What’s the difference between machine-to-machine communications and the Internet of Things?

International experts discuss how M2M and IoT are the same, and yet different.

By Mike Bacidore, editor in chief

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is a big thing. Literally. It’s everything that is connected over the Internet.

The industrial flavor of IoT includes machines that will be able to share data and talk to one another. But there’s already a term for that, isn’t there? It’s called machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Are these the same? Is the industrial IoT just a fancy new name for something that already existed? One thing is for sure: the IoT has a very global presence. We asked this international group of heavy hitters in the IoT domain to offer their perspectives on the differences and the similarities between M2M communications and the IoT. Learn more about IoT and what it means to manufacturing at Smart Industry.

Click here to meet the panel of experts.


What are the primary differences between machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things (IoT)?


Vihang Sapale: M2M communication is a subset of IoT. We can consider a simple example. We have lot of sensors inside our car, which communicate with a microcontroller, and the microcontroller is taking certain actions based on the sensor inputs. Suppose we start the vehicle. One of the sensors would detect that engine has started, and the microcontroller in turn would activate the central locking system. We already have hundreds of such M2M-communication-based systems around us, such as washing machines and refrigerators. IoT does a lot of value addition to M2M communications.

In the case of IoT ecology, it involves sending this data over the cloud and performing various functionalities, such as analytics on the data, machine learning, remote monitoring and control. With reference to the automobile example, let’s consider that a manufacturer sends sensor data to the cloud and then can run analytics on the software and figure out vital information. Every year, hundreds of thousands of recalls are made by automobile companies to rectify issues they’ve identified in post-production, in order to take care of any liability arising in case of accidents. In this case, an automobile company can integrate its existing M2M platform with IoT to identify these issues at a very early stage and save millions of dollars in recalls. Also, the data can be analyzed for future trends or driving patterns to come up with radically improved products in future iterations.

An M2M system also has an application that is configured to certain values, which can be part of an enterprise resource planning system, manufacturing execution system, production monitoring system or supply chain management system.

Martin Harnevie: M2M is concerned with communication between machines, not necessarily connected to the Internet. M2M has traditionally also focused more on SIM-based cellular connectivity, whereas IoT is network-agnostic. Moreover, M2M has traditionally been concerned with single-use applications, which are closed to the outer world both in terms of its data and its application interfaces. In its original meaning, IoT was also about devices talking with other devices. IoT was the Internet of Things, implying the Internet between things, to which applications run on the Internet—for instance, Web applications—added substantial new value by making it easy to view and control them, regardless of location, as well as allowing shared services and shared data.

Also read: What is the danger of taking M2M communications to the Internet of Things?

Simplistically, one could then say that IoT = M2M + Internet. Over time, however, the IoT term has broadened significantly. IoT now encompasses all kinds of devices connected to the Internet, from industrial machines, smart home devices, wearables and environmental sensors to actuators and machinery that control the physical world. Thing-to-thing communication is no longer a central part of the IoT definition. Instead, as long as devices connected to the Internet feed data to Internet-centric applications and databases—the cloud—it is IoT. Currently, there are almost 10 billion devices connected to the Internet. This is expected to reach 50 billion devices within the coming decade. Together with advances in Web programming and new shared services and shared data business models, IoT is expected to have a disruptive impact on a global economical level.

Dwayne Dixon: There are a lot of different factors and subtleties that come into play here, and there is not universal agreement. I happen to differentiate them by thinking of M2M as communication between dedicated systems on a point-to-point basis. IoT on the other hand consists of sensors of many kinds from many manufacturers that connect in a horizontal way.

Glenn Vassallo: From my perspective it is cloud, and in particular the public cloud, that is primary difference. Access to the public cloud means access to powerful analytic options that would be extremely costly and difficult to implement in a local environment. Added to this is rapid implementation and flexibility, which all lead to value being extracted from solutions in significantly compressed time frames.

Peter Waher: The Internet of Things is what we get when we connect things that are not operated by humans to the Internet. It might seem obvious, but it has four distinct parts, which imply specific considerations that have to be made. First, “connection” relates to the study of communication protocols. The second part, “things,” relates to the study of sensors, actuators and controllers, among other things. The “non-operation by humans” is the third part, and it relates to provisioning and decision making. Fourth, the “Internet” relates to security, including identities, authentication and authorization, but also to interoperability.

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