Rogers Shows Leadership in “the Internet of Things”

There’s nothing quite as Canadian as street hockey.

While the NHL was locked out and the world juniors were playing in the middle of the night, I had been relegated to watching a lot of curling and the fireplace channel on TV. But that all changed with our annual west-end street hockey tournament in Halifax at the end of 2012.

Actually, telecommunications is also quite Canadian. With so much geography to cover and such a small population, Canada has always been a leader, and I try to keep up as best I can.

I was recently speaking with Eric Simmons, general manager of machine-to-machine communications at Rogers Communications, and he was telling me that Rogers provides leadership in “the Internet of Things.”

So what does any of that mean?

The first part, machine-to-machine, or M2M, simply defines a structure where one machine communicates with another. A typical example we’ve all seen would be a machine that reads a credit card at a table in a restaurant and sends that information to a server in the back office.

Other examples are machines that service technicians use in the field to read and fill out work orders, or wireless heart-rate monitors in hospitals.

The second part, “the Internet of Things,” refers to the fact that humans are now no longer required to input all the information that is being stored in computers. One example Simmons cited is radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that can track the movement of things like cargo containers or cattle and send that information to centralized servers without a person needing to be involved.

The term “the Internet of Things,” according to RFID Journal and other sources, was first used by Kevin Ashton in a presentation he made in 1999 while employed at Procter & Gamble. He used it in the RFID context, explaining how efficient things would be if computers knew everything there was to know about the P&G supply chain using data gathered without human intervention.

After that time, the term seemed to take on a life of its own, in papers and books and on websites. There is even an “Internet of Things council” that has no apparent fixed address but puts on many conferences throughout Europe.

Ashton, a British native, now works for consumer electronics company Belkin in Los Angeles and has had a stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Based on his online profile, he seems happy to let other people find meaning in the term he coined.

Some of the things Rogers is involved with include:

Remote monitoring and tracking. For example, truck driver performance can be monitored via GPS signals transmitted over satellite and cellular networks.

Digital signage. You’ve seen these in airports and coffee shops. Content is updated on these digital signs automatically, and in extreme cases they can be used for emergency instructions.

Critical network access. These are fully managed wireless networks that are sometimes used as a backup for wired networks, in grocery stores for example.

Rogers also has a professional services division for developing custom applications, with a network of 200 partners across the country.

Being a communications company, Rogers has recently rolled out the next evolution of high-speed networks, called LTE, short for “long-term evolution.” These networks, more powerful than 4G, have been in use in Halifax, Moncton and St. John’s since the fall.

According to Simmons, M2M will be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the next two to five years, with 50 billion connected devices projected to be in existence by 2020.

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