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Barcelona tech show touts new M2M advances

A car that tells your insurance company how you're driving. A bathroom scale that lets you chart your weight on the Web. And a meter that warns your air conditioner when electricity gets more expensive.

Welcome to the next phase of the wireless revolution.

The first wave of wireless was all about getting people to talk to each other on cellphones. The second will be getting things to talk to each other, with no humans in between. So-called machine-to-machine communication is getting a lot of buzz at this year's wireless trade show.

Some experts believe these connections will outgrow the traditional phone business in less than a decade.

"I see a whole set of industries, from energy to cars to health to logistics and transportation, being totally redesigned," said Vittorio Colao, the CEO of Vodafone Group Plc, in a keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Companies are promising that machine-to-machine, or M2M, technology will deliver all manner of services, from the prosaic to the world-changing. At U.S. chip-maker Qualcomm Inc.'s booth here at the show, there's a coffeepot that can be ordered to start brewing from a tablet computer, or an Internet-connected alarm clock.

A former president of Costa Rica is also at the show, talking about how M2M can save massive amounts of greenhouse gases by making energy use more efficient -- enough to bring mankind halfway to the goal of halting global warming.

The M2M phenomenon is part of the larger drive to create an "Internet of Things" -- a global network that not only links computers, tablets and phones but that connects everything from bikes to washing machines to thermostats.

Could M2M be overhyped -- a promise that won't deliver? The wireless industry is no stranger to rosy projections that don't pan out. Analyst Dan Shey of ABI Research thinks M2M will deliver, but perhaps not in a sexy, flashy way. When machine-to-machine connections are created, he said, it's usually not because someone is making a big bet on the future, but because they save money.

"It's about gaining more out of the asset that you have, like a truck," he said. "When it needs maintenance it gets maintenance at the right point. Or ensuring that the vending-machine guy only goes to the vending machine when it's empty."

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