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Like many active baby boomers, Mansell Nelson is passionate about cycling. And like many fellow weekend athletes, he bought a high-tech gadget to digitally monitor his ride. It tells him his real-time location, as well as how fast he’s going, the number of hills he’s done and – if he chooses this option – how much weight he’s lost.
Nelson’s a keen adopter of new technologies for several reasons. One is to keep up with his daughter, a 22-year-old whose whole world is wireless. And the other is that he works on the cutting edge of technology’s possibilities – leading Rogers Communications Inc.’s burgeoning machine-to-machine (M2M) business.
The same technology that helps Nelson improve his cycling fitness – in essence, a device that captures information and feeds it wirelessly through cloud software to another machine that makes sense of it – can also help any number of businesses improve their efficiency.
M2M has infinite business applications, as companies use wireless technology to monitor what’s going on in the field. For instance, a courier company uses sensors to find out when someone has dropped a package in its box, a car maker keeps track of each vehicle’s oil levels, a pest control company knows when a critter enters a trap, and the gas provider remotely reads a meter.
Rogers, which has been at the forefront of establishing the ecosystem that allows M2M wireless communications to rapidly expand in Canada, is poised to take advantage of this enormous growth potential. The telecommunications company’s role is the transmission of the data. The sectors of most interest include transportation, retail, oil and gas, utilities, financial services, healthcare and consumer electronics.
“We think it’s exciting,” says Nelson, who is Vice- President of Advanced Business Solutions for the wireless division of Rogers. “Those of us who are involved in it believe it’s going to be big.”
Nelson recently sat down to talk about Rogers’ M2M initiatives in the new Rogers Wireless Innovation Centre at the company’s head office on Bloor Street in Toronto. There are similar centres in Vancouver and Montreal, and each is designed to showcase a mix of M2M and emerging technologies – including personal health monitoring, Big Data analytics and mobile workforce automation – that can help business customers operate more smoothly.
In the Toronto centre, an electronic parking meter, which seems so ubiquitous now but was unheard of 10 years ago, stands on display as evidence of one of the early examples of using M2M technology.
Nelson arrived at Rogers in 2001, at a time when smartphones were just emerging and revenue from data was nonexistent. “One of my first challenges was to sell 12,000 BlackBerrys, which sounds really easy to do now,” he laughs. At the time, it was a new technology and it took a while for people to understand and adopt it. Today, he says, data accounts for approximately over 40 per cent of Rogers’ wireless revenue. “Next year we’ll probably pass more data bits through the network than voice bits,” says Nelson, who still has a BlackBerry 950 on his desk as a reminder of how far and how fast the world has changed. He compares M2M now to smartphones then. “It’s a new technology. How do you get business and consumers to adopt it?”
One of the most exciting sectors for M2M is automotive, he says. With subscriber identity module (SIM) technology making its way under the hood, consumers will have the capability to receive notification that, for instance, there is an accident on their usual route to work and that there’s an alternative road available. This will be possible because of traffic sensors that transmit real-time data. Real-time Google maps may be standard on tomorrow’s cars.
For Rogers, the automative “promised land,” as Nelson calls it, is infotainment. “With our media assets, we can provide news, weather and traffic reports. All these are germane to when you are in the car. The car can become a rolling hotspot. We can build a way better customer experience,” he says.
In healthcare, Rogers’ focus is outside the hospital, where wireless solutions are most needed. In a soon-to-be-announced pilot project, the company is working with a large healthcare company that is putting two-way video terminals into the homes of rural patients so that their medical condition can be monitored remotely.
In consumer electronics, the next big steps include smart appliances that feed information back to manufacturers and tablets that work on an always-connected model. So people can play a game on a tablet in the park, for instance.
One day, cities will be smarter: There will be sensors on all sorts of machines that will measure things such as temperature, traffic flow, the amount of water in sewers and how much electricity we’re using – and report back the data to be analyzed. Cities then use this data for urban planning to alleviate problems such as traffic congestion and to manage energy resources.
What is the business potential for all these connections? Rogers expects the market revenue for the overall M2M ecosystem in Canada to reach $1-billion in the next three years. This includes more than $400-million of network revenue. Rogers is already powering more than 800,000 connected devices and, early in 2013, the company announced that it expects to facilitate more than one million machine-to-machine connections this year. Globally, telecommunications giant Ericsson predicts there will be 50 million connections by 2020.
The best potential clients, Nelson says, are those for whom Rogers is a logical choice, whether they’re a small retailer or an entire city. Rogers’ network is national. The challenge, he adds, is that M2M is still complicated, and customers need guidance. To provide holistic solutions, Rogers has formed relationships with 250 partners who can deliver parts of the puzzle.
Rogers’ wireless division recently partnered with Jasper Wireless, which provides a global platform for companies to manage their connected devices. “What do you want your business to be? We pull all the parts together. It is a maturation process, from selling handsets to understanding needs.”
“Before,” Nelson says, “we would give them a SIM card and they would do the rest. Now, it’s a partner model. We don’t claim to be inventing applications. Everyone needs the network. That’s what we do well.”
The next time Nelson goes cycling, his stored information is waiting in the cloud. In both personal and work realms, he’s witnessing the amazing speed at which technology spins forward. “What you’re seeing is a whole revolution,” he says of M2M innovation. “It’s really happening.”