Machine to machine technologies (M2M) are on the up-and-up, covering a wide range of services and industries. Not only do they have notable advantages in terms of production, but they reduce operational costs significantly as well.
In recent months, the prognostics and predictions regarding the possible applications of M2M technologies in Latin America have produced more uncertainties than truths. What degree of development has the region reached? What weight does the evolution of network infrastructure carry? What industries are transforming? What roles do the private and public sectors play in driving M2M in Latin America?
Clarisa Herrera: What is your take on the state of M2M in Latin America, based not on predictions but on reality?
Daniel Ramos: M2M is oriented toward industries, meaning many industries in Latin America have transformed to incorporate these types of technologies and adapt their systems of production, services, supervision and monitoring. The fleet management and vehicle tracking industry has been among the first to incorporate these technologies, principally due to robberies. The Brazilian government, for example, has created a law establishing that, starting this year, all locally manufactured and imported auto motives will have to have a vehicle-tracking device installed. This is cellular M2M technology.
CH: And in relation to people?
DR: Through the concept that operators define as the Internet of Things, final users will have remote access to their homes to turn lights on and off, control temperatures and turn their dwellings into smart homes. Everything will be connected to optimize processes, improving the quality of services and of life.
CH: In the case of Brazil, you’ve highlighted cellular M2M technologies. What are the other channels?
DR: Keeping in mind that M2M refers to all types of data transmission between machines without human intervention, we have fixed machine connections (traditional cables) and wireless networks (Wi-Fi), cellular networks and satellite.
CH: Staying with the example of Brazil, the government played a fundamental role in laying out legislation. What is the government’s role in driving M2M initiatives?
DR: Central. In that specific case, the government established conditions for all participants of the value chain, from device manufacturers to automakers, insurers, etc. They’re all intimately related. But at the same time, M2M is tied to the idea of smart cities, cities in which all services incorporate these technologies to improve processes – parking (transit), traffic lights, illumination, security, air quality control, etc. A smart network is created within the framework of a program of public safety. The private and public sectors have to be involved and evaluate the advantages for different industries and for society in general. They have to establish a common agenda. Regulation is the main axis here.
CH: What other concrete examples can you cite on a regional level?
DR: One interesting point for M2M is planning for reduced electricity waste in cities. Given that electricity is a limited resource, many have set out to optimize energy use. The Chilean government has launched an initiative to reduce energy use by 12%. They have established a series of recommendations for businesses and final consumers to incorporate smart meters that are remotely connected and have applications that reduce waste. There is a pilot project under way between an electric company and Movistar to install smart meters in homes so that energy use can be rationed. Brazil has also focused on smart meters. Argentina’s agricultural sector uses meters in the fields to monitor indicators like humidity.
CH: In theory, this is an attractive business for businesses and improves quality of life. What happens in terms of costs?
DR: M2M has limitations in the cost of acquiring the technology, where the regional industry hasn’t yet matured enough to decide who takes on that cost. A discrepancy remains between governments and companies that ultimately impedes it from reaching the masses. The U.S. private sector, for example, has a clear interest in the installation of smart meters, because electric companies need to reduce costs in a substantial way. At the same time, other companies are interested in providing value-added services, such as smart homes, remote services and payments to control everything in one’s dwelling.
CH: And with respect to infrastructure? Is Latin America prepared?
DR: There are various connectivity options, as I mentioned previously, in what is fixed, which comes from the fact that broadband in many countries in the region is limited. In terms of Wi-Fi, we’re seeing initiatives from some cell phone operators to establish public and private Wi-Fi networks that facilitate access. Cellular networks are where we’re going to have greater M2M reach because cell phone penetration is Latin America is high. The other element to have in mind is that, in many cases, M2M demands a significant mobile component. It is also important to note that most data transfer is channeled through 2G networks and, to some extent, 3G, mature networks in Latin America and provided by all mobile operators. If it depended on 4G technologies, which still doesn’t have a massive reach, the situation would be precarious.