Earlier this week, I visited Sprint's M2M Collaboration Center in Burlingame, Calif. M2M, or machine-to-machine, is a system for wireless communication between devices without any humans involved. An M2M infrastructure can enable a lot of things such as remote management of a delivery company's vehicle fleet, smart meters, wireless point-of-sale transactions, electric vehicle charging, and remote monitoring of in-home health care.
Sprint doesn't actually build the related M2M devices--just like it doesn't make any cell phones--but it does build the wireless network on which the devices run. It's about the same network that powers your cell phone, but it's doing a lot of different things.
The biggest room at the facility houses the equipment needed to run the various systems. It's not quite as complex as the Verizon Wireless Super Switch that we toured earlier this year, but it reminds you that even a wireless network is powered by more than a few wires.
The first demonstration table showed equipment from Bug Labs, a manufacturer of modular, open-sourced devices. Using the various parts, you can build just about anything, from a GPS monitor to a Webcam, and connect it to Sprint's network.
Fusion Wireless makes equipment to handle point-of-sale transactions. They could be used, for example, to take orders and make purchases in a drive through or take-out line. On a larger scale, cities could use it with wireless parking meters to process payments and change the hourly rate depending on the time of day.
DriveCam has GPS equipment that could be installed in a trucking fleet to monitor vehicle performance and location. A dispatcher also could set up a GPS fence where he or she is alerted when a truck leaves a geographic area.
These security cameras can be connected to a wireless network for remote monitoring and maintenance. The camera on the left could be concealed to cover a small area, while the cameras in the center on the right are for larger, highly visible locations.
A camera on top of this display monitor tracks how consumers are interacting with an advertisement. When people look at the ad, the camera takes note and targets their faces with a green circle (upper right) while a computer analyzes data like the average time watched (bottom center) and the sex breakdown of the viewers (bottom right). The ad then can be changed to the whichever garners the most interest.