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A few years ago when we talked about machine-to-machine (M2M) or Internet of Things, there was still some uncertainty on what exactly it might be and how would companies monetize M2M solutions. We’re now seeing that M2M is a transformative technology with the power to fundamentally alter industries and the way we do business. Today, M2M devices are much smaller, cheaper and more energy efficient, as well as more sensitive and accurate. Computers and software are faster and more powerful, so analytics is improved. Cloud-based applications are available to enable organizations to more easily and cost effectively implement and manage M2M deployments of the necessary scale and complexity.

Here at Mobile Asia Expo 2014 in Shanghai, we asked Sean Horan, Director of M2M Business Development, AT&T Business Solutions, to share his thoughts about what M2M means for customers.

Q: Sean, let’s start by giving us a little background on AT&T’s M2M solutions.

A: Sure. AT&T is a global leader in developing and deploying M2M communications. Our goal is to help drive wireless capabilities into a wide variety of devices beyond traditional handsets, allowing businesses to reduce costs and increase revenue. We define M2M communications as networking and IT technologies that connect the world’s equipment and systems.

We have a proven M2M success record, with millions of emerging devices in active service and industry analyst recognition for solution capabilities and deployment expertise. We had more than 17 million connected devices in service at the start of 2014, and we’re leading the charge to drive connectivity into as much as possible.

Our global SIM and service is also driving M2M adoption worldwide. It’s a game changer that sets us apart from our competitors.  We maintain a large number of roaming agreements around the world to offer customers an expansive set of global M2M services. AT&T has experience helping customers with global deployments thanks to a robust service management platform and a leading number of SIMs installed in a variety of M2M device types.  Many global manufacturers want to monitor and analyze status of their products, and give the end-user remote control so building M2M capability into their products is key. However, they don’t want to negotiate with hundreds of carriers around the world, and they want to deal with just one company.

Q: Are there any customers using AT&T M2M solutions already?

A: We have many M2M customer examples. We have one customer called Zonar which is a Seattle-based provider of connected fleet platforms that help commercial fleets with safety, efficiency and regulatory compliance in the transport of goods, people and services. Zonar uses AT&T wireless connectivity to deliver real-time information between in-vehicle devices and back-end systems. AT&T’s 3G wireless network transmits data from each vehicle to the fleet manager and maintenance facilities. The Zonar data platform communicates hundreds of vehicle data points including vehicle location, speed, fuel consumption, driver efficiency and maintenance fault codes. It also provides drivers with essential tools to automate pre- and post-trip inspections, track driver hours-of-service, dispatch messaging and passenger tracking.

Q: What are the main challenges for deploying M2M solutions?

A: As corporations of all sizes strive to maximize efficiency, the key to making the most out of M2M communications is identifying a holistic strategy from the very beginning.

One of the biggest challenges in implementing M2M solutions is considering all of the elements prior to implementation. For example, take a heavy equipment operator that is only using one M2M application to track location. While this particular application allows an operator to find its deployed crane or tractor, there are other applications that monitor and evaluate the condition of the asset. Therefore, an operator can utilize multiple applications to examine how this particular crane or tractor is performing at particular locations around the world.

Professional services play a critical role in helping businesses see the whole picture. These experts help companies identify a complete set of solutions before building an M2M deployment that best fits their business. In addition to the devices and networks that shape the core of the technology, businesses must look at how network services, management platforms, applications and application platforms, and professional services can be used to tie it all together. It is helpful to have a senior member of the company and business unit to be a champion, as some of these solutions take some time to implement and require changes in business processes.

Q: How do you continue to enhance your M2M solutions?

A: Our M2M is based on our innovation. The M2M AT&T Foundry, located in Plano, Texas, serves as a breeding ground for bringing new M2M solutions to our business customers.

This ground-breaking innovation center is already highly invested in advancing solutions that connect machines in the utilities space, track assets in industries like airline and fleet management, embed communications in industrial machinery, and capture performance data for heavy equipment. At the AT&T Foundry for M2M, AT&T invites the world’s most highly-skilled technical experts to gather, test, and innovate using the tools necessary to keep machines connected and to develop applications that are commonly referred to as “The Internet of Things.”

Q: How do you see the M2M opportunities in Asia Pacific region?

A: In Asia Pacific, we provide global multinational customers with global connectivity and application services including M2M. Similar to the US, we see M2M opportunities in virtually all industries in Asia Pacific – healthcare, retail, manufacturing, logistics, to name a few. We’re constantly looking to expand our global reach for M2M capabilities and the APAC region is definitely one of our areas of focus.

It is a very competitive M2M market especially in the global MNC space in Asia Pacific. We believe our global scale, capabilities and innovation will continue to differentiate ourselves with other competitors in the Mobile Asia Expo.