The more time I spend working with machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, the more I realize how rapidly a technology can go from geeky to mainstream. A few short years ago, M2M was for technologists only. Today, M2M and the Internet of Things (IoT) are making headlines — and making their way into our personal and business lives.

M2M and IoT – How are they related?

To gain a better understanding of M2M, it’s important to distinguish between M2M and the IoT. In short, M2M refers to the hardware and technologies that allow networked machines to exchange information and perform actions without the manual assistance of humans. Businesses have been using M2M successfully to monitor heavy equipment, irrigate fields, track inventory and manage the demand for energy.

With IoT, many of these same businesses have begun to relate differently with their customers, using the data from connected devices to understand how customers use them. Some in the industry describe M2M as the plumbing of IoT, providing the connectivity among such “things” as GPS, toll tags and household thermostats.

IoT is at the heart of smart cars, smart TVs and smart homes, solving everyday problems efficiently. The space is ripe for innovative products and services. In response, we recently opened the AT&T Foundry® Machine-to-Machine and Connected Device (M2M/CD) Center in Plano, Texas to rapidly design and build prototype hardware and software for M2M/CD applications.

M2M in the news

Both M2M and the IoT are fast-emerging technological forces. Some recent news items demonstrate the growing mainstream use of M2M technology and the IoT:

Owners of connected homes

New research from Parks Associates details four areas in the home ideal for M2M connectivity: mobile services, digital health, app development, and connected appliances.

Wireless carriers 

ABI Research predicts over two billion M2M connected devices by 2018. Of all the ways to connect these devices – e.g., satellite, fixed line, cellular, short-range wireless – it is estimated that more than half of the connection revenue will go to cellular service providers. Jonathan Collins, Principal Analyst, ABI Research.

Component manufacturers

Most everybody knows about Bluetooth. Bluetooth Smart is a very low-power variant for devices that talk to one another only occasionally, like health monitoring products and smart watches. IHS Inc. predicts tenfold growth in shipments of Bluetooth Smart integrated circuits between now and 2018.

OEMs

With all the changes in the market for consumer cell phones, device manufacturers are positioning themselves to catch the growing wave of M2M.

As M2M continues to go mainstream, you’ll read more about M2M and the Internet of Things. Issues like how to ensure security and how to leverage M2M for new insights will come to the forefront.

How do you see M2M and the Internet of things affecting your business? Your personal life?