CTIA, Day One: The Promise and Potential of m2m

If you've ever been to the CTIA conference, you know it can be a little hard to come away with much more than a tote bag full of tote bags and a gambling debt to rival your mortgage. This year, the big news (at least according to Twitter) has centered around the release of a new phone-- the first 4G phone-- from HTC and Sprint. It's pretty, and it'll sure be fast, and it may even serve as a WiFi hotspot for 8 other devices (cool!), but it's basically the next generation phone we knew was coming.

In the sessions/discussions/panels I've attended, and in my wanderings of the Wyoming-sized exhibit floor, a pretty clear theme has arisen around machine-to-machine (m2m) communications.  There are a number of companies exhibiting here that are working directly in the m2m space in one capacity or another, whether manufacturing modems that will feed information to a database, writing the software to govern the devices, or building the consumer products that will put it together.

Beyond that, the broader areas that seem to be host to the most activity are facing their greatest challenges-- and seeing their greatest innovation-- in the m2m space.  I'm thinking particularly of mHealth and the energy/smart grid spaces, both of which have a lot of people talking out here. 

In healthcare, the great promise of wireless in the U.S. is to facilitate remote monitoring of patients, and to collect data-- both on the individual patient level and on the broader, society-wide level. There's a great deal of innovation coming from all the big players and a number of smaller ones to craft devices that will monitor everything from your blood pressure, to your weight, to your heart rate and ECG in real time, wirelessly. These devices then feed the data they gather into a smart database capable of identifying health problems from what it gleans.  There are all sorts of issues with this-- backend compatibility, successful business models, and some mondo liability issues to start with-- but there is incredible opportunity here for these devices to do tremedous good, and I'm pleased to report that pretty much everybody is on it.

In energy, NDN/NPI fanatics already know about the potential of the smart grid, thanks to the work we've done on Electricity 2.0. A crucial piece of the smart grid-- part what will make it smart-- is broadband connectivity built-in.  Some of this connectivity will come from wireless, which will tie together the devices in our homes, let our smart meters talk to the other nodes on the grid.  In this, as in mHealth, there will be great reliance on smooth, secure, reliable m2m connectivity.  With an emphasis on the secure-- you don't want your health data getting lost in transit, or your neighborhood losing electricity.

The handheld devices and the hott new apps to run on them might still be what's sexy here at CTIA (so far as anything is really sexy here), but the real innovation to make life-- not just more convenient-- but truly different and better is happening in this machine-to-machine, data-gathering and analysis space.