Unplugged

M2M, How Do I Love Thee?

June/July 2013

As a wireless executive who’s been working to build the M2M industry for more than a decade, I have a confession. Despite my careful study of analyst forecasts and my hands-on awareness of the key players and transactions that drive M2M forward, I have absolutely no idea how big the global M2M market is, or will become. When clients or conference attendees ask me to estimate the size of the market, as they frequently do, I generally come up with an answer … based on a study or forecast I’ve recently read.

M2M: Millions

Part of the problem is that M2M market forecasts use different bases for comparison, such as focusing on particular regions or network types. Devices add further variation since M2M forecasts exclude tablets, but “connected device” forecasts generally include them. Regardless of the specifics, global M2M forecasts through 2010 were always denominated in millions of units.

CW_n19_Unplugged_chart1

The chart above compares M2M forecasts from Gartner, Harbor Research, ABI Research, Juniper Research, and Strategy Analytics between 2008 and 2012. Between 2006 and 2009 these forecasts sized the global market under 100 million total units. But in 2010, M2M forecasts suddenly shot up with two times and four times growth predictions from Harbor Research, Juniper Research, and ABI Research.

What changed? These analysts realized that “M2M” was no longer just about industrial equipment. Increasingly, consumer electronics were shipping with wireless capabilities. The jump in recent M2M forecasts reflects the understanding that the “M2M” market includes a much broader set of customers and devices than previously considered.

Connected Consumer: Billions

2010 was also the year that Hans Vestberg, CEO of wireless infrastructure and services provider Ericsson, stood on the keynote stage at that year’s Mobile World Congress and said he expected to see 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Besides stealing the headlines for a few days, Vestberg’s prediction opened the M2M market’s eyes to the growing importance of consumer electronics. Instead of millions, new forecasts emerged that sized the “connected device” market between 20 and 50 billion units.

M2M’s “billions” include the devices generally covered by Connected World magazine: wireless home health, security and control products, consumer vehicle tracking products, connected appliances ranging from baby monitors to washing machines, and so much more. But even these new, aggressive forecasts for M2M miss the mark by an order of magnitude.

Internet of Everything: TrillionsCW_n19_Unplugged_chart2

Leave it to a design firm to toss the next market-expanding concept on the table. Design firms are paid to think outside the box, and so Maya Design rose above traditional M2M thinking to see a world in which everything is connected somehow—clothes, soda cans, pens, you-name-it. In its 2012 book “Trillions,” Maya’s leadership team describes a time, now or in the near future, where it’s cheaper to design connectivity into objects than exclude it.

Maya encourages network and product designers to look ahead to a “trillion-node network” that will completely surround us as we move through our daily lives. Instead of looking into a computer for information, they reason, once everything is connected, people will live their lives inside a sea of information.

This is not unlike the late Mark Weiser’s famous opening line for his article “The Computer for the 21st Century” which appeared in the September, 1992 Scientific American special issue on communication, computers, and networks: “The most successful technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

The shift from thinking about connected devices as durable goods to considering every daily objects as network nodes is profound. Mickey McManus, MAYA’s president and CEO, peppered his remarks about Trillions at this Spring’s Mobile Marketing Assn. Forum in San Francisco with examples such as Pepsi cans with sensors that create music when they’re near their 12-pack box and a connected pen and notebook that not only takes notes but also announces location and time changes via a tiny LCD screen on the side. McManus also drew attention to Proetus Digital Health’s swallowable sensor: glued onto pills with sugar paste, these sensors report when you took your medicine to your doctor byway of a connected skin patch.

So the next time you read an M2M market forecast, if it’s not denominated in the trillions, take it with a grain of salt. While we’ve come a long way in the past 10 years, the biggest and most important market for M2M is still ahead of us.


Laurie Lamberth loves connected devices. Always has. Learn more about her strategic marketing, business development, and strategy practice, and read more of her work, at www.laurielamberth.com

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