Telefonica grabs Jasper cloud to hook up British vending machines
Machine talking to machine on 2G cell networks
Telefonica has signed an exclusive deal with Jasper Wireless for use of its machine-to-machine cloud in the UK, hoping Jasper's kit will drive developers to a cellular solution.
Machine to machine is already an important market for network operators, but it's going to get much more important as embedded intelligence grows. With starter kits around €120, including three SIMs, Jasper Wireless facilitates quick prototyping and testing, as long as you're happy using O2's network.
O2 is the brand under which Telefonica runs its UK network, and this deal is exclusive so anyone developing in Jasper's APIs will be locked to the O2 network, but given the utility of that API it's not all bad news as long as you're happy to be dependent on cellular infrastructure for your connectivity.
We put it to O2 that, given an embedded module might be expected to operate for a decade or two, it might seem unwise to depend on the 2G infrastructure which is necessary for national coverage. O2 assured us that its 2G network would be running "for a long time to come" and that alternatives might not be so long lived.
We asked specifically about White Space, which is being promoted (notably by Neul) as the perfect solution for M2M applications, but Jasper (who only connect to cellular networks) points out that even if Neul's evolving Weightless specification gets deployed companies will want international solutions to gain from mass production, and that means GSM of some sort.
GSM is far from perfect for M2M, the signalling overhead is massive for low levels of data, consuming lots of power and requiring specialist processing modules which themselves drive up the cost of the embedded module. But cellular networks do exist, today, which is a significant plus.
The alternative is to use wi-fi or even a plug, and piggyback on the end-users' existing broadband connection, but that's fraught with enough complexity to push companies to use cellular for everything from vending machines to photocopiers.
The M2M market will be huge, big enough for multiple players, and different applications will have different requirements - O2 points out that few technologies can switch on a voice connection when required, which is of limited value in most M2M deployments, but essential in some - and Jasper's developer kit certainly offers a cheap and easy way to have a shot at M2M if only to work out which technology best fits the bill. ®
GSM modules are also fairly cheap
You can get them for less than 20 Euros now. And that does include a full TCP/IP stack
Why vending machines?
Vending machines have thin profit margins. Any efficeincy improvement goes to the bottom line
1. As BristolBachelor says, stock control is vital. An empty machine sells nothing. Sales figures are not regular and predictable even in a stable location like a train station. In say a sports stadium, being out-of-stock ruins the whole profit picture.. A visit to check on stock is an expensive hammer to crack a very small nut. M2M over mobile is much cheaper than a person+van.
2. Vandalism is an issue in quite a few locations. How about if the M2M device has the capability of taking a photo of the perp and sending it to the cops? Deterrence/prevention of vandalism also turns straight into profit.
I have seen GSM kit in M2M for years. The only problem has been getting a contract with an operator who lets you keep the SIM going without all the usual "3 months and cash top-ups" crap.
As for why GSM? It works almost everywhere, just put in the SIM when manufactured, deliver and switch-on. No requiring a WiFi AP. No changing settings everytime someone chages the AP or security model, or when you move kit to somewhere else.
As for why vending machines might want comms; how about stock control, failures, etc. It's much cheaper to only send someone to stockit when it needs it, and it makes no money if it's empty, broken, switched-off, etc.