With more than 55 per cent of British adults now owning a smartphone, mobile internet has transformed the way we communicate, shop and consume information. But always-on connectivity isn’t just for humans. Machines are getting in on the act – and the opportunities for business have never been bigger.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is the driving force behind the so-called internet of things, which allows devices from connected cars to bus stops to send and receive information in real time, without the need for human intervention.
For a business that could mean information about a connected vehicle’s location or passenger numbers, tracking the progress of a consignment or on-the-spot reports on maintenance issues. The advantages of M2M extend to businesses in a host of markets, from servicing appliances to smart metering, connected buses to smart electricity grids.
More than 160,000 of FältCom’s units are now in service worldwide, delivering data to businesses over 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks
By providing real-time feedback from devices on the ground, M2M can minimise time spent in the field by employees, reducing the environmental impact of a company’s activities and limiting the time vehicles, vending machines or other equipment spend out of action. Crucially, M2M provides companies with valuable information about when and where their products and services are needed most.
It’s a trend that’s set to explode. With billions of devices connected in a global market worth a predicted $96 billion by 2020, M2M promises to reshape entire industries, and create new and previously unanticipated areas of business.
But the benefits of M2M are more than theoretical. Businesses across the globe are successfully employing the technology right now. Scandinavia has been at the forefront of the M2M revolution, with the market in connected devices there growing at 30per cent year on year – twice the global average. By 2017, an estimated 21 million connected devices will be in use in homes and offices across the Nordic countries, according to recent figures released by analyst Arthur D. Little. This includes as many as 45 per cent of all vehicles, delivering improved safety, boosting reliability and reducing the environmental impact of road transport.
FältCom has been one of the leaders in the Nordic drive toward M2M. Established in 1998, the company was one of the earliest entrants to the M2M market, implementing its first cloud-based solution in Sweden as far back as 2004. Its M2M solutions work across a range of software platforms, and more than 160,000 of FältCom’s units are now in service worldwide, delivering data to businesses over 2G, 3G and 4G mobile networks. Applications range from New York City’s connected bus stops to a platform for connected vehicles using integrated apps that can be managed and monitored via the cloud.
Connected transport has been a key component of Scandinavia’s M2M boom. Nobina, a large Nordic bus operator, has installed barcode readers in its fleet of buses in Umeå, Sweden. The switch to electronic ticket validation offers major benefits, reducing driver workload and speeding up the boarding process. One less obvious, though equally important, benefit of this ticketing approach, combined with service improvements such as on-board wi-fi, is an enhanced customer perception of a modern and efficient transport system.
It’s a lead that British operators have been quick to follow. FältCom’s UK customers include a UK bus operator on Merseyside, which has been trying out M2M on some of its buses, and Nottingham City Council, which uses the technology to provide up-to-the-minute arrival times at bus stops.
By bringing a range of business-critical data together on a single, scalable, internet-connected platform, transport companies can enjoy closer integration of services across their business. Replacing on-board radios with internet protocol or IP-based systems enables bus operators to monitor and record communications, as well as adding the ability to leave messages when drivers are busy.
IP-based CCTV on board buses provides footage of incidents as they occur. Combined with readings from a vehicle’s tachometer, maintenance diagnostics and GPS location data, this information enables companies to provide valuable evidence to insurers in the result of a claim. And unlike conventional CCTV, video from internet-connected systems can be collected immediately, without the need to physically retrieve recordings from the vehicle. Connected CCTV is also a key enabler for other transport operators, including Transport for London, and emergency services such as ambulances.
Problems with equipment can be identified immediately, avoiding the possibility that faulty cameras will be detected only after footage is required when an accident or passenger incident has occurred. Diagnostics data is transmitted all the time the bus is in service, reducing the cost of engineer call-outs by as much as 98 per cent.
M2M offers substantial benefits for customers too, with additional perks such as on-board wi-fi that enhance their travel experience. By encouraging users to sign up for free internet access, operators can gain additional information about their users’ travel habits, enabling them to deliver targeted offers and tailor services to meet demand.
With access to real-time data on passenger numbers, operators are better placed to allocate transport capacity and ticketing. Journeys can be smoother too, with on-board GPS allowing each vehicle’s location to be tracked so that buses can be diverted to avoid delays.
Testament to the power of M2M is the fact that one of Sweden’s major transport operators is now set to do away with that cornerstone of conventional transport infrastructure, the humble bus timetable. With accurate GPS tracking of bus routes, old-fashioned schedules could soon be replaced by real-time travel information delivered direct to customers’ mobile phones.
Want to know when the next service is due? Soon you can ask the bus itself.
CONNECTED SOLUTION KEEPS BUS NETWORK TALKING
Regional transport authority Skånetrafiken in FältCom’s home country of Sweden has seen big benefits from the company’s machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. The organisation, which contracts out transport services in the Skåne region to a number of operators, required a solution that would improve communication across its network.
The solution used to connect up the region’s buses and trains offers voice-over-IP communication with drivers and on-board wi-fi to enhance customers’ journeys. Location tracking enables Skånetrafiken to pinpoint each vehicle’s location at all times, enabling conventional timetables to be replaced by real-time apps.
Skånetrafiken’s Björn Wallin is enthusiastic about the organisation’s partnership with FältCom.
“We’re very satisfied with the communication platform delivered from FältCom. It has opened up flexibility and opportunities to integrate and manage applications from any company we choose in the same device management tool,” he says.