Auto industry a focus for M2M

Having the president of the Ford Motor company provide a keynote speech at last week's Mobile World Congress (MWC) gives an indication that the cellular industry is starting to take automotive M2M seriously.

A recent study from Machina Research put the connected car segment of M2M as being worth $600 billion by 2020, the largest category within an overall market estimated by the analyst firm as being worth $4.5 trillion.

These are very impressive numbers, though admittedly, Machina is attempting to call what the market might be like in eight years' time. But, even if the automotive M2M sector doesn't move this fast, and the car manufacturing industry takes a very dogged approach to adopting new technology, it'll still be a huge market.

However, Bill Ford, the grandson of Ford founder Henry, believes that cars equipped with wireless M2M will be linked to cloud-based services in five years.

The giant auto maker BMW is running hard to be among the first with in-car M2M, having already launched its ConnectedDrive service that is in use in nine countries with more rollouts planned.

But BMW's offer seems some way off from what Bill Ford is considering, which includes alternate routing in real-time when the cellular network detects highway congestion. Ford believes that public transportation traffic will be "woven together into a single mobile network to save time, conserve resources, lower emissions and improve safety."

Ericsson also used MWC to outline its own connected car efforts by using M2M to provide 'smart' charging for electric-powered cars. The idea is that the batteries, when connected to a smart grid power point, would charge themselves at the cheapest time using intelligence via the M2M link.

But, while there are obvious benefits to equipping cars with advanced communications, I worry about the fast-growing complexity of modern vehicles. Today's cars are already hugely complicated, and adding further electronics will likely drag down the accepted seven-year life of today's cars.

Others have raised worries over the ability of hackers to break the automotive M2M security, and the difficulty of updating these units with more robust software, given the embedded nature of the technology. This concern might need the M2M and cellular industry to rethink how security can be enabled at this level, given that the actual devices will have little technical capacity to provide sophisticated firewalls. --Paul