One hundred billion mobile connections globally.... Talk like that 20 or even 10 years ago would have led to questions about the speaker’s mental state of mind. In 2010, it does not sound so ridiculous. Machine to Machine (M2M) communications and initiatives like nPhase, the joint venture between Verizon Wireless and Qualcomm, with which Vodafone has announced a strategic alliance, are changing the industry view of how many mobile connections there could be in the next 10 to 20 years. M2M is also seen as a way for operators to diversify into new areas and profit from additional revenue opportunities.
The Internet of things is where anything can be connected to everything else over wireless technologies. From 3G and LTE, to low power radios such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE). Two of the use cases I have seen at MWC this week are connected cars and mobile health.
Audi has announced it will be equipping its new A8 car, due for release in a few months, in a “bubble of connectivity,” allowing customers access to web based services 24/7. This will include a new head end unit on the dashboard that is 3G enabled, and provides more than just enhanced 3D satellite mapping and navigation.
The kind of drivers’ services the car industry envisions include up-to-date traffic and road works information with alternative routing, all at the driver’s fingertips. But it does not stop there. With 3G mobile broadband, drivers could stream music from Internet sites or from their home server. Weather forecasts and news stories could be read to the driver over the in-car sound system, all managed from the central armrest control panel.
What I found most interesting was how 3G in car mobile broadband will be vital for the new breed of electric cars coming to market. Electric car charging bays will likely appear everywhere, at retail parks, outside restaurants and just about any store or outlet that people visit.
Drivers will need frequent updates on the location of new charging stations. The proposed system will also be able to calculate the level of charge needed for your trip, say to your parents house, 80 miles away. If you only have 60 miles of charge it will suggest a number of charging locations en route where you could stop for a top up, and probably get yourself some refreshments at the same time.
At the other end of the connected “things” spectrum is mobile health. Everything from connected band-aids to heart rate monitors, and in-shoe pedometers to calorie counting necklaces. Short range, low power radios will provide the near field connection to mobile phones and other devices to enable the uploading of a wide range of on- or in-body measurements. This has led to the development of the BTLE radio specification, which has been designed to operate at the lowest possible power. A BTLE radio has the potential to last for years on a single 3v coin cell battery.
On-body health monitors are being developed that feed heart rate, blood pressure and even blood sugar levels to the patient’s mobile phone, which then forwards the information over 3G to medical practitioners, caregivers or relatives. Mobile lifestyle devices will also be able to help us all monitor our fitness levels and caloric burn rate, so that we can better manage our health and fitness.
It’s a long way from mobile voice and gaming applications, but M2M does appear to have the potential to permeate our lives in a myriad of ways. As long as my connected scale doesn’t automatically post my weight on Facebook every day, I will be happy!