company can take advantage of the large set of industrial M2M protocols already available from the larger Linux community.

Open source benefits

Enterprises and OEMs developing M2M applications for any industry can utilize open source embedded platforms to save time and costs, reduce risk and unlock new innovation.

Faster deployment, lower costs: Companies can take M2M ideas from initial prototype to mass-market deployment much more quickly utilizing a large suite of M2M tools and the fact that so much of the integration, testing, and validation work is already done. They also no longer have to invest big money into integration and validation, or repeat those tasks over and over again for each hardware platform they use.

With no need to choose hardware elements based on a vendor’s proprietary hardware environment, companies can use lowest-cost components for their solutions. They can also save on development manpower. Developers with expertise in a specific proprietary platform are not needed; instead companies can draw on the huge pool of Linux developers.

Reduced risk: Today, companies choosing an M2M partner are making a major long-term investment in that partner’s hardware ecosystem. Given the high costs of porting an application from one proprietary environment to another, an OEM is effectively locked into that vendor’s product road map, features and pricing.

By providing an open-source, Linux-based software platform, companies are free to make business decisions about components and sourcing based on whichever criteria they choose. If an OEM wants to change suppliers in the future, if a vendor is bought by a competitor or anything else arises, they can change vendors painlessly. Any time and resources invested in applications development are not wasted.

Unlocking innovation: As a software platform that works across multiple vendors and cloud platforms, the door is opened for new possibilities with new third-party partnerships and M2M business ventures. It lays the foundation for a new generation of connected applications that can be developed independently from the devices on which they will run.

The time has come for a standardized, open-source software platform for M2M applications. Companies need an end-to-end solution to rapidly deploy new connected applications, connecting powerful M2M hardware through pre-integrated, customizable software, while managing millions of devices over the air with an integrated cloud platform. Giving companies the freedom to make M2M decisions based on business factors rather than hardware dependencies — and to pioneer a new generation of innovative connected applications — is key to realizing the many benefits of a connected world.

Larry Zibrik is VP of Market Development for Sierra Wireless, responsible for developing key ecosystem relationships with mobile network operators, silicon providers and solution partners. During his time at Sierra Wireless, Zibrik has been responsible for developing the company’s embedded modules business in both PC OEM and broadband M2M markets. Prior to joining Sierra Wireless, Zibrik gained extensive experience with wireless data and M2M through twelve years at Motorola Inc., where he managed the embedded module portfolio globally for Motorola’s Wireless Data Group.

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