M2M APPS: You recently wrote an article referencing the opportunity for SMBs to take advantage of M2M. To what extent do you think M2M might be more readily deployed by small business as opposed to large enterprises? Are there adoption barriers that they can more easily overcome?
CARL FORD: While most M2M solutions match up with industry verticals, we are seeing explosive growth as a result of the combination of wireless communication and information processing becoming the horizontal platform for all these deployments, which consumers often see as “Apps”. The reason SMBs are likely to adopt and adapt the technology so quickly is because their consumer experience makes the connection. Where before the proof of concept was costly and needed to be led by big companies, today everyone knows that there is “an app for that”, and users can relate to it, so SMBs feel comfortable that the effort will pay off with rewards. It’s very exciting.
M2M APPS: M2M has traditionally relied on 2G technology and has really just started to transition to 3G. Many have a conservative outlook on the adoption of 4G for M2M – what’s your take?
CARL FORD: The bandwidth available on 4G technology seems like overkill for most M2M implementations. Additionally, any global company can trust that GSM will be available in the footprint, while 4G LTE is not evenly distributed. So, the general market trend is to migrate slowly to 4G solutions. Having said that, within a defined footprint, the opportunity for speeds and feeds, available with 4G, makes for interesting new applications that could be used for video M2M applications such as digital signage, surveillance, and perhaps data burst implementations like disaster monitoring.
M2M APPS: What have you seen as the biggest triumph for the M2M market in recent years?
CARL FORD: There are a lot of ways to answer this question. The most visible is the implementation of digital signs along our highways; the one that I think is the most important is remote asset management/supply chain implementation. However, perhaps the biggest triumph is that M2M implementation cycles are manageable while the number of M2M opportunities and applications continues to expand.
M2M APPS: What’s on your M2M application wish list? What would you like to see the technology do?
CARL FORD: Personally, I am not happy with the smart grid implementations; the system right now feels upside down where the utility cautions the customer about high peak time usage patterns and resulting higher rates but offers no incentives for customers to change consumption habits. My wish list is for implementations that are buy-side oriented, solutions that provide consumers with choices that match their lifestyles rather than solutions that require a consumer to change behavior... It should not be “If you do the laundry now, you are going to pay a premium”. The solutions should be more about planning your day: “Dave, I can make the following systems work on a delay so everything will be ready when you want it and you won’t pay a premium for doing them all at once.” Thanks Hal. We are a long way from that.
M2M APPS: What are the main challenges you see for entrepreneurs trying to bring an M2M product to market?
CARL FORD: Our Favorite Billionaire, Sir Terry Matthews, reminds us that the answer is to know your customer and stick with them on their needs. Combined with a motivated team, you can get to market quickly with the right solution. I think there are lots of opportunities out there and we just have to find the right spots. Steve Jobs would tell you focus groups don’t help because the customers can’t see the future until you deliver it, but the needs can be found and, if you can deliver the first time, you will build loyalty. One word of caution is to always look for “blue oceans”. It’s better to create a new category that matches a need than to join crowded fields of solutions that you think aren’t adequate. If they are not adequate, there is a reason the existing category does not resonate. Redefine the category and build for the market that is to be. Or is as Wayne Gretsky would say, “Skate to where the puck is going to be.”
M2M APPS: Who, if anyone, do you feel is dominating the conversation about M2M in the media right now?
CARL FORD: Dean Kamen, an inventor, an entrepreneur, and an advocate for science and technology, along with his Deka Research and Development Company are the ones that should inspire us all. He is very focused on medical applications and, to be candid, I am not even sure he looks at himself as an M2M player. However, look at his accomplishments: his Artificial Arm, the personal dialysis device, the Segway, the Slingshot water purifier, and these are just the latest ones. It’s amazing how his team and their combined skills find the opportunities to improve life. I am not sure I would ever focus on those markets but I am inspired by his passion for them.
M2M APPS: From a consumer perspective, what’s changing in 2012? What do you see as the biggest trend?
CARL FORD: Arm Chair M2M. When Steve Jobs showed us the iPad, he did not show a standalone device, he showed us himself in a recliner. The man who had problems buying furniture understood that causal computing was coming to the user. Since then, I have sat with friends in their living rooms or dens and have seen the way the iPad device takes over managing the TV and is picked up and used casually... I normally don’t like looking at e-readers as M2M solutions because the machines are often specific to implementations. However, leaving the M2M controller by your arm chair is going to be the way it works for us all in the future. So sit back, relax and enjoy the show.