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Why adding M2M to smartphones will make them even 'smarter'

Adding the ability to control one’s environment from the palm of one’s hand will help mobile operators add even more value to their customer relationships.

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The love affair between people and their mobile phones will grow even stronger once those devices go beyond communications and entertainment and into actual control of entire home and office environments. Operators can be bystanders on the sidelines in this machine-to-machine game or become enablers that orchestrate the relationships and technologies that will drive the next generation of convenience to their customers.

Some service providers in North America aren’t waiting and are already getting involved in the intersection of M2M and smart devices. AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless are reportedly planning to run near-field communication payments trials in Atlanta and three other U.S. cities. The service providers are said to be working with Discover Financial Services and Barclays Plc. This is a significant first step toward what could be M2M interactions once known only as fodder for “The Jetsons” or “Star Trek.”

These companies are showing that rather than getting squeezed out by the Sonys of the world, service providers should jockey to take control of as many devices as possible so that they drive the experience soon coming to a “cell phone near you.” Cell phones will no doubt morph into a true “management device” capable of remotely controlling a home’s security, lights, air conditioning, heating, fire alarms, entertainment and appliances.

As that happens, the slogan “don’t leave home without it” will apply more to mobile phones than credit cards. We might even be there already. Today, there are approximately 1 billion credit and debit cards in U.S., despite the fact there are only about 330 million people living in the country. In many places, there are more cell phones than people. That means huge potential for M2M once people realize they can do everything with their mobile phone that they can do with their wallet. If people can have all the same interactions and conduct all the same transactions without having to carry around cash or change or plastic, then what’s to stop them from going the next step remotely?

As people become accustomed to the many ways in which a mobile phone can manage appliances and devices, that thinking can also be expanded to the enterprise environment.

“In the next six months to a year, the home will be the next battlefield for convergence,” said Sanjay Mewada, vice president of strategy for Netcracker, which is expanding into telecom operations and management system domains. Mewada will speak on what he calls the “upcoming surge” in M2M – and what it means for the telco back-office – at next week’s BSS-OSS World show in London. “We will see a lot of momentum as people begin to see how they can manage the home as a central hub through which all appliances and devices are controlled.” He sees M2M as the foundation, “as the standard-based, open platform that enables authentication, billing, provisioning and inventory of M2M-based services.”

Surely, it’s possible to envision how smart-metering initiatives will galvanize people to want to remotely control house, room and water temperatures when utility companies give them incentives to save energy during peak hours. “Once the ‘one-to-many’ relationships and connections are established, there are so many capabilities operators can offer their customers for not only convenience, but also time and costs savings,” Mewada said. “Operators just have to secure their roles in the market.”

Netcracker hopes to play an important role in helping service providers with the fulfillment and assurance of M2M services that emerge in different markets. Already, the organization has built that foundation in Japan with the Keitai home system, or Home ICT, which runs on top of an M2M platform that helps users monitor and control home appliances and devices. “Keitai” means cell phone in Japanese and, indeed, it seems the cell phone is central to the plausibility of M2M.

Already in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, phones are considered one of the most critical reflections of personal value. There was an experiment not too long ago at NTT DoCoMo that demonstrated people chose their cell phones over wallets, watches and other personal belongings when they were forced to leave a room with just one possession. “In more and more cultures, the cell phone is not only the key repository for your personal contacts and communications, your entertainment and so on, but it’s a critical piece of how you interact throughout the day,” Mewada said. “Rather than carry cash or a credit card, the mobile device is used for everything from buying a soda from a vending machine, to airport check-ins, to purchasing bus tickets or train tickets at a turnstile, to transferring money to loved ones’ accounts.”

As cell phones gain in personal value, and as RFID technology and integrated-circuit technologies proliferate in devices, the usability and application for mobile phones will make that convenience a hard-to-ignore factor in even mature markets where people still carry credit cards and cash. As the number and diversity of devices, applications and connections, as well as the beginning of smart grids and smart metering, trigger convergence of devices in the home, there will be more of a desire and acceptance of M2M.

For these reasons, Mewada believes operators should start thinking seriously about how to be the ones that drive that convenience and control to their customers. “You want control of as many devices as possible, so that means looking at how your smartphones can interact with appliances and devices, and working with manufacturers and merchants and other stakeholders to make it happen for your customers,” said Mewada, who believes operators can build the foundation and drive MDM, as opposed to being just spectators.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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