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Efforts to develop broad, horizontal standards for the M2M market are gaining momentum. The most important activity is occurring within the context of the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Global Standards Collaboration (GSC), which has established the “M2M Standardization Task Force” (MSTF) to coordinate the efforts of individual standards development organizations (SDOs). While most M2M applications are developed today in a highly customized fashion, and vertical-specific industry bodies are busy crafting standards for markets ranging from the smart grid to the auto industry, it will be broad horizontal standards that will be the major impetus to growth in the middle and later years of this decade.

The end result of these efforts is to define a conceptual framework for M2M applications that is vertical industry- and communication technology-agnostic, and to specify a service layer that will enable application developers to create applications that operate transparently across different vertical domains and communication technologies without the developers having to write their own complex custom service layer. This is a key requirement for the M2M industry to move from its current state of applications existing in isolated silos based on vertical market or underlying technology to a truly interconnected “Internet of Things”.
SDOs want to incorporate existing standards into this conceptual framework as much as possible. Rather than re-invent what already exists, the SDOs prefer to identify and fill gaps, and to integrate what already exists into a unified conceptual framework, as described above. This approach recognizes that it is impossible, or at least undesirable, to try to define physical layer technologies, or networking layer protocols, for every current or future potential M2M application. Different vertical applications will optimize for individual cost and functionality requirements, while a standardized service layer will facilitate cross-vertical application development.
ABI Research believes that an initial proposal for such a framework and service layer could be available by early 2012. It would likely take another 18 – 24 months for this initial proposal to be formally published as a standard or set of standards. Therefore, ABI Research doesn’t expect these efforts to start having an impact until the late 2013 to early 2014 timeframe. We do expect that once such standards are in place, they will play an important role in driving overall M2M market development.
The key benefits of horizontal standards will be faster and less costly application development, and more highly functional and secure applications. Similarly to the market benefit of third-party apps running on smart phone platforms, M2M apps developed on horizontal platforms will be able to make easier use of underlying technologies and services. App developers will not have to pull together the entire value chain or have expertise in esoteric skill sets, such as RF engineering. This will dramatically increase the rate of innovation in the industry in addition to creating more cross-linkages between various M2M applications. Think about future plug-in hybrid electric vehicles communicating with the drivers’ homes, the road, various infotainment services, the smart grid, etc. and you start to get a taste of what is coming.