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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Orange Business Solutions has launched a standards-based machine-to-machine (M2M) technology platform to the UK market in an effort to give it a foothold in the emerging mass market for wireless telemetry systems.

The package, known as M2M Connect, is intended to supersede existing proprietary wireless telemetry systems that are both expensive and complex to deploy and maintain.

M2M Connect comprises an integrated network, data and support platform for sending and receiving data between remote wirelessly connected machines - for example, fire alarms, parking meters, in-car systems and vending machines - and central servers. Unlike previous systems, Orange's uses familiar and well-tested technologies and protocols to make it work.

Wireless connectivity from remote machines is provided using Paris, France-based Orange SA's GSM/GPRS network and SMS messaging - or via roaming agreements where Orange does not have a network - before traveling over regular fixed lines using IP. Data integration is handled by XML and SOAP with security provided by 128-bit encryption.

Data movement between wireless and wireline connections is handled by Orange's owned gateway. Two-way remote machine control is carried out using devices supplied by Orange's main technology partner in the venture, Sunnyvale California-based Actineon Inc, whose pioneering SMS-enabled, wireless control units provided the perfect basis for the M2M Connect initiative.

This use of standards, particularly the adoption of XML and other internet protocols, makes both programming and systems management relatively simple compared with the previous generation of telemetry technologies. It also helps make such systems cheaper and more accessible to non-traditional users of telemetry than has previously been the case.

Unlike consumer-based voice and data services, which tend to require considerable connection time or bandwidth, the majority of machines linked in M2M systems tend to upload or download only very small amounts of data at a time, and often very infrequently, leading to low airtime charges, a factor offset in older wireless telemetry systems, which have tended to charge users per SIM card deployed.

Orange, however, plans to charge users for airtime rather than by SIMs deployed. In these circumstances, the value of providing wireless connectivity comes not from connecting devices per se but in connecting vast numbers of devices.

Given that M2M is only in the early stages of widespread adoption, initial volumes will be small. However, gaining an early mover advantage with a standards-based M2M system could give Orange a long term advantage over its more flat-footed rivals. Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates that the UK market for telemetry will be worth 56m pounds ($91.3m) by 2005, while both Orange and Actineon believe that figure could be much higher.

Mass acceptance, rather than mass profit, appears to be Orange's main motivation behind M2M Connect, at least in the short term. But at least some businesses are already waking up to the possibilities created by mass-market M2M systems, which can offer compelling business cases.

One early adopter of M2M Connect is Mitsubishi Electric Europe, which has adopted the platform as a means to offer remote management of its air conditioning units to companies with large numbers of dispersed offices.

Chris Harthman, commercial director, environmental control systems division for Mitsubishi, said that despite wishing to provide such as service for many years, the proprietary technology used to date for wireless telemetry has made such a service economically non-viable.

M2M Connect has not only enabled Mitsubishi to put a new business model into action, it has been achieved in a very short time. Harthman said that Mitsubishi Electric only engaged with Orange in November 2002 and the service is now ready to go live in the UK and in southern Europe once the M2M Connect service is launched in other territories.

© ComputerWire

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