Lately, you’ve been hearing a lot about smart devices, smart homes, smart manufacturing, and even smart cities, all connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). To make all that smart technology act in a smart way, IoT technology relies heavily on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. So let’s take a look at the relationship between IoT and M2M communication and why both technologies are important.


What is M2M communication?

A simple way of defining M2M is that it involves automated data communication between devices. In other words, M2M communication shouldn’t require human interaction once the system is set up. A temperature sensor hundreds of feet below the ocean surface can collect data and send it along to a central system through M2M without a human needing to be involved at all.

A more highly-specific definition of M2M includes the idea of peer-to-peer (P2P) or point-to-point communication, which Nabto’s IoT systems provide. This means that machines—i.e. devices—communicate directly with each other instead of through an intermediary, whether it’s a human being or another system. However, in more recent years, the definition of M2M has widened slightly to include communication through a central server-based system.

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Relationship between IoT and M2M Communication

Let’s look at some similarities and differences between IoT and M2M.

First, it’s important to understand that IoT and M2M, while related, are not synonymous. M2M is a general concept, a group of many different technologies, including IoT, while IoT is a specific subset of technologies that happen to rely on M2M. M2M communication comes in many different forms besides the communication between smart devices, and M2M communication is only one part of the Internet of Things.

As an illustration, consider what’s involved in an IoT system. An IoT system has an architecture that begins with IoT devices, which contain various sensors for collecting data. That IoT device needs a method to communicate the data to another device or a central system, and that process happens through M2M communication; specifically, the internet. Hence the name, Internet of Things.

Take a smart security system, for example. If you have a motion sensor, that sensor will detect when someone enters your home while you’re away. But unless the motion sensor has a method to communicate that information to your alarm system, the sensor is useless. Your system could allow the sensor to automatically inform your security system that there’s an intruder using M2M technology, often in the form of a low-power wireless protocol like Bluetooth or Zigbee, or wireless radio bands in various proprietary frequencies like the low-powered, long-range 433MHz frequency. In the near future, this may also happen through something like the Thread protocol, which is a cutting-edge internet standard based on the same technology as that of Zigbee. And thanks to M2M through the internet, the system can even inform your personal smartphone and your security provider remotely. Then, the job of M2M is finished.

The job of your IoT system continues from that point. Your smartphone acts as an end user device in the system, through which you can interact with other IoT devices as well. So you might be able to take a look at your security feed to see if your motion sensor went bad or if you actually have an intruder. At that point, you could send a message to the security provider to let them know that it was a false alarm or you could ask that the police be called to your house. Since a human is involved at this point, this communication is not M2M.

A second difference between IoT and M2M is the specific method of communication. Both IoT and M2M involve communicating data. But M2M can include communication through wired, wireless, or cellular methods, whereas IoT uses wireless internet and tends to rely on communication through a central server. And though peer-to-peer (P2P) communication can be a part of both M2M and IoT, P2P is a central part of the original definition for M2M. But peer-to-peer communication is simply one option for the Internet of Things.

After all, many IoT systems have to rely on a server or a data-analysis tool between a smart device and an end-user device. For example, smart weather monitoring relies on hundreds of sensors spread out across a wide network. A central system gathers the data from all of these sensors and analyzes it to give you tomorrow’s weather forecast. But for IoT video streaming from a security camera, you don’t always need a lot of analysis. Instead, the priority is on low latency so there’s not too much of a delay between what you see and what is actually happening. For that, P2P is often ideal.

M2M and Nabto

The ideal version of M2M relies solely on peer-to-peer communication, with no central server. This is also best for many IoT use cases where low latency and high performance are priorities. That’s where a P2P connectivity platform like Nabto comes in.

The Nabto Edge platform allows you to bypass the cloud server layer, facilitating direct communication between devices. In the end, P2P is exactly what the original definition of M2M was all about. And it’s still an important part of IoT systems today.

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