Designing out M2M’s financial and strategic uncertainties
Separating tangible business potential in the M2M world from all the visionary hype out there can still be difficult, says Alun Lewis. Service providers, individual businesses and almost every industry vertical are all looking at its potential from their different perspectives and with greatly varying degrees of commitment and assurance.
Everyone knows that machine-to-machine communications (M2M) is going to be huge – and possibly even strategically vital for many companies – but, for some of those looking to develop M2M strategies, substantial uncertainties still exist about costs of ownership, investment returns and technology choices.
In that context then, it’s well worth looking at the experience of specialist M2M service provider Aeris Communications, which is now entering the EMEA marketplace. In business in the US for over 17 years, the company has grown rapidly and consistently, providing ‘white label’ M2M services to some major cellular operators while also working directly with a wide variety of end-user companies.
Having shown a healthy profit for the last three years,and with Aeris’ early investment in its own core network, application platforms, billing and management systems, and cloud infrastructure now shown to be paying off, the company is keen to share its proven insights, expertise and technologies with the growing M2M community over here.
Working across multiple sectors
While working across multiple sectors, the company claims leadership in the US automotive sector, supporting manufacturers like Hyundai by providing automatic Vehicle Crash Notification services for their half million strong customer base.
For telematics specialist PeopleNet, who support a community of nearly 200,000 long-haul trucks, Aeris’s operations emphasise the need to build truly scalable and flexible systems and what it calls its ‘Made for Machines’ technology strategy. The company’s figures are certainly impressive, regularly processing around 20 million cellular signaling transactions and 30 million mobile IP transactions each day – with these numbers growing by a factor of ten during peak periods.
For Mohsen Mohseninia, the ex-Logica executive recently appointed as EMEA VP Market Development for Aeris Communications, there are a number of critical differences between M2M operations in EMEA and in North America. These make it crucial for customers to recognise the impact these could have when selecting an appropriate partner, especially where support for truly international operations is involved.
“North America and EMEA are in very different places as far as the development of M2M markets are concerned,” he says. “For a start, our customers in EMEA – whether they are operators looking for white label solutions or individual companies themselves – are focused on a truly international marketplace. That means dealing with a much wider mix of cellular standards and network technologies and providing global SIMs, as well as delivering appropriate multi-language support through the portals that we provide to give our customers direct control over their services.
“Another key difference,” Mohseninia adds, “are the two very different approaches that have evolved in the region. In North America, much of the development of M2M has been as a result of focused, ground-up innovation by individual companies across many market sectors and verticals. By contrast, at least in Europe, a lot of development has been top down, driven by regulation focused on areas such as vehicle safety or on environmental issues such as smart metering.”
“Relationships between the different service providers here (in Europe) are also much more complex across the regions, with the big players switching between competition and co-operation as their tactics change,” he continues.
“That complexity can translate into headaches for end customers who try to deal directly with the service providers themselves and grow their own international coverage. We have many years of experience in negotiating wholesale capacity across multiple cellular carriers to ensure that our enterprise customers get the optimum footprint for their needs at an optimum price. In addition, where we have access to multiple networks, our technology allows a device to choose the best signal from amongst the different networks available at any one point,” says Mohseninia.
Aeris’s strategy of building its own supporting systems, adding intelligence and opening up APIs to allow customers to easily integrate the company’s cloud-based M2M environment with their own business systems, certainly seems to fit in with the general development path of the whole sector. According to recent research by Informa, although most revenues in the M2M sector have historically come from the provision of basic connectivity services, that picture will shift significantly over the next few years with business intelligence, service level management and professional services generating most of the money.
Based on years of experience working with customers to develop specific customers M2M services, Aeris has developed a wide range of systems and platforms unique to the M2M industry.
At the heart of Aeris’s offering lies its own fully patented solution, consisting of three main radio access technology agnostic elements: AerFrame, which interacts with the various signalling systems in the host networks and provides HLR, GGSN and other functions with enhanced capabilities; AerPort, their connectivity management platform; and the company’s application enablement platform AerCloud.
Flexibility and scalability
Supporting and integrated with all these are the necessary OSS/BSS functions, each also designed to deal with the specific requirements demanded by the highly individualised M2M environment, such as near-infinite flexibility in tariff plans, high volume service provisioning and easy and fast creation and prototyping of new services by the customers themselves.
For Aeris’s Mohseninia, all these functionalities translate into multiple benefits for both service providers and their customers and put the direct control of devices firmly into their hands – while also cutting costs into the bargain.
“Thanks to its deep integration with the core network elements and the supporting systems such as ERP systems from SAP and Oracle, AerPort can provide far more than just the basic usage information that’s available on traditional connectivity management platforms. This translates into numerous strategic advantages for users,” he says. “For example, they have far greater access to network information to troubleshoot a service or a device. AerPort also allows customers to access some of the unique capabilities of our network elements – such as dynamic hotlining or VLR clearing, to name but a few – that have proven to be extremely valuable to all our customers across every vertical market. Similarly, the seamless links with AerCloud, our Application Enablement Platform, enable application developers to rapidly create and deploy M2M business applications at minimal costs, with zero integration overheads and involving much lower risks for the carriers involved.
“As the market matures,” he continues, “there’s also going to be a continuing need to support an increasingly diverse device community out there over long timescales. With our AerCloud Secure Protocol Adoption Layer, enterprise customers can evolve their devices, using next generation sensor technologies, for example, without needing to change the actual applications that consume and manage that data.
Here Mohseninia argues that attempts to develop standards for the M2M sector – either by the telecoms industry or by individual market sectors and user organisations – could act as a drag on fast time to market and driving real innovation. “M2M needs to be characterised by dynamism and agility,” he says. “If service providers are to grow new revenues and relationships and customers are to develop differentiators to compete more effectively. We’ve designed our entire technology environment to put creativity and flexibility directly into the hands of the customers. ”
Simpler automotive service
He highlights a number of examples of this: “One major US car manufacturer wanted to get out of the business of providing call centre support for an Automatic Crash Notification service that they provided with their vehicles. Using our platform they were able to easily redesign their service so that alerts and details were instead forwarded to the nearest emergency service call point (PSAP) without the need for interim human communications.
“Another major telematics customer has been able to use our ‘ShoulderTap’ application to reach out to a vehicle and re-establish an active IP connection when it’s switched off. That gave our customer a real competitive advantage in their particular market,” says Mohseninia.
“Looking only slightly further into the future”, Mohseninia adds, “we have full support for LTEbased services as well, while in terms of complementing our applications and analysis features, we’re already preparing for the convergence of M2M with ‘Big Data’ and creating a ‘crowd-sourced’ component.”
“We have a significant advantage compared with many of our competitors in not only owning our own technologies and patents – and so control our own destiny and can provide unique capabilities – but, as a result, we’re also able to be very, very flexible when it comes to commercial relationships, licensing and tariffs, he says. “This is very important given the huge variations in M2M traffic and usage patterns between different customers and instead allows them to focus on monitoring key events, rather than being forced to impose a subscription model from the consumer world. One of our customers, for example, runs a huge fleet of harvesters which are off the road outside of the season – they only need connectivity and support for four months of the year!”