ATLANTA — Brace yourself for an onslaught of machine-to-machine (M2M) connections.

GSMA, a global mobile industry trade association, predicts there could be as many as 2 billion M2M connections by 2020 — double the current forecast. The estimate was included in a report released this week in conjunction with GSMA's Mobile 360 North America conference here.

M2M, an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT), describes the use of applications enabled by communication between two or more machines. The GSMA study only counts M2M connections that access mobile networks (cellular M2M) and excludes consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Currently, approximately 468 mobile operators offer M2M services across 190 countries, accounting for about three percent of global mobile connections. GSMA expects M2M will account for at least 10 percent of the global mobile market by 2020 under desirable market conditions.

Understanding the M2M Market

How does GSMA define desirable conditions? The organization includes a number of factors:

  • The introduction of additional government policies aimed at encouraging wider deployment of cellular M2M in key sectors such as utilities, smart cities, automotive and healthcare
  • Reductions in M2M module costs
  • The development of standardized APIs
  • Greater assurance of end-to-end security
  • Deployment of SIM-based user identity
  • New operator business models

To see 2 billion cellular M2M connections by 2020, “You need the spectrum: it’s the rails on which this whole thing is run. You also need a fair and just regulatory environment where wireless is treated differently than wireline technology. As a provider, you need a SIM that allows it, you need to adopt the specifications so that it’s able to communicate across the network and then you need a user who wants to use it,” explained Alpharetta, Ga.-based Reed Peterson, global head of strategic engagement, head of North America, GSMA.

The US is the second largest cellular M2M market in terms of connections, trailing only China.These two markets combined are forecasted to account for nearly half of the global total expected by 2020.

Another report recently released by GSMA described the role that China’s government has played in stimulating its M2M market. In addition, the Chinese government plans to invest $603 billion in the M2M/IoT ecosystem by 2020, according to the China R&D Center for Internet of Things in Wuxi, China (CIT-China).