We’ve been talking about machine-to-machine communications, or M2M, for years now. One problem: It’s not an accurate description. True M2M does not exist yet.

Machines haven’t been talking to machines; they have been talking to the network as a go-between. What we have labeled M2M is more like “things on the Internet” than direct communications.

5G is going to change that.

The closest we came to M2M in business communications was the push-to-talk technology that allowed one handset to talk directly with another. But thanks to spectrum reallocations, that didn’t last. Devices returned to the model of Device A talking to the network, and then the network in turn talks to Device B.

When 5G arrives, certain capabilities or radio types that it will leverage and harmonize, will allow direct radio-to-radio or M2M connectivity. With the harmonization that we talked about in our first post of this series, one appliance will be able to “visit” with another appliance.

This will, of course, require some programmatic lubrication of the interactions. After all, a device, or machine, or computer, essentially will do only what it is commanded to do. So if we are encouraging conversations between machines, their interactions will have to be properly arranged.

Each of these machines will have to understand when it is appropriate to speak and when it is appropriate to listen. It’s a form of technological etiquette that will need to be constructed in a way that benefits the entire ecosystem.

The practical implications

The benefit here is that things in the network will be made more efficient without the need for human intervention and interactions will be less costly. Along with true M2M, there will be network analytics involved, with a degree of artificial intelligence applied. After all, autonomy requires at least some intelligence, and it is likely that will be in the form of AI.

An example might be the way cars – autonomous or otherwise – will talk to other cars. Will it be enough for one car to greet another and say, in effect, “hello, I see we’re going in the same direction on this road, at the same speed”? Certainly, that’s good information to have in terms of maintaining a safe operating distance.

But how about if we take it to the next level, with cars informing other cars within range that as they approach an area of heavy rain that they all need to slow down for safety? Or one car might detect “black ice” on the road, which is difficult to see visually but not difficult to sense once the car’s wheels hit it, and then warn cars behind and around it. Everyone on the road would benefit from what amounts to a crowdsourced M2M information pool.

How it’s done

So how does 5G enable this? In 5G, the network has a multiplicity of ways to connect with each other, using the methods that are most appropriate.

Historically, the network was more or less a single entity. But in the worlds of LTE and 5G, there are two distinct elements. The first is the signaling and control aspect and the second is the bearer, the channel in which the data travels. By separating those two elements, it is possible to make highly intelligent decisions about the data and how it is transported.

We can break the world of M2M into three parts. There are the sensors, some of which may broadcast only occasionally – perhaps just once a month – with others broadcasting frequently. Then there is the intelligence at the network edge, likely in the form of a gateway. Here all these sensors will be aggregated into different classes, groups, and sessions. Finally, there is the network core, where the operator typically functions and where analytics and signaling control will reside.

Even in true M2M, not all sensors will talk to each other directly; certainly those transmitting infrequently won’t. More advanced sensors may do so, or alternatively might aggregate themselves through a gateway.

For enterprises, this means more options on how to orchestrate their internal networks. With carriers using Network Functions Virtualization, enterprises will be able to select which virtualized components make the most sense for them. They can buy only what they need, rather than the entire buffet.

To read the first two posts in this series, visit:

5G and how it will shape the future enterprise network

Speed is tip of the iceberg when it comes to 5G